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Potter’s work shows a farmer’s care for the earth

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – Though potter Mark Goertzen no longer lives on the farm, the work he will exhibit in Bethel College’s Fine Arts Center Gallery clearly shows a rural influence, he says.

The first gallery exhibit of the new year is the fourth in a series honoring Professor of Art Gail Lutsch.

Goertzen, a Goessel native who now lives in Constantine, Mich., will open “Of the Earth,” vessel-oriented forms in wood-fired stoneware and porcelain, Friday, Feb. 6. There will be a reception for the artist that afternoon from 3-6 p.m. outside the FAC Gallery. The public is invited.

“The creative side of me was formed on the family farm east of Goessel,” Goertzen says. “I was the last of five children and liked exploring the fields, pastures and ponds of my homeplace while on ‘chore avoidance.’ It was good to grow up on a farm even if I knew in my heart I was not a farmer.

“I didn’t realize the influence that farming had on my creativity until relatively recently,” he continues. “It came to me that my full-time work is dealing with earth, as my family’s work is. We both need to pay attention to our earth or we will not be pleased with the results.”

For the Bethel College show “Of the Earth,” there is another connection to farming, Goertzen says, and that is plants – more specifically, trees.

“The majority of the work in this show is wood-fired and I have harvested wood to complete these vessels,” he says. “Wood not only heats the kiln – the ash from the wood fire lands on the pot’s surface and forms a glaze or, where the pot is pre-glazed, alters the glaze. I made most of these pots a little uneven or rough to capture more wood ash as it goes through the kiln.

“No two pots are the same as there is no way to exactly control the flame-wind going through the stack of ware in the kiln. My wood-kiln goes to almost 2,500° F. and my last firing was held at that temperature for 30 hours.

“I have also included some high-fire glaze work – the brighter greens, blues and reds. What ties these pots to the brown-toned, wood-fired pots is that the glazes also need wood ash to brighten them.

“I do my best to make vessels that take advantage of these two forms of firing, yet I won’t know exactly what the pots will look like,” Goertzen says. “My interest is in that mystery. The beauty for me is in the variation that I could never have thought of. Like a farmer who plants a seed in the ground, I do my best to make the conditions right for success, but it is never totally up to me.”

Goertzen is a 1988 graduate of Bethel College with a B.A. in art. Since 1989, he has worked as a potter at The Old Bag Factory in Goshen, Ind., a three-story, 1890s-vintage building originally constructed as a soap factory and until 1982 the home of two different bag factories.

The Old Bag Factory currently hosts a number of working artists and craftspeople. Goertzen collaborates with Dick Lehman to produce the Lehman-Goertzen pottery line, creating and firing more than 100 different functional and utilitarian ceramic works on-site.

Goertzen has participated in pottery workshops in Tokoname, Japan, and Christchurch, New Zealand. His work is in private collections in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Sweden, Taiwan, the United Kingdom and the United States.

He was part of the Carnegie Juried Show at the Carnegie Center for the Arts in Three Rivers, Mich., in 2008 and the “20 + 1” International Invitational Wood-Fire Exhibition at the Northern Arizona University Art Museum in Flagstaff in 2006.

Since 2006, Goertzen’s work has been available at the Red Lodge Clay Center in Red Lodge, Mont., the Open Door Gallery in Sturgis, Mich., and Village Pottery Gallery in Intercourse, Pa.

“Of This Earth” will be on display through March 6. Regular hours for the Bethel College Fine Arts Center Gallery are Monday-Friday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., and Sunday, 2-4 p.m. There is no admission charge.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and was the only Kansas private college to be ranked in Forbes.com’s listing of “America’s Best Colleges” for 2008 and one of only two Kansas colleges listed in Colleges of Distinction 2008-09. For more information, see the Bethel Web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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