Saturday, August 26, 2006

Introducing myself... Julie Nelson

I collected pottery for many years, but didn't begin to make it myself until 1998. Regan Carney of Bay St. Louis, MS. was my teacher. I then had the opportunity to share studio space with Joe Bernard of Lacombe, LA., who taught me the raku process. I was hooked.

In 2004 I finally completed and set up my own studio! It didn't have a long life. Katrina totaled both my studio and the home that I shared with Tommy Lewis, my long-time partner. After the storm, we set up house in a small RV and have been "camping out" in the country since September 2005. Can't say we don't miss the coast, but we're only half an hour away.

In the chaos following Katrina, my urge to create was enormous. I needed a studio more than I needed a house. Thanks to the Hancock Arts website, only one year after the storm, I now have a studio. I was “adopted” by some wonderful people affiliated with the Minnesota Helpers Art Share Program. They provided me with the beginnings of my pottery studio, including a new wheel, fire brick with which to build my raku kiln and the essential clay and tools.

They also provided a venue for me to sell my art. I am now represented at the Frank Stone Gallery in Minneapolis and have been contacted by several other interested galleries.

Tommy and I still haven't been able to start our new house but having a studio and being able to work on pottery keeps me sane. There's a light in the darkness.

This site will feature some of my work - both earlier pieces and "post-Katrina" work. You'll also learn more about the raku process itself - an ancient Japanese form of firing. I want to share my love of the technique with any and all, as well as exchange ideas and suggestions with other raku potters. Feel free to contact me with questions or if you're interested in purchasing any of the pieces. My e-mail address is

My thanks to all the people who have made it possible for me to continue to create - it's helped me keep sane and still find joy in an upside down world.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

All Fired Up!

Local Potter Fired Up Again

This is an article published in the SeaCoast Echo (our local paper) in the spring of 2006. The photographs were taken by my brother, Buck Nelson (Buckshot Photography).

For the first time since Katrina destroyed her studio, Julie Nelson pulled a piece of pottery from the glowing kiln. She held the red-hot bowl with huge tongs and immersed it in a barrel of wood-chips to cool. She’d just completed the final step in the ancient process of raku pottery. Thanks to a group of volunteers and donors from the state of Minnesota, Nelson is officially back in business.

Nelson, a full-time nurse, began her pottery business in 2001. She became fascinated with the art when she first took lessons from Bay St. Louis artist Regan Carney. Within two years, Nelson was selling her creations in local galleries and had developed her own following. She hoped to eventually retire from nursing and devote her full-time energies to pottery.

Katrina changed all those plans. Nelson’s recently renovated home and new pottery studio in Waveland were totally destroyed. So far, insurance hasn’t covered any of the losses.

Nelson and her fiancé, contractor Tommy Lewis, moved into a travel-trailer on property they owned in Kiln. In time, they hope to build a house on the land, but by January, completed a workshop for Lewis. The building also included studio space for Nelson - an empty studio space. There was nothing left to put in it.

The miracle began when a woman named Mary Gray in Minnesota formed a group called “Minnesota Helpers.” Her goal was to help Katrina survivors. Gray connected with Debbie Woodward of the Northrup King Arts Center in Minneapolis and alerted her to the Hancock Arts “Adopt an Artist” program.

In turn, Woodward spread the word through the local arts community. Artist Patrick Pryor is a painter who maintains studio space in the enormous Northrup King complex. When he heard about the program, Pryor and five friends decided to “adopt” Nelson. They asked her to submit a wish list of equipment and tools. When the group had collected all the items, more Minnesota Helpers stepped in to deliver.

Gary and Myra Hennes own a printing business in Minneapolis. They loaded their company truck with Nelson’s studio tools - as well as goods for other artists and supplies for Hope Haven, a local charity. The couple drove for nineteen hours. When they arrived in Bay St. Louis, they were met by a grateful group of artists and Hope Haven volunteers who helped them unload the truck.

The Hennes made a quick turn-around, taking back another load. This time they carried artwork from the Coast to the Minneapolis area. The art will be shown in various venues around the city in a program called “Art Share.” The work will be sold without commission is an effort to help support Katrina-affected artists.

Nelson didn’t waste time. The same day the equipment arrived, she took the tools to her studio and set up shop. By the next day, she was throwing pots. After the two week drying process, she was able to join fellow potter Dale Simmons for a shared firing. Nelson is jubilant at being able to resume what is not only her craft, but her passion.

“Minnesota Helpers were the first people to give me hope,” she said. “I went through a very dark period. I wasn’t hearing from any of the official agencies that were supposed to help me – my insurance company, FEMA or the SBA.”

“Suddenly,” she continues, “The Helpers were e-mailing and calling me – keeping my hope alive. I don’t know what I would have done without them.”

These first post-Katrina creations of Nelson’s won’t be for sale though. Nelson has them ear-marked as gifts for the numerous strangers who have become her friends.

“I want everyone who made the studio happen have some of my work,” she explains. “I’d like the pieces to be daily reminders that their caring really changed my life.”

Julie's first pot post-Katrina

Monday, August 14, 2006

Life in the Kiln

Our garden in the Kiln

The United States Postal Service calls it "The Kiln". The natives call it "The Kill". I call it Kiln, Mississippi.
For the past year, my partner Tommy and I have been living in a 20' travel trailer, on property we own in, ironically, the "town" of Kiln. It is a small place, both the town and our travel trailer. We have cleared approximately three acres of land in the country. We are going to build a new house on the site eventually, but like thousands of others on the Gulf Coast, our insurance didn't pay squat: We're still paying the mortgage on the slab of our destroyed house in Waveland.

Around the time of the Civil War, my great grandparents immigrated from Norway to Southern Wisconsin. They lived in a cave for a year. They're my inspiration - hardy Nordic stock dealing with frontier life. If they could do it, in the winter of Wisconsin, I can do it in the summers of Mississippi. I know a travel trailer is more comfortable than a cave.

We have been able to build a wonderful garage/workshop. My new pottery studio is nestled in one end of the building. We've added a deck to our trailer and Tommy's created a fabulous vegetable and flower garden on the front of the acreage. In addition to being a contractor, he loves organic gardening. We both have a great time on firing days - here's a few photos of my kiln in the Kiln.

It's a different sort of life than we ever expected to have, but it's still a good one, here in "Settler's Paradise."

Quality Time together...