Kirk lives and works in Saint Paul, Minnesota with his wife and fellow potter, Jil Franke. He is an award-winning illustrator, world traveler, bicycling enthusiast, attentive nature observer, and bakes the most delicious treats. The Q&A below is meant to give you a closer look at the person behind the pots. We’d like to thank Kirk for sharing his story…
Where and when were you born? I was born and schooled in Seattle during the cold war. In the summer my mother would haul us kids back to the family homestead in Taylors Falls, Minnesota. I had one foot in the twentieth century and the other in the 19th.
How has the time and location of your upbringing affected your work? I went to school with the sons and daughters of Boeing engineers. My older brother became a structural engineer. I didn’t. A little shame lingers.
Do you pull influences from where you were born into what you make? If so, what are those influences? The lessons of self-sufficiency on the family homestead influenced me to take up throwing. I was planning on saving money by making my own dinnerware. In retrospect, this is rather ironic.
What rooted you into working with clay; when did you get interested with the material? I took a throwing class from Patti Warashina at the University of Washington. I think it was a combination of her enthusiasm and my hard-won ability to center the clay that got me hooked.
What is your education background or academic history? I went to the University of Washington where I drew editorial cartoons for the U.W. Daily. That led to my career but I continued taking classes in clay and eventually started firing with Linda Christianson… twenty some years ago.
Who is your biggest supporter? Linda Christianson and Jeff Oestreich have both been instrumental in getting me included in numerous shows. It is doubtful I would’ve pulled that off on my own since self-promotion embarrasses me.
Are you a full-time potter? What other professions do you or have you had? I was a newspaper artist based at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. I would work in the clay studio before going to my night job at the paper. Several years ago I took a buyout and now my primary occupation is being a potter.
What do you wish that people knew about you? I’m not blending in with the wallpaper because I am standoffish, I happen to be very shy.
What is your greatest success, your proudest moments? Failures? I once transcribed an important solo passage written for a C clarinet to B flat in my head during a concert performance of Schubert’s Third Symphony and I didn’t screw it up. I was very proud of myself. On the other hand, I missed the high G in a performance of Beethoven’s Eighth… twice. That was pretty embarrassing.
What do you want to accomplish in life? It is sufficient for me to continue to respond to my inner voice, to hang on to my sense of wonder and to explore possibilities.
If you had to choose a different profession, what would it be? I would have loved being in a professional orchestra. Some professions choose you.
What do you refer to yourself as? Scott Goldberg was joking around once and said he was a ‘Dabbler’. I immediately realized it described me perfectly.
Please explain your work in a few sentences. I make functional pots which we fire with wood. More often than not I do whimsical drawings on my pots using slips and black underglaze. My work has been slowly evolving to enhance the contrast of slip to raw clay.
What message/idea/feeling do you want your work to convey? A heartfelt joie de vivre in dark times.
What is your focus? I just want to make a better pot.
How do you fire and to what cone/temp? We fire with red pine in a double-chambered bourry box kiln with a relatively light application of salt and try to keep below Cone 11.
What do you try to avoid in your work? I hope my work does not come off as pretentious.
What would you like to tell young makers? Keep the day job.
What would you like galleries to convey about you and your work? Should not the clay speak for itself?
What keeps you going back into the studio? Deadlines. If there is a firing on the horizon it is time to get back to work.
What is your work for? Why do you create? There is an inner voice, perhaps it is a demon, perhaps it is an angel. I try to give expression to it. Functional pottery is a prescribed limitation.
What have you learned throughout the years of working with clay? Humility.
Any favorite quotes? “We can die now and everything will be OK.” -Linda C. when we reach Cone 7.
Favorite memories involving clay? Firing with Janet Mansfield at her spread in Gulgong, Australia. – Listening to Malcolm Davis regale us with his stories at our dinner table after an impromptu invite during NCECA. – Having tea with some native potters in Yiching, China. – Visiting various indigenous potters in Oaxaca, Mexico for demonstrations.
To see work currently available by Kirk Lyttle, please click here!