Local Potter Mike Helke’s Functional Pottery Art

Local potter Mike Helke talks about how a strong sense of community and a desire of learning translates into beautiful art.

Pouring pots, according to local potter and professor Mike Helke, are not only one of his favorite styles of functional pottery to make, but they are the ode to the history that defines the craft’s very meaning. “It’s a very complex object,” Helke says of the pot designed to pour liquids like gravy, water or any other viscous fluid found tabletop. “There’s a lot to it, architecturally, but it’s also a very fun object to create.”

Helke, who was brought up in the St. Croix Valley, is also son to local potter Connie Helke and married to director of Northern Clay Center, Sarah Millfelt. Though initially he didn’t set out to pursue the craft, his background (some might even say lineage) in the local arts scene eventually caught up to him. “I think early on I didn’t realize it had that much of an impact. Or how much it influenced, or how much it made me create and have a desire to make things,” Helke says. “I think it had a huge impact, and it still does, being surrounded by all these artists in the Valley.”

In addition to pottery, Helke is an adjunct professor at the University of Wisconsin–River Falls, the University of Minnesota and Carleton College. “I’m learning that it’s a necessary component of what I do, [teaching]. It’s really stimulating, and I learn a lot and bring a lot back home to the studio,” he says. “My initial attraction with the pouring pot, and the way I’ve been able to redefine it through my other interests, like sculpture or painting or drawing, has really nourished my interest in it.”