Three Lakes Center for the Arts will exhibit the work of John Langer, who might be considered the “godfather” of ceramics in the North Woods.
John’s history as a ceramic artists began in the early 1970’s when he stumbled into an art room in Seymour High School and watched a pot be thrown on a potter’s wheel. John recalls, “I was smitten and immediately took an evening class.”
As he learned ‘throwing skills’ (term used for making a pot on a potter’s wheel) he quickly bought his own wheel in 1972. He began throwing pots as much as he could and describes his journey as one of self-discovery.
While in the Green Bay area, John discovered he could audit a class and gain access to the equipment, and he remembers the instructor being a bit put out by his enthusiasm.
John began his career path as a science teacher and taught until 1976. He then went back to school to become a Physician Assistant and moved to the North Woods area to work as a PA.
His pottery habit continued as a hobby, and he soon found a used kiln. John acquired more equipment and established a home studio. He explained that he found a gas kiln but had no experience firing it.
Those who know John understand that he quickly learned what needed to be done with all the details in place. Soon he also added an electric kiln and had lots of choices in the making of his pottery.
John began selling pottery here and there and then began doing some local shows and art fairs. He and his wife Vicki have been part of the Northwoods Art Tour from its inception 22 years ago. Vicki adds decorative work to John’s pottery in a Northwood’s theme.
Around 20 years ago, he and Vicki established Bear Paw Pottery. When asked about the name of his studio, John explains that he has been part of Bear Paw Scout Camp, since 1966.
He has spent 12 years on the camp staff, and he says, “It has been the best experience of my life to work there and be part of the program. I’ve developed leadership skills in my work with adults and kids. This work directed me to be a part of service to others, whether teaching or as a PA.” His studio, Bear Paw Pottery, is named after the camp.
In addition, he sells his work through commissions and consignments at galleries.
John’s service to others continues in his retirement. He has been on the foundation level of many ceramic educational opportunities over the years. John says, “I like to share my enthusiasm for the craft.” He is a resource for countless potters in the area. He has taught or demonstrated in many places which includes Nicolet College and several high schools.
More recently John established a learning ceramic studio at the Warehouse Art Center in Eagle River. Currently, he teaches classes at the Warehouse in The Langer Studio. His ability in acquiring equipment can be seen at the studio with 6 wheels, two kilns, a slab roller and all the equipment that one would need to make pottery.
In addition to actively teaching classes, he mentors well over a dozen potters in the area. He is a constant teacher and resource for acquiring and refining skills, equipment, glazes, recipes and basically anything related to making pottery.
He is the go-to person in the area for anything related to kilns. He will selflessly show up to replace parts, problem solve, locate equipment and get a home studio up and running.
John’s work is focused on utilitarian and functional pottery. He wants people to use his pottery in their everyday lives and enjoy having them.
His major influence is Johnson Loud, his long-time mentor. He has also admired the work of Warren MacKenzie who gave functional pottery a place in American arts and crafts through simple, honest work that has integrity and is reasonably priced.
A teacher, but always a student, John’s current work explores carving into the surface of pots. He likes the way the glazes break through and expose different facets of a glaze. He is busy exploring glaze development, experimenting and testing ways to add to his current palate.
Also included in his work are beautiful raku pieces. Although these are not as functional for everyday use, John has used this technique for urns and containers that are not food focused.
When asked about the exhibit, John shares “I hope that the viewer enjoys the work. I am flattered when someone buys my work and uses it to make it part of their daily routine.” He also emphasizes, “As much as I like making, I like teaching. Watching a student’s progress as they work through frustrations, find a path and make breakthroughs, brings me great satisfaction.”
John and Vicki’s work will be showing through the month of May at the Three Lakes Center for the Arts in downtown Three Lakes.
An artist’s reception will take place on Friday, May 6, from 5-7:00 p.m. Come meet John and take the chance that he may lead you to a pottery lesson or experience and make you “an offer you can’t refuse”.