Southwest Minnesota Arts Council Awards Local Artist and Arts Educator totaling $6,000
The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce Tom Wirt of Hutchinson (McLeod County) as the recipient of the 2020 Prairie Star Award
The Prairie Star Award is given out every other year and it recognizes an individual artist whose body of work has made a significant contribution to the arts over an extended period of time, who has been recognized by his or her artistic peers, and who has best exemplified the highest quality of work in the SMAC region. In recognizing these individuals publicly, the awards will raise the profile of the arts in their communities and throughout the SMAC region. The public is invited to join SMAC in publicly honoring Tom Wirt at our Annual Celebration of the arts and artists in our southwest Minnesota region. This Fall the celebration will be held in Jackson County. Please watch our website and other media channels, like Facebook and Instagram , for more details!
After the nominations were evaluated and scored by the SMAC Board of Directors it was determined that Tom Wirt had the highest score for the Prairie Star Award. SMAC Executive Director, Nicole DeBoer, then planned a surprise presentation of the award to Tom on Wednesday, May 20th, outside of his studio in Hutchinson. Local supporters showed up with a parade of cars and signs for Tom Wirt, who said ” I am stunned and more than grateful for what was a total surprise. Thank you to everyone…I am truly humbled. And thank you to SMAC and the Hutchinson Center for the Arts and all the folks continuing to keep the arts going while we’re out for a bit. Your help can help keep all of them going.”
Tom Wirt was nominated by Greg Jodzio, a member of the Hutchinson Center for the Arts Board as well as a member for the Hutchinson Public Arts Commission and the Hutchinson Rotary. Greg writes, “Tom’s beautiful, high-fired, hand-thrown functional pottery for everyday use features all-ceramic stoneware, oven cookware, and flameware stove-top pots. His penchant for inventive pots for special uses and recipes has made a name for him around the country.” He also adds, “Not many people have impacted the Minnesota rural art community more than Tom. He has been instrumental creating art and art awareness from Hutchinson in McLeod County and beyond. He brings business acumen to art defining the term ‘artrepreneur’”.
According to Greg, Tom’s art career began in 1994 when Tom and a Baker Square associate, Betsy Price, teamed up and left the corporate world and Chicago to start a pottery shop, Clay Coyote in rural McLeod County Minnesota. Land was cheaper in Minnesota than Illinois. Tom threw the pots and Betsy developed her glazing skills. But what differentiated Tom was the application of his business and marketing skills to his small business. Like most artists he wore all the hats from merchandising to management, financial planning to forecasting, and production to product photography. The marketing efforts paid off when Paula Wolfert (a well renowned author of nine books on cooking and the winner of numerous cookbook awards including what is arguably the top honor given in the food world: The James Beard Foundation Medal For Lifetime Achievement) called looking for beautiful, stylish pots to cook her specialty: Mediterranean foods. Clay Coyote had found their marketing niche – beautiful, functional pottery – flameware and stoneware pots for cooking, baking and serving. It became the bulk of Clay Coyote’s income producing 5,000 to 6,000 pots per year – over 140,000 in his career. Tom’s pots were recognized for their beauty, fit, finish, functionality and even the science of the clay – clay that wouldn’t crack or explode when cooking. They were featured in many of Wolfert’s cookbooks.
Greg says Tom’s art is classified as “studio pottery: making unique items on short runs”. He’s involved in all stages of production; even more so with his latest venture New Clay . “A look through his website newclaypottery.com will give you an idea of the beauty, breadth and range of Tom’s work from cazuelas to Mediterranean tangines. His work is recognized throughout North America.”
In Paula Wolfert’s book “Clay Pot Cooking” she shared Tom’s response to why food cooked in clay tastes better and got this interesting response, “One thing I’ve wondered about is whether it’s just the clay pot or the fact it’s hand-made that makes the greater difference. As cooks, do we get the same response from a machine-made pot that we get from one formed by an artisan? True, it’s the clay that makes the basic difference, but I also feel that this completes the cycle of hand-grown food products and hand-cooked food by virtue of the way it touches our humanity. Food sustains us, and there is much love in the whole process. Add to that the emotion inherent in the creation of clay cooking vessels, and you have a chain of caring that is never broken.”
In his letter of support, Corey Stearns (former potter and President of Stearnswood Inc. in Hutchinson) said “ Tom had this concept to help coordinate activities of various arts organizations in the Hutchinson area and encourage collaboration. His goal was to lift up the arts and show the impact arts can have on community life.” Tom persisted and got the local arts groups to sit down at the table in December 2009 and discuss this concept, which ultimately resulted in Tom being the first president for The Center for the Arts in Hutchinson. In 2019 Corey presented Tom with the award that was started in his namesake, The Wirt Award, from Hutchinson Center for the Arts. This is what one of Tom’s associates had to say at that time: “Without a doubt, Tom has been one of the most instrumental people in promoting the arts in southwest Minnesota for over two decades. His interesting mix of talent as an entrepreneur and his history in business along with being one of the most successful potters in the Midwest has been stellar to the promotion of the arts in our region.” Another said, “Tom’s vision (and gentle coaxing) for expansion and organization of the arts, convinced many private donors, the City of Hutchinson, and businesses in the area to donate time and money to make the arts happen in Hutch. Tom helped reshape the arts landscape in our city, bringing more art opportunities to our community members.”
In his letter of support, Steve Gasser (President of Vivid Image in Hutchinson) said “I have known Mr. Wirt for 20+ years through his work with pottery, initiating the Center for the Arts, and promoting a strong arts community. He is deeply committed to supporting other artists and bringing out the best in each person. Tom is a man of integrity.”
Jim and Linda Fahey of Glencoe and Fahey Sales also wrote a letter in support of Tom’s nomination. They said, “Without a doubt, Tom has been one of the most instrumental artists in our area creating beauty and function….What’s more, during his twenty-six years in the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council region, Tom has been a tireless supporter of the arts. Thoughtful and kind, he accepts folks for who they are and nurtures their arts ability. He is a founder of the Hutchinson Center for the Arts. With his vision and passion he has nourished several arts organizations in the area including the Minnesota Pottery Festival, Historic Hutchinson, RiverSong Music Festival and the Hutchinson Theater Company, to name a few. Tom is well known to all in the arts community of southwest Minnesota, but most important, the arts in southwest Minnesota are well known to our communities due to Tom’s work.”
Finally, we’ll close with what LuAnn Drazkowski, a past board president for the Hutchinson Center for the Arts had to say about him: “One of the best arts advocate I have met. His best quality is his ability to influence people about the importance and possibilities for art. He does this to artists of all walks and experiences, art organizations (from start-up to large sophisticated entities), to government and public officials, to audiences and general population, to news sources and various social medias. Tom has heightened art awareness in the greater Minnesota area and helped grow/stabilize art groups for longevity. Because of Tom, I have met many people from all walks of life. I can’t imagine what Hutchinson would be like without his vision and hard work over the decades. Tom is so deserving of the Prairie Star recognition.”
We thank all the nominators and individuals who wrote letters of support, including for the nominees that were not able to be awarded this year; we had many exceptional and deserving candidates. We encourage nominators to try again in future rounds-the Prairie Star award will be awarded again in 2022 as it is given out every other year. To learn more, please visit: https://swmnarts.org/grants/smac-special-awards/prairie-star-award/ . Tom will be publicly awarded and celebrated at Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s Annual Celebration in the fall. Keep your eyes open for details from us on this event!
The Southwest Minnesota Arts Council is pleased to announce Julia Iverson of New London (Kandiyohi County) as the recipient of the 2020 Prairie Disciple Award
The Prairie Disciple Award provides awareness and recognition of one individual per year from southwest Minnesota, whose activities and involvement have substantially contributed to the arts over an extended period of time. The accomplishments of arts advocates working in the region are often not widely known or appreciated. In recognizing these individuals publicly, SMAC believes theses awards raise the profile of the arts in their community and throughout the 18-county SMAC region. This year the award was dedicated to be given to an educator/teacher only. The public is invited to join SMAC in publicly honoring Julia at our Annual Celebration of the arts and artists in our southwest Minnesota region. This Fall the celebration will be held in Jackson, MN. Please watch our website and other media channels, like Facebook and Instagram , for more details!
After the nominations were evaluated and scored by the SMAC Board of Directors it was determined that Julia Iverson had the highest score for the Prairie Disciple Award. The nominators for Julia planned a socially distanced surprise presentation of the award on Wednesday, May 20th, outside of her home in New London. A parade of vehicles honking and showing signs showed up to congratulate Julia from a distance as well.
Julia Iverson was nominated by Loni Bultman and Bonnie Smith. They gave the following highlights of Julia’s teaching resume: Julia Iverson was born in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, but has been a resident of the New London area for the past 40+ years. During her years in this area, Julia has been active in the community as a teacher, an artist and a promoter of the arts through various organizations. Julia graduated from the University of Minnesota with a master’s degree in Art Education. She has taught every age from kindergarten through college and beyond. Her first teaching job was in Minneapolis Public Schools as an Elementary Art Coordinator. Since then she’s taught in St. Louis Park, the University of Michigan, St. Cloud, and finally in 1980 she began teaching in our region for Willmar Public Schools and Ridgewater College as the Art Teacher and Gifted Program (1980-1985) and then in New London-Spicer Schools in the Elementary Art Gifted Program (1986-1996). Julia also had a business in Jewelry Design and did commercial art for a greenhouse, fabric shop and toy store but she always returned to her first love of teaching. In her own words, “I teach my students to appreciate all that is unique, different and interesting in life without making judgments about those sights, sounds and experiences.”
Loni goes onto say that the Spicer/New London area is becoming a destination for the arts, thanks to one of its primary promoters, Julia Iverson. She says, “Our nominee has devoted her entire life to an education of the arts by means of her long teaching career, gallery owner/exhibitor, panel judge and generous donation of original paintings to local businesses, churches and multiple charities. She is involved in the Rural Arts Initiative, New London Water Days, Charles Dickens Christmas, Music Festival and innumerable area workshops…Julia also organized a group of aspiring artists in ‘Creating Art Together’ (CAT) which now has 50 members. Up to 30 of these members gather every Wednesday and work in several mediums and range from beginners to professional. Julia has always supported young art talent in the New London-Spicer School. The Julia Iverson Scholarship fund which awards a $500 scholarship each year to an outstanding senior from the New London-Spicer Schools was established in 2015…Give Julia an art project and watch it turn into a delightful experience, and guess what – you always learn something from this ‘forever teacher’”.
Kari Weber, painter, member of the New London Arts Alliance, and a high school arts teacher herself said, “Julia is not only thoughtful in her pursuits as an art mentor and teacher, but she has always been forward thinking and supportive in bringing the Arts to multi-generational communities….Impressive as all this sounds, Julia’s most impressive attribute is her art! She is a talented pastel artist and water-colorist….what a lot of people don’t know is that she is completely generous when selling her work. When I head to the mailbox, I often find a check from Julia because she takes the proceeds from art sales and gives it directly to my high school art department. Julia is a class act, my personal mentor, an and advocate for the Fine Arts. When nobody was buying my art, Julia did. And with that act of kindness, (and some advice about framing), she gave me the start I needed on my path as a painter.”
Craig Edwards, a past SMAC Prairie Star recipient and an artist with 48 years of experience making a living as an artist, said “when we first met, I was immediately impressed with Julia but during the time we worked together, it became obvious that she knew how to make art, each art, inspire people to make art and organize group of people to make art.” He explains that in the 1980’s Julia wrote a curriculum for an Elementary Art Program for the New London-Spicer School district. After that, she was hired as the Elementary Art Teacher where she developed a highly successful program which continues to this day. When Julia retried from teaching elementary art in New London she began teaching watercolor classes and workshops around the New London and Spicer area. She continued on to develop the group, “Creating Art Together”, mentioned earlier in this article. He said, “Julia had the vision that has made art accessible and acceptable to all ages in the community. It is difficult to capture all of Julia’s accomplishments. She has been active in the arts community, teaching, organizing and promoting the arts for over sixty years. Now is the time to honor her.”
In closing, we will share what Lynn Edwards, a retired art teacher as well, said in her letter of support: “Julia has been a cornerstone for the arts in Kandiyohi County. In her mid 80s, (she) is truly deserving of the Prairie Disciple Educator Award for her lifetime commitment to educating everyone, young and old, about the beauty and joy to be found in creating artwork. To still be an inspiring teacher and example after 42 years or teaching and 24 years of retirement is quite an outstanding accomplishment!”
We thank all the nominators and individuals who wrote letters of support, including for the nominees that were not able to be awarded this year; we had many exceptional and deserving candidates. We encourage nominators to try again in future rounds-the Prairie Disciple award will be awarded again in 2021 as it is awarded every year! To learn more, please visit https://swmnarts.org/grants/smac-special-awards/prairie-disciple-award/ . Julia will be publicly awarded and celebrated at Southwest Minnesota Arts Council’s Annual Celebration this fall, being held in Jackson County. Keep your eyes open for details from us on this event!