by Dennis Dalman
The memory of James Loso – artist, potter, teacher, mentor, family man and beloved friend to many – is being honored at a special exhibit in downtown St. Joseph.
“The Loso Legacy Exhibit” is on display at the Satellite Gallery. Its opening coincided with the annual Millstream Arts Festival last Sunday, an event Loso helped start many years ago.
Loso died suddenly, tragically on the morning of Nov. 4, 2012 two days after his 71st birthday. His wife, Jean, is not certain of the cause of his death but believes it was either a heart attack or a stroke.
The night before, he was feeling just fine. He had returned home at about 9 p.m. from the Paramount Art Studios in St. Cloud where he was doing what he loved best – teaching pottery students. It was the last night of the class, and Loso and the students had just finished making arrangements to have their pottery pieces fired at a kiln in St. Joseph.
“Jim was vital right up until the end,” said Jean, his wife. “He was first and foremost a teacher. He derived a lot of energy from teaching.”
Teaching, in fact, is what brought Loso and Jean Flahaven together years ago. He had been teaching art at Elk River High School since 1973. Jean, too, was a teacher there, for many years in special education and later in 10th-grade English. She hailed from South Dakota.
Loso’s students relished his classes, partly because he was blessed with a wild, outrageous sense of humor and because his love for art, especially pottery, was a huge inspiration for students. Loso retired from teaching at Elk River in 2008.
“He was so good at drawing the talents out of students,” Jean said. “He was not a quiet man. He was outrageous in a good way. Boisterous. A bit off the wall. And very humorous. He was definitely a child of the 1960s. That was his era.”
So many of Loso’s students – many of them now adults with families – attended his funeral and gave tribute to the man they loved as a teacher and as a friend.
Loso grew up living above one of St. Joseph’s historical landmarks – the Loso Grocery Store on main street. His parents owned and operated the store for many years, and later one of their sons, Dick, took over until the store – more than 100 years old – closed several years ago.
As an art student at St. Cloud State University in the 1960s, Loso loved all kinds of art, especially print-making, but in time he gravitated very strongly to pottery to the point where it became his favorite. And that was the beginning of his lifelong passion for pottery and for teaching.
At the current Loso exhibit at the Satellite Gallery are dozens of Loso’s works, along with large black-and-white photos of Loso that evoke his zest for life, his love of his work and his “outrageous” personality. One of the photos shows Loso sitting at a table full of pottery, at the edge of a graveyard, a wry smile on Loso’s face.
The gallery exhibit gives a good idea of the sheer range of Loso’s work. The pottery ranges from solid-white porcelain to strikingly bold works in black-and-gold. Some of the vases are adorned with filigree that is delicate and strong at the same time. The designs on some of the works have a hint of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco styles, popular in the early 20th Century. Loso was very intrigued by those two art movements, his wife noted.
As a potter working for half a century, Loso mastered stoneware and porcelain, which is very difficult to handle on a potter’s wheel. He also excelled at works in the Japanese “raku” style – more porous types of works that produce, in the kiln firings, astonishing colors, some of them metallic reds and golds.
Loso and Jean have one son, Jay, who lives in the Twin Cities and recently graduated with a doctorate in physical therapy. His wife, Genevieve, is a part-time potter.
“The Loso Legacy Exhibition” is showing through Sunday, Oct. 13. It’s located at 15 Minnesota St. E. For open hours, call 320-309-1529.