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From here to there: Ron Martino's transition from electrical engineer to potter

On the morning of Tuesday, April 9, Martino was tasked with making 15 or so rice and noodle bowls. Each bowl uses roughly 2 pounds of clay, and will later feature notches in the side to hold chop sticks. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 3
Ron Martino starts most days with an early morning session in the studio behind his store. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 3
Ron Martino crafted three shelves of plates and mugs in his work space early Monday morning. Kelsey Roy / RiverTown Multimedia3 / 3

Ron Martino always liked to create things. The passion to create is what drove him to be an electrical engineer in his early adult years, and it was his work with electronics that later brought him to pottery. Now, Martino has own his own shop, Mississippi Clayworks, in downtown Hastings for almost 30 years.

In the early 1970s, Martino said, a friend who taught art asked him to build an electric potter's wheel.

"I had never seen a potter's wheel. I didn't even know what they looked like. He told me to come to class, so I went and had some clay. I fooled around on the wheel and found I really liked it. So I built him a wheel, and I built one for myself," Martino said.

The love for the hobby continued to grow. Martino bought a book and taught himself how to make different pieces of pottery in the basement of his home. Eventually, Martino had accumulated so many pieces of pottery that he started giving his pieces away to friends.

"They probably didn't want all of it though, so I went to an art fair. I sold out in a day. I thought 'Hey, I like this.' So I went full time," Martino said.

Martino quit his corporate job, an easy feat for him, and started creating pottery full time in 1973.

Although Martino liked working with electronics, and still does as a hobby today, the corporate world wasn't for him. He prefers to work alone, he said.

"It was scary," Martino added. "There were a lot of sleepless nights wondering 'What did I do? Did I mess up?' It worked out though."

In 1976, Martino bought a small hobby farm just south of Hastings where he would work on his pottery and prepare for art fairs.

Martino enjoyed doing art fairs. It was a way to get his name and his work out into the world, but after roughly 10 years working the art fair circuit, Martino grew tired of it.

"It's a lot of travelling and all of your weekends are tied up if you want to make a living at it. You have to do a lot of shows during the year. Packing up and hauling pottery is heavy and if you have any number of pieces that you have to move around, it's a lot of work," Martino said.

In the late 1980s, Martino decided to sell the farm, and started thinking of a new venture — a retail store.

Martino opened Mississippi Clayworks at its downtown Hastings location in 1991, and has been there ever since. The space functions as both Martino's studio and retail space, complete with a kiln out back.

As of today, Martino has created over 100,000 pieces of pottery, taking a head count every time he loads the kiln.

Martino has made a wide range of pottery, from big to small pieces, but his favorite thing to make is a project that takes him about a month to complete.

"What gives me satisfaction is making a complete dinnerware set. I made a huge dinnerware set — I think 12 place settings plus maybe another 10 to 15 serving pieces for someone in Rochester. I keep getting emails saying how much they like it," Martino said.

The part of his work that makes people happy, he said, is how he knows that he was right to quit his job and make pottery a full-time gig.

"A customer once said something to me — it was around the holidays. He said, 'How good you must feel knowing that so many people are opening presents around the holidays and they are oohing and awing over a piece of pottery you made.' Wow, you know, I couldn't get that kind of satisfaction or excitement from working for a corporation," Martino said. "To make someone smile, that's nice."