Sue Pariseau, a potter with a studio in rural Lanesboro, shows off two of the bowls she has created and fired at her Old Crow Studio. (Bluff Country Newspaper photo by Melissa Vander Plas)
Sue Pariseau, a potter with a studio in rural Lanesboro, shows off two of the bowls she has created and fired at her Old Crow Studio. (Bluff Country Newspaper photo by Melissa Vander Plas)
"Empty Bowls, to me, is a potter-related charity all around the country," said Sue Pariseau, a local potter who has generously donated bowls to this year's Empty Bowls meal in Harmony.

She explained she happily gives to the charity because it is partially about being a member of the community, but it is also due to the fact that it is possible to do something about hunger.

"We can put a dent in the problem," Pariseau said. "We can make a difference and do something to put food on the tables for those who are hungry."

This year's Empty Bowls, Caring Hearts in Harmony event will be held on Sunday, Nov. 11, from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. at the Harmony Community Center. One may purchase a bowl for $20, all created by local potters and artisans and donated to the cause, and then use it to enjoy a simple meal of soup and bread. All the proceeds raised will go to Fillmore County's food shelves.

The bowls created by Pariseau were either created in her studio in Farmington and fired in an electric kiln there or they may have been thrown on her wheel inside her rural Lanesboro studio and then fired in her wood kiln located in a nearby shed.

Pariseau has been traveling between her home in Farmington and her rural retreat since 2003. She and spouse Kevin purchased their personal piece of bluff country to use as a place to escape to on weekends and a few weeks through the year. In addition to a studio and shed where the kiln is located, the couple has recently planted a vineyard and built another shed, which Pariseau describes as the "Get Kevin's stuff out of my shed, shed."

Pottery is currently a part-time venture as Pariseau also works as a project manager for a small utility company for her "real job."

However, pottery has been her passion for the past 13 years, ever since taking a community education class with her sister. "It was something I had really wanted to do for a long time," she explained. "After the first class, I knew it was for me."

She continued to take workshops and learned different techniques and methods as she gradually built her own studios.

"I love how things are always changing," Pariseau explained as she described why she loves working with clay. "I am continually amazed that there are always new things to learn."

She makes a lot of mugs because they are in high demand with her buyers. The handles are a bit "fussy," she added, so they can be a pain. However, she also loves to buy other potters' mugs and has a collection she is quite proud of.

"Bowls are usually a really good seller too," Pariseau added. "They are a little more versatile. I like to start out with round shapes that can be reshaped into something with a twist."

She also makes uniquely shaped pouring vessels that are "so cute but incredibly fussy" with small lids, hand-shaped spouts and handles.

Pariseau describes her work as functional and useable stoneware. "I want people to use it and enjoy it," she added. "All of my pots are intended to be used. They should be used and they should be used daily. A lot of people are surprised by that fact."

When asked what makes her pottery different than that created by other potters in the area, Pariseau answered, "Everyone has a unique style to their pottery. I tend to use a lot of texture. Sometimes it's just a finger or subtle use of design in the rim."

No tool is exempt when it comes to being used to create texture in her pots. Pariseau noted pottery tools can include anything from a simple thumb to a zester from the kitchen. "I have bought so many zesters over the years and they all seem to end up in the studio."

Having two studios gives Pariseau the best of both worlds when it comes to creativity and control. She explained that her electric kiln in her Farmington studio allows a predictable result. It is best used for matching sets of dishes, things that are created when a certain color or affect is desired.

"With an electric kiln, you can put the pieces in, close it up and flip a switch and wait," Pariseau described. "With the wood kiln, it's much more of a process. It takes a whole day to load, we need to seal up the door and continually feed the fire for 24 hours straight." Then, there is a difficult waiting period of four to five days as the kiln cools down enough to safely open it and handle the pieces.

"If Kevin isn't around, sometimes I'll peek," she admitted with a grin.

The wood kiln at her Old Crow Studio in rural Lanesboro, fires at a higher temperature and the variations in air flow through the kiln allows for an unpredictable result in glazes and finishes. Wood ash can also settle and pool in pieces to create a molten glass affect on some surfaces.

"It's hard to get anything the same, with a lot of different colorations," Pariseau explained. "It is like Christmas morning when I open up the kiln after firing. Some of them come out and they are just gorgeous and some of them aren't. Some of them are the ones you had the highest expectations for, but they come out and they didn't do what I had hoped."

But, Pariseau added, there is a piece of her in every pot she removes from the kiln, whether it is in the care she has given it through its formation or how it is decorated and glazed. She definitely feels there is also a connection to the earth in her pots through the way they are made and fired with the wood.

"Each piece is kind of kissed by the fire," she explained. "It has some little spot on it that the fire has touched or the ash of the wood has landed on it and created a spot that you will never achieve again. So, each pot is unique."

Pariseau said she fires in the wood kiln about four times a year. This year they fired in March, April and May and have wanted to do another in October, but they did not have a free weekend, so are looking forward to doing one in November.

Because the kiln has a large capacity and there are only about 20 to 30 in the whole state of Minnesota, Pariseau has invited others to bring pieces to fire in her kiln as well. Last year, they were going to fire in July and she said Kevin had decided it was also a good time for a party. The heat was oppressive and while the firing was a success she said, "We are never firing in July ever, ever again."

However, she is open to a winter firing and may just do one if weather permits this year.

While Pariseau likes to crank the music while throwing her pots on the wheel, she enjoys the peace and quiet during the time she spends firing her wood kiln. "It's quiet, contemplative time," she added. "I listen to the fire, but the kiln is actually very quiet."

She also laughed when noting that after several hours of stoking the fire one really becomes "brain dead" anyway.

The long-term dream for Pariseau and her husband would be to spend more and more time at their rural retreat. "Eventually, I'd love to be here, in one place with one studio doing more with other people," she said. "I would love to find a balance between enjoying the solitude and having people in for workshops and gatherings, but having them leave again to allow us our peace and quiet."

She would also love to have a year's work of inventory done ahead of time, but Pariseau said she has never been able to make that work. "Life happens," she added with a smile.

In addition to being able to get one of her bowls at the Empty Bowls event later this month, one can find her work at the Lanesboro Local Marketplace in Lanesboro and the Bank Gift Haus in Wykoff. She also participates in Art in the Park on Fathers Day and the Bluff Country Artist Tour in the spring.

For more information and to view more of her work, one may also visit the Sue Pariseau Pottery website at www.suepariseaupotter.blogspot.com or shop online at www.etsy.com/shop/suepariseaupottery.