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Clay always a learning experience for Michael Johansen

April 28, 2019

Index Journal,

This is the first time in two years Greenwood area pottery studios are participating in the Heritage Trail Pottery Tour and Sale.

Eight different studios are on the tour, including the pottery studios at Uptown Greenwood’s Main and Maxwell, a retail and gallery shop.

Among local artists represented there is Michael Johansen of Ninety Six, a retired school art teacher who says pottery classes were his favorite in college.

Johansen enjoys experimenting with different clay bodies, glazes and techniques. Some of his functional pieces resemble old stoneware. Dipping pieces into different glazes, Johansen can created multi-colored pieces or he can paint glazes on with a brush.

Different designs can be made in clay using a variety of textured objects.

“Anything that will make a mark, you can decorate with,” Johansen said. “I love to watch different techniques by artists with videos on YouTube. I can use that as a springboard.”

There are vases, pieces with lids, sugar bowls, cereal bowls, whimsical whistles, cell phone holders, cups and more.

“Some of my favorite pieces involve a lot of handwork,” Johansen said. “Building it is kind of therapeutic, whether it’s making a casserole dish or a face jug. Some others have a theme or meaning to them.”

For example, Johansen says one of his favorite pottery pieces is one he titled, “Marks of Time.”

Depicted on it are a lizard, a tree, the son of God, fossils, sediments from southern Utah where he grew up, marks of Christ’s crucifixion and more.

“The planning process for this took several weeks,” Johansen said. “It took me a week to build it. The idea of this piece is that some things are fleeting and some are eternal.”

Johansen studied at Brigham Young University and worked for years in art education, teaching seven years in southern Utah and 33 in South Carolina, with a three-and-a-half year stint working in a South Carolina plywood mill in-between.

“I retired from teaching in 2017 and started doing pottery again,” Johansen said. “The tactile quality of pottery is what drew me to it in college and it was kind of a fluke that I got into it. I was working during the summer, on campus at Brigham Young. They sent out a memo about working students also needing to have a class, carrying at least three hours.”

Johansen scrambled to find a class and chose ceramics.

“I had never done pottery or sculpture before,” Johansen said. “I told the professor I needed the class to keep my campus job. At that time, my wife and I already had three kids. I got in the class and I just loved it. I put in 40 hours of practice time a week. At night, security guards would escort me out of the studio building. I got pretty good and became the teacher’s assistant with the class.”

In recent years, Johansen has helped with summer pottery camps at Arts Center of Greenwood and come up with fun craft projects for his 47 grandchildren. He and his wife have 12 children.

As an artist at Main and Maxwell, Johansen pays a monthly fee to be able to display and sell pieces in Main and Maxwell’s gallery and retail shop. Johansen also attended a recent clay conference in Newberry and has been working on establishing a presence for his pottery on social media platforms such as Instagram. Johansen also teaches classes at the Newberry Arts Center.

The director of the Newberry Arts Center, Marquerite Palmer, who is also a potter, said Johansen is a good teacher who has a calming personality.

“He just walked in one day and asked to join a class for intermediate to advanced students that had already started,” Palmer said. “He joined the class and I asked him why he was doing it, because he already knew a lot. He said he loved clay and that there’s always room to learn more…He’s a huge help for us. I’d say he was a godsend. He came right when we needed him and he said he found us right when he needed us. It has been a great thing.”

Palmer said she doesn’t shy away from challenging her pottery students.

“I really had to up the challenge with him because he was already so far ahead,” Palmer said. “He does really nice work and helps us keep our studio open so other people can come in and work.”

Although he is an accomplished clay artist in his own right, Johansen said he’s still nervous about his first Heritage Trail Pottery Tour and Sale Saturday and Sunday.

“The idea of having a lot of people watching you is a little intimidating,” Johansen said. “People can come to my downstairs studio at Main and Maxwell and watch me throw. There are a lot of awesome artists on this tour. People who come to it will be uplifted and entertained. Every artist has his or her own story. It’s nice to have diversity.”

Contact St. Claire Donaghy at 864-943-2518

Posted by: greenwoodcommunities on April 28, 2019
Posted in: Greenwood, SC