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Celebrating a community of artists: Meander artist inspired by those around him

Tom Cherveny / Tribune John Larson creates functional ceramic works, such as dinnerware, shown above, as well as abstract objects. He uses native clays which he will blend with some commercial clays. 1 / 4
Photo courtesy of Kirstin Lindstrom John Larson is shown at work in his Milan studio in this photo by his partner, Kirstin Lindstrom. It is featured in a book of his works, "Multifarious," which was made possible by the Minnesota Arts Council. 2 / 4
Photo courtesy of Kirstin Lindstrom This black and white image by Kirstin Lindstrom is featured in "Multifarious," a book telling of John Larson's creative process. The works are ready to be fired in a wood-fired kiln the ceramic artist built. 3 / 4
Tom Cherveny Tribune / John Larson built this wood fired kiln to produce his works on a farmsite along the Chippewa/Swift County line east of Milan. 4 / 4

MILAN — It might seem a very lonesome endeavor to practice art amidst the open, rolling farmlands of the Upper Minnesota River Valley.

John Larson knows better.

Although the artists are scattered over a five-county area the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, they are anything but isolated.

"There is a community of artists,'' said Larson. He credits this community with making his own choice to practice his art here possible.

"As an artist in rural Minnesota I wouldn't be able to survive without a community that supported me,'' he said.

And so when John Larson found himself placed on the stage as the featured artist for the 2017 Meander, he chose to celebrate this community. His work that celebrates the 2017 Upper Minnesota River Valley Meander includes a pictorial representation of no fewer than 14 of the artists in this year's Meander. He would have gladly included all of the artists were it possible.

He hopes to call attention to their collective spirit, their celebration of the place they share as home.

"There's such an individuality in each one, but as a whole, to me they make a lot of sense together,'' said Larson of the artists. "It's the best representation of that idea that I could come up with.''

Larson is a painter and wood fire ceramic artist who uses blends of native and commercial clays to create his works. He grew up in Clarkfield in central Yellow Medicine County, and discovered his love for ceramics and clay there at age 14.

His passion discovered early, he left to study ceramic art at Utah State University. He studied in South Korea with Hyang Jong Oh, one of that country's most respected ceramic artists. He spent a year working for Mudshark Studios in Portland.

Roughly five years ago he returned to the Minnesota prairie. Larson, 29, and his partner, Kirstin Lindstrom, make their home on a farmstead surrounded by wetlands and farmlands along the Chippewa/Swift County Line east of Milan.

He maintains a studio in the Milan Community School, but also devotes much of his time to the farmsite. He's made his own, wood-fired kiln on the farmsite. He uses it to create both functional ceramic pieces as well as works that allow him to explore his own interests.

He considers the art of wood-fired ceramics to be sacred, and knows its challenges well. Wood ash adds a glaze to the clay in the kiln, and the results can be very unexpected when the doors are open after a firing, he explained.

He said he cherishes most his creative freedom, the ability to pursue his own interests.

And at least for now, Larson said that the Upper Minnesota River Valley — and its community of artists — makes this all possible for him.

"I don't necessarily seek this landscape for exposure,'' he said, "I seek it for inward study.''

If you go

The 2017 Meander will be held Friday, Saturday and Sunday at the studios of the participating artists in the counties of Big Stone, Chippewa, Lac qui Parle, Swift and Yellow Medicine. The studios welcome visitors from noon to 6 p.m. on Friday; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday.

Directions to the studios and information on the individual artists can be viewed online at or

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

(320) 214-4335