Richard Bresnahan’s first solo exhibition in 20 years is open through Oct. 27

A walk through the Laura H. Miles Gallery at the Minnetonka Center for the Arts is always a unique experience. The art center regularly exhibits work from area artists as well as its students and artist-instructors. But if you walk into the gallery today, you’ll discover a rare single-artist exhibit.

The display, open through Oct. 27, is centered on master potter Richard Bresnahan and his ceramics program at St. John’s University, which Bresnahan founded in 1979 and has remained as the artist in residence. Since then, The Saint John’s Pottery has grown to include apprenticeship and visiting artist programing.

The 63-year-old potter lives near the university in Avon, which means Bresnahan is a short drive away from his Johanna Kiln, an 87-foot long brick wood-burning kiln that was first fired in 1995.

The exhibit at the center features works from all 13 of the kiln’s firings, many of which were pulled from Bresnahan’s archives and have never been previously exhibited The show also offers a rare opportunity for collectors: the chance to purchase and own a work by Bresnahan. The pieces – plates, bowls, teapots and vases – are of all shapes and sizes, but share a similar characteristic. Each work boasts its own unique color depending on the glaze, wood and other materials used in the process.

Bresnahan designed and built the kiln, which is the largest wood-burning tool of its kind in North America, and can hold up to 12,000 pieces at a time.

“We load for two months with a staff of five people,” he said. “We’re preparing work for about a year and a half and then it’s a 10-day firing.”

Bresnahan said people from all over the world come to make work for the firing or to be a part of the process. When the firing is finished, the pieces cool for around two weeks, depending on the size and scale of the work.

The kiln’s most recent firing was a year ago, and pieces are being made for a 14th firing, Bresnahan said, noting that it takes about nine months to clean all the works produced from one firing.

The pieces fired by the kiln are entirely products of the local environment, Bresnahan said. The wood is culled from the forest near the university and glazes are created using resources produced by the Earth.

Bresnahan’s interest in pottery began in a high school class and grew while attending Saint John’s University, where he said he sought a creative outlet to help balance his academic course load. It was there he met art teacher Bill Smith and art history teacher Sister Johanna Becker, for whom the kiln is named.

“These two people saved my life,” Bresnahan said solemnly.

In 1975, Bresnahan traveled to Japan and became an apprentice for the Nakazato Family, who has crafted pottery for 14 generations. After four years, Bresnahan returned to St. John’s and founded the school’s pottery program.

Bresnahan has kept busy since the kiln’s initial firing in 1995. Looking out over his many pieces displayed at the center, the master potter offered a hint at just how busy.

“Somebody asked me what this represented and how much more I have, and I said this is about one percent of my inventory,” he said.

Also included in the Bresnahan’s local residency is a two-day demonstration-based pottery workshop Oct. 14-15, at the center, 2240 North Shore Drive, Wayzata.

For more info and to register, visit

For those interested in learning more about the Johanna Kiln, Bresnahan recommends watching the half-hour documentary “Richard Bresnahan: The Taste of the Clay,” which can be viewed on YouTube.

Contact Jason Jenkins at

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