Fans of functional clay will find a haven just a stone's throw away

Pottery lover's paradise
2011-08-28T00:00:00Z 2011-09-18T16:19:24Z Fans of functional clay will find a haven just a stone's throw awayBy Nathan Hansen | nathan.hansen@winonadailynews.com Winona Daily News

RED WING, Minn. - Along with the hotels, casinos and work boots, Red Wing is known for making pottery.

Nestled on the old Main Street where the original factories were located is a treasure of pottery and history in the Red Wing Pottery and Shops building.

Today, the store still offers hand-made salt-glazed pottery and the more modern Bristol-glaze wares along with other shops.

Along with the Red Wing Stoneware Co., Red Wing Pottery are the only remnants of what was a large pottery industry in the city of Red Wing.

Red Wing Stoneware was organized in 1878 and was originally located where the Red Wing Pottery store is now.

Two other stoneware companies were formed, Minnesota Stoneware Co. in 1883 and North Star Stoneware Co. in 1892.

By 1906, all three of these companies had merged into one organization, which became known as Red Wing Potteries in 1936.

Eventually, the pottery industry died and the factories closed down.

Red Wing Potteries' inventory and salesroom were purchased by the Gillmer family and turned into the Red Wing Pottery and Shops in 1967.

Red Wing Stoneware was the first potter to come back in 1987, producing the iconic Bristol-glaze stoneware with the red wing insignia.

Red Wing Potteries also started producing pottery again in 1996, with the potters on display in the back of the store where customers can see them work.

Scott Gillmer is the third generation of his family to own Red Wing Pottery, which has branched off through the years.

Along with the hand-made salt-glaze pottery and Red Wing Stoneware items, there are five different gift shops and a cafe.

But the main attraction is the salt-glazed pottery, which is a German tradition that dates back to the 1400s and was brought to Red Wing by immigrants.

The store still makes its pottery by hand, with the potters and their work easily visible and accessible in the rear of the store, seven days a week.

Alex Wilson has been a potter at Red Wing Pottery for more than 11 years now and was throwing clay mugs on Monday.

Wilson has made some intersting things, such as dragon-shaped piggybanks, but his favorite item to make are the mugs.

"They're like the doorknobs of the pottery world," he said. "You use them without thinking about them, but each person gravitates to certain styles."

On average, the potters at Red Wing make about 500 pieces each month.

Down the road from Red Wing Pottery and Shops in one of the old Red Wing Pottery factory buildings is the home of the Red Wing Collector Society and its pottery museum.

The Collector Society contains more than 5,000 members interested in the history and collecting pieces of Red Wing Pottery.

Each year, the society holds a convention in Red Wing to show off collections and has auctions of pottery made in Red Wing.

The society started the museum to showcase hundreds of examples of Red Wing pottery.

The displays include pottery specimens dating from the beginning of the pottery industry in Red Wing to the closing of the factories in 1967.

Some items are more mundane than others, such as historic examples of pottery jugs and crocks.

One of the unique displays is the "lunch hour" products that potters would make during their lunch breaks at work for fun.

The examples on display were made by sewer pipe potters, and the items all show how they took the clay cylinders and molded them into tree trunks, bird houses or other pieces of art.

The museum showcases more than just pottery.

The museum houses sketches made by designers and artists for unique styles of pottery and other documents, such as sales ledgers from the companies.

Copyright 2015 Winona Daily News. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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