Professional potter Glynnis Lessing to lead workshop at OAC

Professional potter Glynnis Lessing, who has taught clay classes in Chicago, Minneapolis and Northfield, will bring her expertise to Owatonna for the first time next month, as she leads a clay workshop April 14.

The class, from 10 a.m. to noon at the Owatonna Arts Center, will begin with a demonstration by Lessing, followed by “hands-on” work, she said. She’ll conclude with a slide show of examples of her own pieces.

This workshop will focus on Sgraffito, which comes from the Italian word for “to scratch,” and Sgraffito is exactly that: scratching. In pottery, the method involves applying layers of contrasting slip — a liquid mixture of clay and/or other materials suspended in water — or glaze, then scratching to reveal parts of the underlying layer.

Students should bring to the workshop “a leather-hard piece of clay, not bone-dry, and not squishy,” and it can be a tile, a tray, or a pot, she said. Ideally, the clay would be porcelain, which is white, and “everything shows up.”

“You can work in three” mediums in pottery — stone, porcelain, or terra-cotta — but Lessing works almost exclusively in porcelain, she said. It boasts “a very delicious surface.”

Attendees should also bring a sharpened pencil, since that qualifies as a pointy stick, and/or any loop tools they have, she said. “I cover the pot in slip, draw with pointy sticks, and then use a loop tool to take away the negative space.”

While “anyone can do (Sgraffito),” timing may be the most critical element to succeeding in the technique, she said. “You don’t want the pot completely dry.”

“I really enjoy the act of drawing and scratching away,” telling “a story (or) making a statement with narrative images,” she said. “I work in narrative images, mostly.”

It also provides her “an excuse to look at the plants and the birds around me,” she said with a laugh. She yearns to accurately depict those forms in her art, to “really study them,” drawing birds “how they actually look, not how you think they look.”

Pottery is one of the oldest human art forms, not unique to any one culture or geographic area, and Lessing is a devoted student of that history, she said. “The historical connection (modern) potters have across time and around the world is appealing to me.”

Lessing and her husband are both graduates of the University of Minnesota, and they returned to the state in 2012, she said. In Chicago, Lessing spent plenty of time teaching and working at the venerable Lillstreet Art Center, and, since moving back to Minnesota, she’s concentrated on the Northern Clay Center in Minneapolis and the Northfield Arts Guild.

Judy Srsen, who has taught all manner of classes to students of all ages at the OAC and helped bring Lessing to Owatonna for this workshop, was impressed by Lessing’s “unique style,” Srsen said. The Sgraffito technique, which provides plenty of texture to clay, had not been taught previously at the OAC, and “I myself like a lot of texture in pottery.”

Srsen was even more intrigued to learn Lessing hadn’t previously visited the OAC, she said. “We have an exceptional clay studio,” and “I told her she needed to come see our wonderful arts center.”

Lessing has been doing pottery since high school and began to take it more seriously in 1984, but then it was relegated to her spare time as she raised a family, she said. She turned to pottery full-time in 2008.

Clay, in general is “very seductive,” and “a wonderful, tactile experience,” she said. “It’s always challenging, and I love solving problems.”

She’s often “in flow” — also known as being “in the zone” — when she creates her works, she said. “You’re working and not aware of time passing…you’re happy, but not aware you’re happy.”

Lessing does her art in a unique studio, the converted milk house on her grandfather’s dairy farm.

“He worked there, and now I work there,” she said. “My commute (to work) involves dodging chickens.”

Students are asked to register for Lessing’s workshop by Sunday and can do so online at oacarts.org. The cost is $25.

“Anyone can do what I’m teaching,” from beginners to advanced potters, Lessing said. This workshop “will be a lot of fun.”

Reach reporter Ryan Anderson at 507-444-2376 or follow him on Twitter @ryananderson_ryan.