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Pottery pair: Punts display ceramics at art center

Julie and Gerry Punt of Sioux Falls showcase some of their work at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- To say someone has "feet of clay," implies the person has a weakness or vulnerability. But hands covered in clay are a source of strength, expression and livelihood for Gerry and Julie Punt.

Gerry and Julie, ceramic artisans who live and work in Sioux Falls, S.D., will share what they've created with their hands covered in clay during an exhibit opening Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center in Worthington.

Gerry, now a professor of art at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, traces his artistic interests back to his teen years growing up in Orange City, Iowa.

"I think it was in high school when it started," he reflected. "It never occurred to me that it might end up being a career until college."

His college of choice was Sioux Falls College (now University of Sioux Falls), which at the time shared an art program with Augustana.

"I was thinking about teaching in a high school maybe," he remembered about his original career path, "then I started thinking about art and coaching, but that didn't last very long."

He has dabbled in other artistic mediums, but it was ceramics that caught his fancy.

"I had started working with clay in high school, then I started doing ceramics really as a summer occupation while I was in college," he explained. "I set up a studio in my parents' basement and did the art fair circuit."

For Julie, who grew up in Sioux Falls, the path to an artistic career was undoubtedly influenced by her husband-to-be.

"I went to college later in life, in my early 30s, and got an art degree from Augustana College," she said. "My then-boyfriend, now husband, was my professor during my college career. When I decided to go back to school, I went into art partly because of Jerry's influence, but mostly because when I was in high school, I was always sewing, creating that way, and loved working with my hands. When I was looking for a major, art was the closest thing to what I enjoyed doing in high school."

Like her husband, Julie experimented with other mediums before settling on clay.

"I really liked oil painting, too, and drawing -- that's what I mostly started out with -- but I did pottery, too," she said. "Jerry has always encouraged me to stay with pottery, and I've been doing it since about 1990."

They may work in the same material, but Gerry and Julie take entirely different approaches when faced with a new slab of clay.

"I do wheel-thrown vessels, or you could describe them as animated cylinders," described Gerry. "I use a potter's wheel. As far as the process of throwing the pots, I'll first throw the cylinder, then move it over, re-center the form, and push and pull the cylinder. I try to turn it into what I would consider a life symbol. I'm also involved with working with decoration, trying to add visual interest to the cylinders."

Gerry's pieces often turn out to be useful, but that's not his main focus.

"They are more intended to stand on their own, but I think they can be functional," he said. "It certainly comes out of the vein of functional, and I do make functional things as well, and we'll probably bring some of that to Worthington along with what I call the more sculptural pieces."

While Gerry spends his time at the potter's wheel, Julie prefers alternative methods of building her own vessels.

"I'm a hand builder," she said. "For one thing, all my pots are made with coils and slabs, and that's how we're different. I do make art pottery. My forms right now, I guess you'd call them classical, but I also make some sculptural forms, especially when I'm working with slabs. After you've been working in it a while, you find things that you like, and you stick with those ideas, but they keep developing, keep changing."

Some of Julie's ideas can get pretty large -- up to four feet tall.

"And I've made some small things," she added. "I have made cups, but I don't really make cups for people to use -- more like art cups."

For inspiration, Julie turns to the stones under her feet.

"I really like rocks and rock hunting and agates, and I get a lot of inspiration from agate designs," she explained. "I do that kind of work on the surface of some of my pots -- the coil pots. My slab ones are more about form, the sculptural form."

It's the creative aspect that continues to fuel Julie's interest in pottery.

"I really enjoy the designing of the agate pieces, and I love the surprises," she said. "You just don't know what's going to come out of the kiln. When I'm working with the slabs, there's also the surprise. It just develops as it goes, and it turns into what it wants to be."

As they talked about their work, the Punts were in the midst of firing some of their latest pieces, which will likely make their way to Worthington.

"We started this morning," explained Gerry. "We'll unload that Thursday morning, and hopefully there will be something for the show in there."

With six kilns available at Augustana, the Punts don't see the need to maintain one themselves.

"These pieces are being fired in a salt kiln," Gerry said. "It's a stoneware-type firing in a big hard brick kiln. At the end of it, we'll spend about an hour throwing salt into the kiln. It explodes first, from the moisture in it, and that disperses throughout the kiln, and acts as a flux, so it moves around in the atmosphere of the kiln. It also influences the different slips and glazes that we've put on the vessels, so they are glazed atmospherically. But the salt also is a combination thing, a unifying thing as well. It makes things feel like they tie together a little more readily."

With two artisans living under one roof, it's natural that their endeavors are a constant source of conversation -- they can't leave their work at the office.

"We talk about it all the time," said Gerry. "But it's more of a verbal collaboration than a hands-on collaboration."

"We're always talking together about it," added Julie. "We each make our own pieces, but you can see how we influence each other. He may have learned that form from me -- not consciously, but subconsciously -- and it will come out in each other's work. Other people may not see it, but we know there may be something there."

The opening reception for Gerry and Julie Punt's ceramics exhibit will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the Nobles County Art Center, 407 12th St., Worthington. The exhibit will continue through October; hours are 2 to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. For more information, phone 372-8245.

Beth Rickers

Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at  

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