Jim Carlson is a Foundry Art Centre veteran. The FAC is twelve years old this year and Jim was here before it even opened. While earning his master's degree at Lindenwood University, a fellow student mentioned the old Foundry building was being converted to an art center with studios. "Foundry? What's that?" he laughs, recalling his first reaction to the news. He remembers throwing pots in the unfinished corridor that is now home to Gallery I, II, and III with a group of potters and other artists he shared studio space with back when the Foundry Art Centre opened in May 2004. A band played as they made pots and Joyce Rosen, the first Executive Director and creator of the Foundry Art Centre, introduced the concept of the FAC to the leaders of St. Charles, casting a vision of all the space could be.
That group of potters eventually took over Studios 1-4 and two remain: Jim Carlson and Laura Hohn. "This is my getaway place," remarked Jim. "Everyone who is retired should have a hobby. When that hobby makes you money, even better!" After over 43 years of teaching, he has earned a place to relax and make art. Jim graduated with a B.S. in Education from Concordia University, formerly Concordia Teachers College, in Seward, Nebraska. Up until his final year at the college, he was on track to graduate from the social work program but switched his path to education his senior year. During his extra semester, he took a pottery class on a whim with some of his artistic colleagues. It was that class which introduced Jim to his greatest inspiration and mentor, Reinhold Marxhausen.
"He was totally different," Jim chortled. "There were no limits on where his imagination could go." Jim pulled over his laptop and brought up a clip of Marxhausen on The David Letterman Show in 1986.
Jim learned how to make pottery from Marxhausen and it was his teacher that encouraged him to enter his first exhibition, a national show in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Two of his pottery pieces were included in the exhibition alongside classmates from Concordia and artists from around the nation. Jim found his artistic footing in Marxhausen and found his artistic style from teaching children. Jim taught 4th - 6th grade in Bloomfield, Nebraska briefly after graduating during another teacher's maternity leave, then returned to Seward to work as a custodian and gas station clerk as he applied for teaching jobs. He was offered a teaching position from Immanuel Lutheran School in St. Charles, Missouri and accepted. Jim taught almost all subjects during his teaching career spanning four decades, and his favorite was art. "My kids enjoyed art, and especially pottery, to the extreme," Jim recalled fondly. "We made things they would enjoy."
His students' love of pottery led to a compassionate fundraising effort in 2011 after the tsunami and earthquake devastated Japan. A student in Jim's 5th grade class suggested they sell their pottery projects made at school to their neighbors and families to raise money for the victims. Jim helped lead their efforts and had them set a goal for their fundraiser: $100. Soon the total reached $100, then surpassed $200. Shortly after the disasters in Japan, a massive tornado tore through Joplin, Missouri and his students wanted to continue their fundraising to aid those victims. Jim encouraged them to keep going and by the end of the school year, his students had raised $915.25 to aid victims of the natural disasters. He and his students were honored in a Lutheran magazine that year. Jim retired from teaching in June 2014 having left an indelible impression on the countless children who were his pupils. Once retired, Jim "chose recess for the rest of his life" and now devotes his time to teaching in his studio.
Jim's "Little Big Mouths", available in a wide variety of expressions and colors, are popular with Foundry Art Centre visitors. They line the window ledges of Studio 4 at the eye-level of our younger visitors and always inspire smiles. These impish, silly faces are fun to collect and even more fun to make. Carlson's students often make these during his classes; Jim fires the clay in his personal kiln and then the students return to paint and glaze their creations. His students' Little Big Mouths line the shelves near the kiln, awaiting the right colors to make them complete.
Jim offers classes throughout the week and even assists troops of Girl Scouts who want to earn their pottery badge.
His signature clay faces are just a fraction of his creations. Jim's studio is filled with vases, urns, kettles, pots, and sculptures of all sorts and sizes, each with its own distinct personality. Far from uniform, each piece of pottery is uniquely formed with whimsical designs and patterns, creative handles and appendages, and combinations of glazes that lend an attitude to its subject. Each piece is a character. Some are stoic and practical, others are friendly and nonsensical. Visitors and admirers of Jim's work all describe his pieces different ways. Jim pointed to one of his kettles, "Someone told me this piece looked 'steampunk.' I didn't even know what steampunk was."
This stately urn was featured in Media Matters, a Foundry Art Centre exhibition in Gallery I & II in Fall 2015. It attracted the attention of a visiting couple and the man pointed to the beautiful, patina-colored urn and told Jim, "I want to be buried in something like this."
Jim encourages his students to persevere through their careers, especially in art.
"Plug along, just keep trying and keep trying. Someone may finally notice you," he insists. "Have a good number of pieces that truly represent your style. Don't be afraid to enter shows and submit your work to art magazines. And if your work is denied - don't let it get you down. You have to keep going."
Article & Photographs by Jillian Schoettle.