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Cyrus Swann, of Pine River, throws pottery on a wheel at his studio in rural Pine River. -photo by Kate Perkins

Local potter celebrates 100th firing

Web posted May 27, 2014
By Kate Perkins, Northland Press correspondent

On Memorial Day weekend, Pine River-area potter Cyrus Swann opened the lid on his 100th glaze firing of his handmade dishes, bowls, coffee mugs, vases and more.

Swann makes pottery for a living at his rural Pine River studio. A sale accompanied his 100th firing celebration.

A Pequot Lakes graduate, Swann has been making pottery 18 years now, having started in high school. He first became interested when he attended Pequot Lakes High School’s Festival of the Arts, where he saw a pottery artist named Chris Smith demonstrating how to throw pottery on a wheel.

“I was just captivated with watching him throw pots,” Swann said. He started helping Smith in his studio, taking orders, filling the kiln and shipping pieces. By the time he got to college at Bemidji State University, he had experience that gave him a head start.

“My first semester I had ceramics, and I just never stopped doing it,” Swann said.

Swann said he didn’t set out to be a potter, but fell into it. For a while it wasn’t his full time job; it was work he did on the side. Eventually, though, he got so many commissions and orders that he had to quit his other job in order to fulfill them.

“I kind of fell into doing it professionally,” he said. “The first five years it was a lot of loss, a lot of learning.”

Today, Swann said, his shapes are more refined and he’s more efficient. He’s settled on a certain type of clay, glaze ingredients and firing method that allow him the flexibility to be creative with less risk.

Still, Swann experiments with new shapes and materials. He recently began working with porcelain, and with a grant from Five Wings Arts Council he was able to buy a slab roller to make tiles. He also uses the roller to create houses that group together as tiny villages.

“One of the things that keeps me excited is that it’s always changing,” Swann said. He said the process breaks up his day. When he’s tired of throwing pots, it’s time to glaze. Swann mixes all his own glazes.

After 18 years, he still gets excited about what’s going to be inside when he opens the kiln.

“There’s still some mystery there,” he said.

Swann said the work does come with some challenges.

“It’s kind of a balance between making enough pots to survive and still feeling like I’m being creative,” he said.

Swann’s philosophy is to hold himself to a high standard of quality.

“I’m really committed to making a great product that functions,” Swann said. “A plate that’s really flat. A mug that feels good in your hand.”

Swann holds two pottery sales a year at his studio off County Road 1: one on Memorial Day and one on Labor Day. He also takes commissions for dinnerware sets, mugs, and more.

His work is available locally at the Raedeke Gallery in Nisswa, and at his online store, cyrusthepotter.etsy.com.

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