Travel to southeast Minnesota and you will find yourself in Historic Bluff Country where beautiful rolling hills surround small quaint towns. Venture there the weekend of April 26-28 and a host of artists will be opening up their studios for a tour showcasing their artwork. This month’s Women in Arts column features Rochester ceramic artist Stephanie Kuglin, who will be part of the Bluff Country Studio Art Tour, representing Hilltop Clay at Lanesboro Community Center.
For over a year, Kuglin has been building her own pottery studio within her home located at the top of a hill in Rochester, thus the business name Hilltop Clay. Her pottery wheel sits in front of a large window: inspiration for an artist.
Inspired by Heesoo Ceramics in Montana, Kuglin experiments with glazes, seeing what happens when they heat together in the kiln where magical things can take place. From rice paper and laser transfers to using new tools like a slab roller, she welcomes all this new path entails, even the possibility of teaching it to someone else in the future. Her advice to Rochester Women magazine readers is, “You are never too old to start something new.”
Pottery is another interest tied to the many she has of working with her hands, giving function and purpose to something innate. Hilltop pottery is experimental but functional. From plates to mugs, Kuglin finds that pottery is a practice of patience with both failure and success. As a visual thinker, her process is diving right in, working with mistakes and learning through the process. “It doesn’t have to be perfect,” she advises. “It can be messy first, then figure it out later. Don’t wait until it’s perfect. Failure is only when you quit.”
Kuglin never envisioned herself starting her own pottery business; however, looking back she can see where she always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. As the oldest child in a single-mother family, a natural inclination to take care of things, do things herself and contribute to the whole developed inside her. As a child she would look for pretty rocks to sell to people, and she built her own candy store in a dresser drawer for the neighborhood kids.
Now as an adult, living a self-supporting life is important to Kuglin through gardening and raising animals for food. Additionally, Kuglin has embraced the challenges of business ownership and is walking through them fearlessly. From following the leads provided by others, she has participated in the farmers markets and pop-up markets, and is accepting custom orders from her website. Her business is growing by word-of-mouth, as well as social media. She is excited to try new things and keeps broadening her skills and knowledge.
Kuglin is a wife, mother to three and now a working artist. When I asked her about balancing all these things in everyday life she contemplated, “Balance is a nice idea, but isn’t something that can done every day. Balance comes in chunks of time. For example, this chunk of time we’re going to have easy meals so mom can focus and get work done for a pottery show coming up or an order that’s due. Then we’ve got some slow time, let’s do some family stuff, cook some meals together, go do something fun.”
Even with this idea of chunking life balance, it appears Kuglin has found a good balance, even in the everyday.
Joy Blewett is a local freelance writer, designer and art teacher.