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John Larson has returned to his rural roots, and rents space in the Milan Community Building for his studio. Tribune photo by Tom Cherveny

A great place to create: A young artist returns to his roots

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John Larson discovered his passion for transforming clay into art right at home, growing up on the prairie south of Clarkfield in Yellow Medicine County.

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There have been no limits on where he would go to pursue its study. He attended Utah State in 2007-08, and studied abroad in South Korea in 2008. He returned on his own to Korea in 2009 to work alongside one of that country’s most respected ceramic artists, Hyang Jong Oh.

He moved next to Portland, Oregon, where he worked at Mudshark Studios, a fast-growing cooperative that specializes in custom ceramic manufacturing.

Today, Larson is found on the third floor of the former elementary school building in Milan, now a community building operated by the Greater Milan Initiative. He rents space for a studio and devotes his days to his art.

“It’s quiet. It’s a great place to make art,’’ said Larson, 24.

Larson said returning home to pursue his art makes perfect sense. His connections to people who inspire and encourage his work were forged here.

The connection with the community is more direct.

The rural environment offers him a quiet, yet stimulating environment that allows him to focus on his art and its development.

And perhaps most important of all, it’s an affordable place to live and work when you are willing to make the sacrifices a true passion for art can demand. 

For this point in the development of his career, Larson said he needs to focus on making his best. “Here, I can do that and I can live on a pretty low income to do that,’’ he said.

He markets his work as John George Larson Ceramics http://johngeorgelarson.com/ on the web. Marketing is the biggest challenge he faces by having made the move back home.

West central Minnesota offers only a limited market for artists. He likens the situation that he faces to that of the local food growers around him. They too must market much of what they produce outside the region.

He believes part of the predicament is due to the low population density of the region.

He also suspects there’s something else at work. We do not fully appreciate what we produce here, or can.

Larson’s work is clearly of this place. He works exclusively with clay that he extracts on his own from the earth we walk on. He shapes the clay into functional works, such as plates and cups, as well as other objects intended to communicate the ideas and sense of place he continues to develop.

He loves to create functional things that people can use daily and develop relationships with.

Yet what he loves most comes after he has shaped the clay. He wood fires his works in a kiln of his own making.

 “I realize now that it is the vehicle to communicate my ideas,’’ he said of the artistic process.

Where those ideas will take him in the future is impossible to know.

After living abroad, and in a large city, Larson said he needed to return to his rural roots. “I feel really connected to this place and I feel this is where I really want to live right now,’’ he said.

“I see myself staying for a while, yeah,’’ he said when asked directly about his long-term plans. “I don’t know that I will die out here,’’ he added, smiling.

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Tom Cherveny
Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.
(320) 214-4335
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