Summer 2014 Director's Report

In the midst of NCC’s continued growth and development and improvement, we pause to acknowledge the recent passing of some tremendous individuals whose contributions to the Clay Center, the greater community, and the world in general will be difficult to match by most of us in our lifetime.  Northern Clay Center exists because of the shared talents and philanthropy of many passionate individuals—supporters, door openers, buyers, makers, lovers of clay. In the last year, a few of our long-time supporters—Myron Kunin, Joan Mondale, and Andy Boss—have left our earthly world.  Their spirit and generosity will forever be remembered.

I invited NCC’s Director Emerita, Emily Galusha, to pay tribute to these amazing individuals, as she had the true honor of working closely with each of them throughout their very long tenures with the Clay Center.
                    — Sarah Millfelt

Reflections on lost friends
Emily Galusha, Director Emerita

God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December
                    — James M. Barrie

By the time this newsletter is published, we will not need memory to be able to smell the roses. But we will continue to need it to remember one of the harshest winters in Minnesota history, which included three painful losses for Northern Clay Center. Three people who were instrumental to the Center’s birth, survival, and thriving died in that cold time: Myron Kunin (in November), Joan Mondale (in February), and Andy Boss (in March). These are some memories of them and their roles with NCC.

Joan Mondale was one of the founders of Northern Clay Center. As she said at the 20th Anniversary Alumni Reunion, “One day in January, when the snow was white and it was very cold, Peter Leach and I had the same idea: we need a clay center!... It’s more than a dream come true for those of us who care about clay.”

The following are excerpts from remarks I made at Joan’s memorial service.

Joan Mondale wasn’t called Joan of Art because she had conversations with the Archangel Michael or St. Catherine. She was called that because she listened to the real voices of artists, performers, museum directors, children, teachers, students, curators, conductors, board members, donors, politicians (some), and anyone else who cared about the place of art in all of our lives—and did her best to pass along those voices to the rest of us.
    She truly believed in the power of art to improve the quality of life for each and all of us. She acted on that belief across as wide a spectrum of involvement as possible: from the intimate creation of an individual pot (which she usually gave to someone); to helping to found a new organization (Northern Clay Center); to the monthly if not daily chores of participating as an active board member and volunteer for local, regional, and national arts organizations (including raising a lot of money privately, and instrumentally aiding the passage of the Minnesota Legacy amendment); to working on shorter-term but long-lasting projects such as the Hiawatha Light Rail Art Selection Committee or the Postal Service Citizens Stamp Committee; to chairing the Federal Council on Arts and Humanities, where she spoke from a gentle, but insistent and passionate bully pulpit about increasing the amount and improving the quality of art available to everyone.
    She was an enabler, in the best sense, not the Minnesota treatment model sense of the word. She helped make it possible for a whole lot of art to happen and for a lot of people to enjoy it....
    Joan embodied a quotation that defines art as “the replacement of indifference with attention.” Hers was an art-full life. I doubt that she ever responded with indifference to any act of creation, and she certainly pushed the rest of us to pay closer attention to what we serve our food on, what we hang on our walls, and what we listen to and watch.
    And while she was intensely serious about the cause, she was far from taking herself too seriously. I’ve always suspected that that core irreverence was one of the binders between Joan and Fritz. And in that vein—a story: one night during a party at the Mondale’s, the Vice President came out to the kitchen and started pulling open drawers, shuffling stuff around. Jerry Beltt, beloved factotum to many in town, asked, “Did you lose something?” To which Fritz responded, “Well yes, the `84 election, but that’s not what I’m looking for.”
    …We are marking the loss of someone who was a beloved spouse and parent and grandparent, good friend, and an enormously important supporter and advocate and participant in the arts, in Minnesota, in the country, and far afield. But I discovered on Wednesday [prior to the memorial service] that Joan’s impact will continue to be felt in Minnesota, beyond delighted art-observant LRT passengers and writers of notes that need good stamps: on the opening day of MPR’s pledge drive, they played an interview with Joan as part of the noon program. If she can keep advocating for the creation and enjoyment and support of the arts from the next world, we must follow her model and do what we can in this one.

Thank you, Joan.

 

Andy Boss was the founding chair of Northern Clay Center, and an indefatigable supporter in all ways. He kept a steady, guiding hand during the organizing period, helping to bring together sometimes differing ideas about the best structure and means to achieve the ultimately shared mission of the “advancement of the ceramic arts.” Andy and his wife, Linda, provided personal support for the organization through contributing, collecting, and showing up. Through family foundations, they helped with generous and continuing support at critical stages of the Center’s development and growth, including capital campaigns. Through St. Anthony Park Bank, Andy helped provide needed loans for build-outs and working capital that kept the organization alive in the first difficult years.

Three stories will illustrate Andy’s involvement in the Clay Center:

  • As a banker—Many years ago, Andy and I were discussing non-profit financing and the role of banks in that process. I told him that I found Park Bank’s loans to the Center’s original landlord, and then directly to the Center, heartwarming but surprising, given the strictures on banking, bankers, and risky loans. [This was long before 2008.] Andy’s response, with a slight twinkle, was, “It helps to own the bank.”
  • As a board member and mentor—Shortly after NCC opened, Andy and I were having lunch together, which we did periodically to catch up on current realities and imagine new possibilities. We talked about the new NCC, and I expressed interest in joining the board, if there were ever an opening. He said there was an opening and I could fill it. A couple of years later, I became chair, and we began the search for a new executive director; he and fellow board member Linda Coffey, who were both serving on the search committee, asked if I would be interested in the job. It hadn’t occurred to me, but the prospect sounded intriguing, so eventually I did express interest and the board hired me. The Center and I thrived for the next 17 years, with Andy’s advice and support.
  • As a St. Paulite with a large view—Andy was devoted to the city of St. Paul, as evidenced by the many organizations and businesses with which he was involved, including Northern Clay Center. Perhaps, in part, as a legacy of the previous generations of his family who were builders of the city, Andy felt an intense loyalty to St. Paul. He believed he had both an opportunity and an obligation to make it a better place for all its citizens.
        After a long search for a much-needed new home, in 1996 the Clay Center bought a building in Minneapolis (albeit on the east side). Andy was not happy with the decision to move to St. Paul, and for a while, I was afraid we might lose him. However, I think after some time he realized how good the move was for NCC, and thus all lovers of clay, regardless of their zip code. He not only forgave the move, but also provided important capital support for the building renovation. He and Linda continued to attend special events and openings, to buy gifts for family and work colleagues—and themselves—and to support and participate fully in the life and growth of Northern Clay Center.

A final observation: it can be easy, sometimes, when one is intensely involved in an activity, to think that that activity is equally important to everyone else. In Andy Boss’ case, he made you feel that your organization, your mission, you were extremely important, and that at least for some part of his day, or even life, most important to him. There was no indication that there were a number of other entities and missions that equally enjoyed his time and effort and devotion, many of which were far larger and more complex. That effect on others finally seems to me the result of a distinctive combination of personal modesty—about reach, involvement, impact—and an essential interest in and concern for others. He was, in this way, unique.

Thank you, Andy.

 

Myron Kunin was a very successful businessman, and passionate about art. What made both possible was his embrace of risk—intuitively analyzed, and then either embraced or rejected. Northern Clay Center’s Regis Masters Series came alive
because of Mike’s willingness to take risks, and his passion for art and learning. When I first called him in 1996 to broach the idea, I was ready to make an appointment to have the usual prospect/supplicant discussion: Who needs it? Who will define what it means to be a master? What will be the outcomes and how will you measure them? How will you sustain it? Mike’s responses were quick and to the point: how much will it cost, and where would we do it? Fortunately, I had already done a draft budget, so I could answer the cost question. My answer to the “where” was anywhere large enough to seat the audiences I knew would come. He gave the idea quick thought, and then responded that if the Minneapolis Institute of Arts would agree to co-sponsor the program, and house it in their auditorium, he would pay for it. After all, it was bound to bring in large and perhaps new audiences for the museum to which he was devoted. And that was it.
    In the years that followed, during which Northern Clay Center was honored to designate now 27 individuals as Regis Masters, Mike’s support of the program continued on the basis of trust and a handshake. This year, 2014, Mike’s family will continue their support for Regis Masters Adrian Saxe and Walter Ostrom.
    The Regis Masters Series remains unique in the clay world, and unusual in any medium, in its combination of oral history and exhibition. It springs from an interest in and concern for preserving the history of a medium of creative expression, as experienced, and then reported, by some of the most interesting, accomplished artists of the medium. This is combined with enabling our regional audience, and sometimes wider ones, to actually see the work of these masters, through exhibitions. Ceramics or clay or pots—whatever the designation—is a relatively under-recorded and under-studied field. This program assures that at least some of the history will be maintained.
    Mike not only funded the Regis Masters Series, he also provided modest, but essential support for NCC’s library. He believed in the importance of making and looking at art with an informed sensibility. Knowledge didn’t necessarily trump perception and intuition and interest, but it all came together into a remarkable eye.
    As with Andy Boss, Mike’s interests in the world, and his expression of those interests through philanthropy were wide. He supported programs and institutions as diverse as the Center for Holocaust Studies, the film program at the Walker Art Center, the University of Minnesota, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He tended to support both an idea and the person implementing the idea. This approach to giving money was thus parallel to his approach to art: neither technique nor purpose (idea) alone was enough—both are needed. And to understand both, one needs both knowledge and instinct.
    The Clay Center, the artists whose histories are recorded, the regional audience for the exhibitions, and the national audience who can read the transcripts of the first 13 sessions, owe Mike a major debt of gratitude.

Thank you, Mike.