Buffalo Days art event features both novices and veterans

LUVERNE -- For Colton Kunkel and Mitchell Muller, Saturday's Arts in the Park event at Luverne's Buffalo Days was an experiment in entrepreneurship.The recent graduates of Luverne High School took a skill they'd learned in their senior year -- po...

Mitchell Muller (left) and Colton Kunkel, recently Luverne High School graduates, display two of the larger ceramics pieces they were selling Saturday during the Luverne Buffalo Days Arts in the Park event. (Beth Rickers/Daily Globe)


LUVERNE - For Colton Kunkel and Mitchell Muller, Saturday’s Arts in the Park event at Luverne’s Buffalo Days was an experiment in entrepreneurship.
The recent graduates of Luverne High School took a skill they’d learned in their senior year - pottery - and turned it into a profitable venture by selling their creations.
“We made these at school,” said Muller, explaining they had both done an independent study with art teacher Chris Nowatzki. “We plan to keep doing it.”
“I plan on getting a wheel and other (pottery equipment) for at home,” said Kunkel, who will attend Minnesota West Community and Technical College this fall while continuing to live at home.
Kunkel eventually wants to get a degree in wildlife management, but hopes to take some ceramics classes on the side, as does Muller.
“I’m going to Mankato (Minnesota State University),” Muller said. “I want to study economics, but I’m going to take some ceramics arts classes there, too.”
Kunkel got a head start on his ceramics sales by displaying pieces at his graduation party. He has a knack for fashioning platters and mugs, while Muller’s forte is in vases, which have gradually gone from a petite size to large urns.
A number of the pieces they offered for sale already had “sold” stickers on them by late morning, and they were happy with their success.
So was their mentor, the aforementioned Nowatzki, who had his own booth filled with ceramics on the other side of the park. But not all the work was his own. Another of his former apprentices, daughter Kaia, was hawking her own wares there. Kaia has followed in the footsteps of both her parents, creating ceramics like her father and becoming a massage therapist like her mother, Martha, who teaches it.
“I couldn’t decide, so I did both,” said Kaia with a laugh.
The father-daughter duo’s inventory was largely pottery items that resulted from a large wood-firing session a couple weeks ago in Volin, S.D., hosted by University of South Dakota art instructor Mike Hill, Kaia’s former professor.
“He’s got this wood-fired kiln, and there were close to 800 pieces in the kiln,” explained Chris. “It’s a long process … a three- to four-day process in the firing. It’s a great learning experience for us, and something unique happens in the process.”
Chris’ creations were predominantly large-scale vessels, while Kaia’s were more diminutive, carved pots.
“I started out doing similar forms as to what he does, and through four years of school, it evolved into these things,” said Kaia, holding a small vessel and pointing out how the coloration was accomplished completely through the firing process.
At the booth next door was another artist in whose talents Chris also takes pride - Tom Maras, a glass artisan who grew up in Luverne but now lives in Plymouth.
“Tom was also a student,” noted Chris. “He was a senior my first year teaching in Luverne, and I taught him how to make pottery. Then he went off to Moorhead State and learned to blow glass. I love to watch people go in and buy stuff from him.”
Maras’ booth featured a small selection of brightly colored glass items -- including some purple teardrops that are a tribute to Prince, one of which broke in the creation process, coincidentally on the day of the late musician’s autopsy, he shared.
For Maras, the Buffalo Days event is an opportunity to share his latest work and catch up with his hometown.
“it’s just awesome,” he said. “I get to see so many people and sell a few pieces of glass.”

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