By Marshall Hoffman
For the Sun Tribune
Heather Meyer didn't start out as an art major. There was a time when she wondered if a person could make a living as an artist.
But since graduating college, her life has gone to pot.
Clay pots, to be more precise. And mugs, and plates and assorted kitchen accessories that run the gamut of earthenware.
The potter, who graduated from Morris Area High School in 1995, currently has an exhibit of her work at the Prairie Renaissance Cultural Alliance (PRCA) Gallery in Morris through Saturday, June 7.
Meyer will be at the gallery for a reception noon to 2 p.m., June 7. The public may attend the free exhibit and artist's reception.
Even when she was a little girl, Meyer said she "couldn't end the day without being covered in mud and whoever knows what else we found by the pond. I was definitely not afraid to play in the dirt."
She made "soup" out of rocks and grass -- and has now passed on her recipe to her daughter.
Meyer, the daughter of long-time Morris area residents Marv and Kathy Meyer, "fell in love with clay" as a ninth-grader at MAHS, when she asked ceramics teacher Al Mathison if she could spend extra time at the potter's wheel. By her senior year, she was in the art room every day, working the clay and the kiln. She still displays the first pot she created at MAHS on her home's mantel.
After high school, she attended Bemidji State University, where she studied ceramics, sculpture, painting, drawing and printmaking, and earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 1999. She focused on clay while working for a pair of production potters in Ukiah, Calif., before returning to Minnesota to teach ceramics at the Paramount Theatre and Visual Arts Center in St. Cloud. She later earned a master of art in ceramics at the University of Wisconsin in Superior.
"I recommend graduate school to anyone," said Meyer. "That was a wonderful experience."
Meyer was inspired when she worked with a woman potter for a class in Olympia, Wash.
"I saw how she worked her shop and integrated her love of clay into some sort of career or job," Meyer recalled. "That's when I said, 'OK, I'll try and do this.' "
And for the last four years, she has worked regularly out of the lower level of her home in a studio she calls Muddy Paw Ceramics. Meyer lives in Hollandale, Minn., near Albert Lea, with her husband, a special education teacher, and daughter.
"He's always backing me," Meyer said of her husband. "If I question if I should buy some crazy expensive piece of equipment that costs more than any car I've ever owned, he tells me to go do it."
She also has a brother who works as a plumber in the Morris area, two younger siblings who attend the University of Minnesota in Morris and a sister in Florida, who will be returning soon to Minnesota with her family.
"I've never stopped working in clay," she said. "I really like the idea of something being aesthetically pleasing as well as functional," Meyer said of her chosen medium. "I've tried to refine that over the years. Just making something comfortable in your hands, dealing with the ergonomics, making the handle the right fit. You need to try out all the knobs and each individual piece. They'll fit differently. I focus on keeping things comfortable and simple."
The appeal of clay for Meyer is that it uses all four elements: earth, air, fire from the kiln and water (from the clay's moisture content). To "dig something out of the earth and come up with something so important" holds endless fascination for Meyer.
Art should be "something everyone should be able to enjoy, not just the elite class."
Still, Meyer has no love for mass-produced mugs or plasticware, which she referred to as "junk." She recalls her favorite mug as a child -- washing and caring for it.
"Why would I want to drink out of a plastic cup? That's silly."
For her PRCA exhibition, which she was asked to put together in February, Meyer has focused on a theme of seahorses, the only creature in nature where the males carry and birth their young. It was a first for Meyer, and the theme was inspired by a trip to a zoo where she saw the "bizarre looking" weedy sea dragon. The exhibit offered her a "good opportunity to investigate and look into seahorses."
"This is not necessarily typical of what I do," admitted Meyer. "I often do plates to hold salad. This is more of a plate as a canvas."
The theme also allowed Meyer to exhibit her drawing skills.
"Usually I use pine trees or bumble bees around the edge of a border. Here I could do what I want."
One of Meyer's most popular handmade items is a kitchen gadget she calls an egg maker, a device used for making omelets. She sold 200 last year, including 24 "by noon" at last years Prairie Pioneer Days. She'll be back at PPD this summer with more egg makers, mugs and other goods.
Meyer travels to about a dozen arts and crafts fairs throughout the year, which for her is a realistic number. Her work is also available at Just for the Season Gallery in Duluth and Brewington's Potting Shed in Blooming Prairie.
The PRCA Gallery is located at 630 Atlantic Avenue in downtown Morris. Hours are Tuesday through Friday from 11 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.