by Dennis Dalman
Years ago, when he enrolled in St. John’s University as a pre-med student, little did Joel Cherrico know at the time he would become totally hooked on pottery, drop his major to study art and become a full-time potter after graduation.
As a high school student in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Cherrico was introduced to pottery in art class and enjoyed it very much. In fact, he made 100 pots in his senior year. At this point, about six years later, Cherrico has created at least 10,000 pieces of pottery that include mugs, cups, plates, casserole dishes, vases and various clay sculptures.
Cherrico is a familiar face at area farmers’ markets, including the one in St. Joseph. He loves to meet people who come to the markets and sells his pottery less expensively, without the need for overhead costs, to his customers. He also likes demonstrating shaping pottery on his wheel at the markets, especially for children who seem to have an inborn affinity for the joys of clay.
On Sept. 14, Cherrico hosted an outdoor pottery show on the “Wooden Deck” in downtown St. Joseph. Even though it rained, driving most visitors into the sheltered warmth of Cherrico’s small storage-photography room, everyone had a good time socializing, munching on snacks, listening to music by local musician Dan Cofell and buying some of Cherrico’s highly functional pottery.
In his very small apartment off of St. Joseph’s Minnesota Street, Cherrico – despite the small space – manages to create an amazing, prolific output of pottery. His electric kiln, however, he must keep on a balcony outside of his third-floor apartment. Cherrico, in that apartment, spends many happy hours at his potter’s wheel, constantly honing his art, shaping clay with his hands, always experimenting and looking forward to the happy accidents (examples of serendipity) that so often happen in pottery, especially during the kiln process.
Cherrico mixes his own glazes, which include wood ashes he gets from a friend at the St. John’s Arboretum. He combines other ingredients that can include silica, crushed clay or limestone, cobalt blue, iron and copper red. Most of his finished products have white or gray backgrounds with glazed colors of blue or rust or burgundy-red over the lighter surfaces.
“Wood-ash glazes are a key component to my works,” he said.
Once he finishes shaping a piece on his potter’s wheel, he lets them air-dry for a day or two. He then adds appendages (such as coffee-mug handles) onto the pieces. Then he puts them in the very hot kiln where they dry slowly for two or three days. After cooling, the pieces are dipped in glaze and/or brushed with a glaze and fired again.
Cherrico gets his clay from a supplier in Minneapolis, sometimes up to 2,000 pounds at a time.
He will never forget the happy rush he felt the first time he visited the kiln at the College of St. Benedict. His high-school love of pottery came rushing back at full force at that moment. When he sat down at a potter’s wheel, he knew he would pursue the art for a long time. When he changed his major to art, Cherrico pondered becoming an art teacher, thinking it would help him support his true love – pottery. But more and more, he steeled up a determination to try to make a living as a full-time potter. To that effect, he took two classes in business management, learning information about how to make it in one’s own business.
“So far, I’ve been a full-time potter for three years and four months,” Cherrico said. “I love to wake up in the morning and go to work at the wheel.”
His artistic influences include famed potter Richard Bresnahan of SJU and two of Bresnahan’s apprentices with whom Cherrico learned from – instructors Sam Johnson and J.D. Jergenson. Another influence is pioneering American abstract-expressionist painter Jackson Pollock, whose action-drip paintings still inspire Cherrico’s penchant for the spontaneous glaze drips on the surface of so many of his works.
Cherrico is also a music buff, who was first-chair trumpet in high school and who now likes to play rock and blues guitar. While working at his wheel, he often listens to music, and one of his favorites, especially when he’s working quickly, is the band the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Currently, one of Cherrico’s major projects is to create 100 beer mugs for Brother Willie’s Pub at SJU – mugs students have the option of buying. Depending on how they sell, Cherrico is likely to make several hundred more in the coming months.
“I love the fact people are eating and drinking with my pottery,” he said. “My pottery is definitely made to be used.”
To see more of Cherrico’s pottery, go to the following website: www.cherricopottery.com.