The Island Gallery
richard bresnahan

Richard Bresnahan, artist-in-residence at St. John’s University in Minnesota since 1979, operates the largest wood fired ceramics kiln in North America. He combines his expertise in Japanese ceramics with his interest in the use of local materials and natural resources to create stunning ceramics and a program which is attracting international attention. Gerry Williams, Editor of Studio Potter, calls Bresnahan “one of the preeminent potters in contemporary American ceramics.”

Bresnahan apprenticed in the mid-1970s to Nakazato Takashi Pottery in Japan, where the Nakazato family has been producing pottery for 13 generations. At the completion of his apprenticeship, he was named a “master potter” by his teacher, the son of a National Living Treasure of Japan.

Bresnahan’s training in both the U.S. and Japan enabled the Pottery Program to weave together regional indigenous materials and human resources with Pacific Rim pottery processes. This melding of cultures is embodied in construction and use of the largest wood-fired kiln in North America, a kiln primarily built with recycled materials. Unique in the world, the kiln is loosely modeled on Pacific Rim construction, but its design has evolved in terms of scale and types of firing so that it is truly one-of-a-kind. Composed of three chambers, it is 87 feet long. A kiln of this size enables forklifts to enter both the front and back and allows, for the first time in the U.S., the wood firing of large-scale sculptures.

Indigenous materials all come from within a ten-mile radius of the university. They include high-fire stoneware clay received from an abandoned road bed at a nearby glacial ridge. Kaolin, the main ingredient in porcelain, was received as a discarded material from a local granite quarry. These two deposits are large enough to last 300 years. Glazes are made of ashes from flax, navy bean and wheat straw, sunflower hull, wood and pink quartzite dust. The kiln is fueled with dead fall from nearby woods which received certification from the Forest Stewardship Council.

Richard has been the subject of a public television documentary produced by John Whitehead for Twin Cities Public Television in 1996 entitled Clay Wood Fire Spirit: The Pottery of Richard Bresnahan and Body of Clay, Soul of Fire, Richard Bresnahan and the Saint John’s Pottery by Matthew Welch in 2001.


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August 4-31, 2006. Pottery: Prairie – Plains – Pacific: A Celebration of American Contemporary Wood-Fired Ceramics by Artists from the Prairie, Plains and Pacific.
Jenny Andersen . John Benn . Richard Bresnahan . Barb Campbell . Gina Freuen . Colleen Gallagher . John Harris . Chuck Hindes . Randy Johnston . Chris Knapp . Nathan Lekan . Ken Lundemo . Jan McKeachie-Johnston . Gavin Noyes . Steve Sauer . Al Tennant . Ben Waterman . Rigel Weis. Special contribution from Shiho Kanzaki, Shigaraki, Japan and Owen Rye, Victoria, Australia.
Opening Reception and Demonstration by Chris Knapp, Friday, August 4, 2006, 6-8 p.m.
(see press release.)