Adama Sow: potter, teacher, traveler

Sow works on a colander at Edina Arts Center. Once the design is cut out the colander will sit for two or three days to dry before being placed in the kiln. (Sun Post staff photo by Gina Purcell)

 

As a young boy he would have never imagined his interest in art flourishing as it has, but today his work and his personable character are being praised by metro residents.

Adama Sow was born in Senegal, West Africa, where he spent most of his life. After graduating high school, he attended Ecole Des Beaux Arts School where he took his first art class.

At one time, Sow was a great soccer player. He was captain of his team, in fact, and had dreams of becoming a professional. But one day he broke his finger and decided to give up the sport he loved for another interest he admired: art.

His inspiration to become an artist, and more importantly a teacher, is in large part due to one of his siblings. Along with his twin sister, Sow is the youngest of 10 siblings. One of his older brothers is now a famous potter and professor of fine arts in Senegal. Art is something Sow also found he had a passion for, much like his brother.

In 2002 Sow moved to Plymouth. A friend of his who had previously lived in Minnesota told him it had many opportunities for art. Soon after moving to the area, he discovered the Edina Art Center where he began working on his pieces.

Within the year, he was offered a teaching position at the center. He has since become a favorite for children and adult artists who take his class.

“[His wheel classes] fill up in about 20 minutes,” said Michael Frey, director of Edina Arts Center. “It’s unbelievable. Every class he offers for kids (this summer) is full right now. The kids love him.”

His passion for teaching is evident in his many stories about his students.

Typically his youngest student is 5 years old, but occasionally the center allows a 4-year-old to join the class. He recalls a 4-year-old girl who had taken his class and told him she wanted to grow up to be an art teacher like him.

Sow begins to light up as he talks about the fun he has with the children he teaches.

At the start of each session of classes, Sow likes to ask the children what types of animals they have as pets at home. Most respond with dogs or cats. Sow then tells his students he has a pet lion, a statement that gets an uproar of laughter from his students.

“I am from Africa,” Sow said. “Once I tell them I am from Africa they start to believe me,” he said with a chuckle.

In Africa, students are not provided with art classes throughout grade school but instead explore that interest after high school if they choose. It is something Sow appreciates about American education.

“I think it is important for children to learn art at a young age,” Sow said. “I love kids. They are wonderful to work with.”

Art is what drives him, but teaching is his favorite part about what he does.

“I like to share my knowledge,” he said. “I like the teaching aspect of it. I love teaching.”

During Minnesota’s cold winter, Sow returns to Senegal where he spends roughly six weeks visiting with family. Sow is the only member of his family who lives in America. He typically leaves the first week of December, almost immediately following his last art show of the year. It is a way for him to relax and unwind after a long season of art selling because summer and fall are busy times for him.

In the warm summer months, he arrives by 6 a.m. at Edina Art Center, his home away from home, away from home. He spends numerous hours at the center creating useful works of art.

It takes him five minutes on the wheel to mold a mound of clay into anything he plans to make. A vase, colander, mixing bowl or candle holder are just a few of the pieces he creates. He lets the piece dry overnight and when he returns the next day he spends 15 minutes cutting designs into its semi-soft sides. The piece continues to dry for another two or three days before it is glazed and put into the kiln.

His work has a strong African influence, as one would expect, but another passion of Sow’s is traveling. As busy as he is, Sow makes time to travel at least once a year following the busy art season. He has been to many parts of Europe: France, Germany, Portugal and the list goes on. He is fluent in English; French; Wolof, the native language of Senegal; and Toucouleur, his dialect within Wolof.

His time at the center varies; sometimes five hours, sometimes much more. During his busier summer months when Sow is showcasing many of his pieces on the weekends, he has been known to arrive at 6 a.m. and work until 3 a.m. the following day.

Regardless, Monday through Friday, Sow can be found at Edina Art Center either teaching or working on his own pieces.

This summer Sow will teach 32 classes at the Edina Art Center. Some are only a few days in length and some span as long as eight weeks. From animal figurines to mosaics, the pieces being made in his classes vary but the medium remains the same: clay.

Aside from the many classes he will teach Monday through Friday at the center, Sow will be busy making and selling his own pieces at art shows. During the summer and fall, Sow typically has an art show every weekend.

“It is a busy time,” he said.

Sow visits numerous art shows in the Twin Cities but also ventures to Wisconsin, Iowa and North Dakota. One show in particular he has grown fond of is Golden Valley Days.

“I am all over the place,” he said with a chuckle.

It is a big year for Golden Valley Days as it celebrates its 10th year, and so it is a big year for Sow who also celebrates his 10th year at the event.

Anna Silverman of Golden Valley was artist coordinator at the time. She was in search of local artists who would sell their pieces at the event and so, she made a visit to Edina Art Center.

“I boldly walked in,” she said. “I said ‘hello,’ introduced myself, chatted with the director.”

Following her gesture at the center, a few artists displayed their pieces that first year at the event. Sow has returned every year since.

“It’s next door,” he said. “I liked the people who run the show. They’re very nice and well organized. That’s why I keep going there.”

Sow has enjoyed Golden Valley’s event since day one and plans to return for years to come.

Silverman has become one of his repeat customers and a good friend, visiting his shows regularly.

“He’s got fabulous pieces,” she said.

Visitors of the Silverman home would agree. Many of Sow’s pieces are out not only for use but for display in her home and she frequently gets compliments.

Silverman has purchased about 10 of Sow’s pieces for her Golden Valley home. She also buys them as gifts for family and friends. When asked what her favorite Sow piece is: “Oh, my god,” she said. “Oh my god, they’re all my favorite pieces.”

Silverman’s compliments stretch beyond Sow’s artwork.

“He’s wonderful,” she said. “We always hug when we see each other. He’s just that type of person. Everyone enjoys Adama. I can’t imagine anyone ever saying anything negative.”

Silverman is not his only admirer.

“Adama is a treasure for us,” said Frey. “He’s great to have on staff.”

His speed, accuracy and talent is gawked at by other artists and teachers in the center.

“He’s a production potter,” Frey said. “Meaning that he can make similar things very fast. He’s amazing at what he creates.”

Sow greets each compliment with a smile and note of appreciation as he continues his work.

His most popular piece? A small egg cooker. The piece comes complete with a set of directions written by Sow himself that explains how to use the piece. In short, it consists of cracking an egg into the bowl, placing the cover on top and cooking it in the microwave for less than a minute.

“These are the hottest selling thing in our gift shop,” said Frey. “It makes the most perfect soft boiled or slightly hard boiled egg in under a minute.”

This summer will be similar to others, packed full of classes, shows and working on pieces. It is something Sow loves doing, but it can be very tiring. So, in September as he does every year Sow will take five days to vacation somewhere across the American border for some much-deserved relaxation.

If you go:

To meet the artist himself, visit Golden Valley Days 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday, May 18, at Brookview Park, 200 Brookview Parkway N.

Contact Gina Purcell at gina.purcell@ecm-inc.com

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