From the outside, the 13-acre Abnet Farm north of downtown Stillwater is like a time capsule.
A long dirt driveway leads from Square Lake Trail North to the farmhouse, barn, homestead cabin and woodshop, each painted in a classic farm red with deep green trim. Most of the buildings on the property were built in 1914.
The interior, on the other hand, shows how St. Croix Valley artists repurposed the property over decades to provide space for generations to create art.
Richard Abnet, a St. Croix Valley potter who died in March 2011, bought the property in 1961, then a 100-acre family-run dairy farm owned by Harry Palm. Edie Abnet, a painter, later joined Richard on the property when they married in 1981.
“It was very run down,” Edie said. “It was totally transformed, landscape-wise and everything.”
Eventually, Richard built a pottery studio, including several hand-built wheels and a kiln, and Edie settled into her own painting studio in the hay barn. The pair taught painting and pottery classes at the Abnet Farm for more than two decades, she said.
After Richard died in 2011, Edie said she wanted an artist to use his studio.
“I wanted art to stay there,” she said. “It’s a magical place. I’ve never wanted to shut my doors to its creative potential.”
Five years ago, potter Nick Earl moved in after another St. Croix Valley potter, Guillermo Cuellar, connected him to Edie. Earl, an Edina, Minn. native, attended college in Vermont before he moved to Two Harbors, Minn. to apprentice with potter Dick Cooter for two and a half years. Cooter was a student of Warren Mackenzie, a world-renowned Stillwater potter who died in December at age 94.
In exchange for property maintenance and groundskeeping, Earl had free reign of Richard’s studio. He moved to the Abnet Farm about five years ago, he said.
Earl transformed the farm’s old woodshop into an apartment and he and Edie, about 40 years apart in age, shared the farmhouse kitchen.
“It was a perfect transition for me when I finished my apprenticeship,” Earl said. “She was really doing me a huge service...I can’t downplay how important that is.”
Edie, who lived on the Abnet Farm for nearly 40 years, sold the property last October to two retired farmers from Iowa before she moved to the Black Hills in South Dakota. The new owners are devoted to maintaining the farm’s character, she said, and Earl is still the property’s caretaker.
Earl said he often spends hours spinning clay pots on the wheel in the barn’s lower level studio, which runs more than half the length of the barn. With two kilns as well as rooms for spinning, glazing and recycling clay, Earl said he’s grateful to have the rare opportunity as a young artist to have so much space.
“There’s a lot of space needed,” Earl said. “If you’re in a community studio, there’s only so much space you can take.”
In addition to hosting annual pottery shows, Earl has a showroom full of his work, a feature that allows him to sell his work more regularly. When he’s not spinning pots or teaching private lessons, Earl bartends at the Mad Capper Saloon & Eatery in Stillwater.
“The ability to have those home sales is huge,” Earl said.
However, when pots don’t sell Earl can’t recycle them because they are already kiln-fired.
While farm silos are traditionally store grain, the Abnet Farm silo contains a several foot high mound of broken reject pots. Swallows also nest in the silo each year, Earl said, and a trio of baby birds chirped when he picked up a broken pot.
Although Earl said he occasionally tosses unwanted pots onto the pile, some of the ceramic buried beneath is Richard’s work.
“These were some of the last pots that he made,” Earl said. “It’s a good reminder that he built this place.”
As part of the annual Take Me to the River art tour, Earl will host a fall pottery sale 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sept. 27-29 at the Abnet Farm, located at 16885 Square Lake Trail N. in Stillwater. For more information, visit nickearlpottery.com.
Contact Kim Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org