Artist Spotlight: Linda Christianson

Linda Christianson might not know it, but she is something of a mythological creature in the folklore of contemporary American ceramics. She cuts a romantic picture of a lone woman skiing through the Minnesota woods, towing lumber to build her home and studio against a gorgeous sunset sparkling on the snows of the northland. Thankfully, Christianson is as real as the rest of us; and it is with her usual measure of generosity, mirth, and commitment to her craft that she has chosen to share some deep insights to her practice and a bit about her personal story with us.

NCC: Linda, please share with us, the goals of your investigations in the studio.
LC: I am after what might be considered minimalism, making pots that allow the gesture and the clay itself to be at the forefront. I endeavor to keep my touch to a minimum while articulating the form.

NCC: Where do you make your work?   
LC:  I live on a creek in a forest that was a glacial riverbed connected by water to the St. Croix River.

NCC: How long have you been making?   
LC: Set up my studio right out of art school in 1977.

NCC: What's your background in?    
LC: Art, Music, and Skiing.

NCC: Are there other things you have done to supplement your income?   
LC: Itinerate college professor, conference presenter, lecturer, workshop leader. In the 1970s I ran out of money and worked at high paying outdoor seasonal jobs:  fire tower sitter, firefighter, ski area snow maker and lift operator, canoe guide.

NCC: What do you love most about making your work?  
LC: The daily discipline of making 4 cups. While seemingly a simple form, the cup contains all the challenges I like: the paring down of form, a comfortable feeling yet visually compelling handle (or not), and a volume that suggests a specific liquid. Being put to the lip, the cup is the most dauntingly personal pot one could make. It has the capacity to change one’s daily life. 

The other forms I make also revolve around utility: pots for baking, holding kitchen trimmings and carrying to the compost heap; containers for flowers, bills, or letters; plates, bowls for soup and salad. While I enjoy the simplicity of making seemingly simple forms, I am compelled to make other complicated forms from pieces of simple forms. The cooking oil can and ewer have been some of the forms that I return to firing after firing. 

Working in sets of small series, I like to have a few ideas rolling along at the same time. I like to create just enough stress that I feel that I can’t quite keep up with myself. Working alone, it takes me about two months to make enough work to fill the wood kiln.

I love the “what if,” following an impossible path, and the wet working period.

NCC: What’s the hardest part?  
LC: Keeping my mental space free while in the studio. One of the current issues I struggle with is finding and developing a clay body that has the characteristics I am after. In my practice, a thin patina develops through the interaction of the clay with the atmosphere and placement in the wood kiln.  Over the years, fireclays have changed and I have had to rely on slips over the fireclay itself. The clays in these slips also change, and the pots technically suffer from shrinkage problems. This past year I have been fooling around with two different clay bodies that would hopefully eliminate the need for slips. This logical solution fits my minimalism impulse, but I have yet to find the one clay body that I can love. My older clay bodies were yellowish in color and have the look of a palomino pony or a yellow lab. These newer experimental colors have an element of somber grief or sadness that I am drawn to in an unexpected way. These darker clays are also shorter in their workability, and I am finding a joy and challenge in having to keep my touch of the material even more minimal.

NCC: What are your goals for the future of your work?     
LC: Keep asking “what if” and the opportunity to make every day.

NCC: What do you see as your biggest achievement so far? 
LC: I am lucky to be able to work freely with my own limitations in a beautiful, quiet place.

NCC: What else are you excited about in your life?  
LC: Daily skiing, biking, canoeing, running, conversation around ideas, wilderness trips.

NCC: What art do you look at for eye candy?   
LC: Nature and old pots in museums.

Linda Christianson will be featured in American Pottery Festival, September 6 - 8, 2019. View and purchase her work here.