MN NICE: Year Four

Last November, we celebrated our third graduating class of the Minnesota New Institute for Ceramic Education (MN NICE). The program is currently in its fourth year with another diverse and lively student body already hard at work. Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp, the new Manager of Education and Studio Programs at Northern Clay Center, interviewed the new students about their experiences upon completing the program’s first trimester. Enrollees in the 2017–2018 iteration of the program are: Logan Chyla, Peter D’Ascoli, Margaret Gavin-Hanner, Michaela Maupin, Risa Nishiguchi, Andrew Rivera, Sue Schweitzer, and Jenny Weber.

Andrew Rivera and Jenny Weber. Logan Chyla,Vase, 2017, stoneware.

What brought you to apply to MN NICE? What were your initial goals coming into the program?

Logan: I saw MN NICE as the next step from taking lessons to becoming an independent studio artist. I came into the program wanting to learn more about the entire ceramic process, specifically more around firing and glaze chemistry.

Jenny: I wanted a unique educational experience that catered to my individual artistic needs. My goal with this program is to learn, grow, and gather all the tools I’ll need to become a professional artist after the program is over.

What feedback has been most pivotal from your time with the Affiliate Artists?

Logan: I have been challenged to examine why I make what I make, which wasn't something I had really considered before joining the program. I have enjoyed the challenge of putting reason into my work.

Jenny: I feel that being allowed to view my pieces through another artist’s eyes makes everything seem fresh again. Making me want to revisit and explore old pieces more thoroughly.

What advantages has the MN Nice class dynamic offered that you didn't anticipate before enrolling?

Andrew: Having a tight knit community, crazy amounts of knowledge [Ursula], learning how to fire kilns, and I wasn't really sure exactly what to expect with the program. I had an idea of what it could be, but overall it has blown me away with its resources and ability to fit so much wonderful information into such a small amount of time!

Sue: We travel this journey together, whether firing together or comparing notes from our individual glaze tests or sharing feedback on work in progress. The collective knowledge of this community helps us all grow.

How have your program objectives changed for the second trimester after completing the first?

Sue: Experience gained from glaze testing and shadowing studio artists in their firings has expanded my knowledge and confidence to take my explorations deeper, with a more informed foundation.

Jenny: I feel like I need to put my ideas and conceptual dilemmas on the backburner and concentrate on form. From a strong form will come a strong conceptual stance.

What experience have you found most motivational, and how?

Andrew: One of the most motivational experiences was seeing Steve Rolf's studio. Since high school I have wanted to make ceramics for a living. Seeing all of these artists who are successfully doing that is always a motivation. Steve's studio was particularly beautiful and his thoughts on business were very insightful.

Sue: Hands-on experience and repetition, built on top of a continual feed of education.

How has the Studio Artist community at Northern Clay Center impacted or added to your experience in MN NICE?

Logan: The studio artists have been very kind and inviting. They encouraged me to participate in the Holiday Open House (my first experience selling my work!), which wouldn't have been something I would have done on my own.

Andrew: The studio artists here at NCC are great overall. I have run into nothing but friendly faces every time I'm in the studio. It's also very helpful to be surrounded by resources. Whether they know what kind of material substitutes in a glaze or they just know a great place for food. The sense of community and willingness to share knowledge, space, or just a kiln is wonderful.

Is MN NICE right for you?

MN NICE supports the development of studio work and provides high-level training in ceramic materials, history and theory, and professional practices. Through instruction and individual mentorship, students build skills, knowledge, and insight necessary to create a personal and cohesive body of work. The program is led by educator and program head Ursula Hargens and is supported by the talents of myriad ceramic artists, from around the region and from across the country.

Hargens explains, "Many individuals are eager to further their ceramic education and seek a professional credential, but family, employment, financial, and time constraints limit their ability to do so within a traditional academic structure. This certificate program is designed to fill this gap, providing a flexible, yet challenging environment that responds to the needs of non-traditional students, giving them quality information, academic rigor, critical dialogue, and critique as they develop their artistic practice and strengthen their work.”

Find more information on our website, or to request detailed information or discuss your suitability for the program, contact Kyle Rudy-Kohlhepp at or 612.339.8007 x314.

Applications are reviewed on an ongoing basis, but are expected by June 1 for September 2018 enrollment, or August 15 for the January 2019 enrollment.