Meet the featured artists at the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival

 The St. Anthony Park Arts Festival will be held Saturday, June 3, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., along Como and Carter avenues in St. Anthony Park. More than 70 artists will be selling their work, including the festival’s feature artists, Dick and Debbie Cooter and Kim Crocker.

Learn more about the featured artists below.

Dick and Debbie Cooter

In the bicentennial year of 1976, a young couple spent the summer in a borrowed 10-by-12-foot one-room cabin on the North Shore by the banks of the Knife River. “It was a lovely, hot, idyllic summer,” recalls Debbie Cooter. Her husband of 42 years, Dick Cooter, immediately points out that “cabin” is something of a euphemism in this case. “It was a more like a hut,” he says.

Work by Debbie Cooter

Never mind. It may have been primitive, but that rustic summer was the start of two distinguished careers in the arts. Weaver Debbie Cooter’s rugs and blankets are known for their subtle interplay of color and texture, while potter Dick Cooter’s work is of such high caliber that he has exhibited jointly with Minnesota’s most renowned potter, Warren MacKenzie.

The Cooters will be among the featured artists at the 48th annual St. Anthony Park Arts Festival on Saturday, June 3.

Both agree that it is their life on the North Shore that makes their art possible. “My work reflects the natural world around me,” says Dick. And Debbie adds, “My work is what it is because I live in the country.”

Now living in a house they built themselves near Two Harbors, Minn., the two are proud that, thanks to the sign they posted on Highway 61 “near Betty’s Pies,” they are freed from the constant pressure to go on the road with the craft-show circuit. Customers are willing to take the 2-mile drive to their house “from Highway 61 and . . . we can now sell from our door.”

Dick grew up in Falcon Heights, got a degree in studio arts from the University of Minnesota, studied with McKenzie and “always thought of myself as an artist,” but he wasn’t able to launch a full-time career as a potter until the couple moved to their present house in 1991. “Pottery is not portable,” he says, “but when I got here, I thought, this is the spot to build a kiln, and I jumped in with both feet.”

Work by Dick Cooter

For Debbie, the connection of her work to the North Shore is even clearer. She grew up in Minneapolis and had no introduction to crafts through her family. “My mother never knitted, gardened or sewed.” But the family did own a cabin near St. Cloud, and after studying humanities at the U, Debbie realized that her deepest desire was to live in the country.

“When [Dick and I] moved to the North Shore, one of my friends [here] was a Finnish weaver. It was natural to learn weaving and easy to come by a loom,” she says. She started off making rugs with pre-cut materials, selling them initially at church bazaars. Then, as she puts it, “I gradually moved ahead,” designing patterns and coloring her own fibers and, in some cases, even creating her own natural plant-based dyes. She works in both wool and cotton, using chemical dyes for cotton and “cochineal, indigo and plant-based dyes from plants I’ve harvested” for wool.

“I go back and forth between bright tones and subdued shades,” she says, while pointing out that one of the chief pleasures of her work is “on a rainy day, I get to work with color and texture.”

Debbie hopes that those coming on her work for the first time will “see something comfortable with pizazz.”

Dick expects first-time viewers of his pottery to “see a sense of play” in his sometimes-rough-hewn vessels. “People might think my work is crude, but I handle the material with control, to let the clay have its say. I have fun in the work, and it’s always well-made and well-balanced.”

Do they consider themselves artists or artisans? Neither Cooter is much interested in the distinction. “We’re both,” Debbie says. Dick adds, “Maybe this is why I don’t do ceramic sculpture. Pots are intimate objects that people use every day. Being used is what completes [my work]. I consider myself a potter, but if somebody wants to call me an artist …” He won’t object.

If you talk to the couple for any length of time, the word “balance” inevitably rises. Balance in their work, but also balance in their life is something they strive for. “We try to make time for friends, exercise. I like to cook,” says Debbie. Eating together is a priority; eating off Dick’s well-made pottery elevates a meal to a ritual.

“We’re joined at the hip,” Debbie admits.

They even seek balance in the enjoyment of their remote northern landscape. “Our favorite place to go on vacation is New York City,” Debbie says.

Although the two share their work life more intimately perhaps than most couples do, they rely on each other more for practical assistance than for artistic inspiration. “I am part of his process,” Debbie says, explaining that she helps Dick with the arduous 36-hour process of loading and firing his kiln. “We talk about our work with each other,” she adds. “We support each other,” notes Dick.

As for inspiration, they’re in perfect harmony on that topic as they are in so many other ways. The fact is, they are both a little suspicious of the whole idea. “The muse doesn’t come to those who wait,” says Dick.

Debbie agrees. “People think you should work when the muse hits you,” she says. “But no, you work until the idea hits. As you work, the idea comes.”

It’s that matter-of-fact, utilitarian approach that infuses their entire undertaking. Ask Dick what professional accomplishment he is most proud of and he responds not by describing a particularly well-executed bowl or by mentioning a prize or honor he has garnered, but by saying, “I’m proudest that I’ve been able to support myself by working as a potter.”

“We’re lucky, because not everybody can do this,” Debbie says. “We lead a simple life, but a great life.”

To learn more about the Cooters and see examples of their work, visit www.crossingbordersstudiotour.com/?artist=debbie-cooter and www.cooterpottery.com/.

Jeweler Kim Crocker is intrigued by mechanical action and the relationship of parts to the whole. She shares these interests with her fiancé, an auto mechanic who brings Crocker gifts like a “ruined CD-player,” so that she can examine its inner workings. “I’m fascinated by how things move and work together,” she says.

But Crocker doesn’t express her interests solely in machines and engineering. She also creates lovely, intricate designs in gold and silver, where miniature discs, spheres and wires achieve the equilibrium of objects brought to rest through the logic of engineered movement.

Work by Kim Crocker

For Crocker, it’s a puzzle to be solved. How to “synchronize a piece so that it has validity, motion, lightness, femininity but still [has] strength” is the challenge. To those who appreciate fine jewelry, it is wearable art. Earrings, necklaces and pins that have brought her to the attention of the St. Anthony Park Arts Festival committee, which this year invited her to be one of three featured artists at the annual event on June 3.

As far as Crocker, 51, is concerned, it’s all part of a process of learning and development that started when she was in high school. “The brain is always working, always picking things up—not that you expect to achieve perfection, but it’s the passion to want to try,” she says.

Crocker says she is a “fabricator, which means that I work with a torch” and without casting her pieces in a mold. “My pieces are completely from scratch,” she says. “I can add all the way until a piece is done.

“I don’t like to make things twice,” she says, and it’s a principle she lives by—even when she fashions a “pair” of earrings. Crocker specializes in what she calls “asymmetric earrings,” individual pieces of jewelry for the ear that are united by theme and material but made unique by detail and composition. “I’ll make 30 different earrings [on a theme] so that the customer can mix and match the right pair,” she explains.

It’s a different life from the one she imagined when she was growing up in Golden Valley, Minn., with plans to become a veterinarian. A stint in high school working for a vet convinced Crocker that her professional future did not lie with sick animals. There followed a period she describes as “very hippy-like.” She followed the Grateful Dead band, while making jewelry on the side. After a few months as a Deadhead, Crocker rejoined the straight world by studying design and metalworking at the University of Minnesota and Normandale Community College.

She now lives on a hobby farm in New Prague with her fiancé and the five daughters, ages 11 to 20, they have brought to the relationship. She still loves animals—the farm includes horses, pigs, ducks, goats and a donkey. There were even some alpaca in residence for a while, and Crocker was able to incorporate their fleece in her work. “I loved incorporating the softness and texture of alpaca fiber with silver metal,” she says.

Working strands of alpaca into silver earrings is the kind of playful touch Crocker favors. She hopes people will find “whimsy and a lightening of spirit” in her work, “and maybe a little surprise.”

She’s proud that she’s able to support herself as a creative artist. “Money is sometimes tight, but I’m still doing this without another job. Especially in these times it’s hard to support yourself as an artist.” Ruefully, she notes that many artists depend on collectors of their work to survive, “but younger people now collect on Pinterest!”

Still, Crocker is undaunted. “It’s more important than ever to stand up for things that are created with soul and heart,” she says.

Find out more about Kim Crocker and her work at kimcrockerdesigns.com.

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