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BSU grad turns passion into art

Norwood Hall, left, and Cyrus Swann talk during the opening reception for Swann's ceramic installation at the Wild Hare. The pieces will be on display and for sale through January. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI – Potter Cyrus Swann says he and his mother always dreamed to setting up a pottery studio together.

The dream began to come true after Swann graduated Bemidji State University with a bachelor’s degree in visual arts back in 2002.

“After I graduated from college I moved back home to Pine River and there was this old pottery wheel in the garage,” Swann said. “I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and my mom (Clair McGuigan) was down in the (Twin Cities) taking care of my grandparents.

“The buildings were kind of falling down so I went back with my buddy, Mitch Blessing, and he helped me remodel what is now my studio.”

It took several years for Swann to finish the project since the work in process required him to learn carpentry along with other construction skills. Up until about four years ago, Swann supported himself with part-time jobs in construction and cabinet making.

“I quit my other jobs and concentrated on my skills and went into ceramics full time,” said Swann. “All of the arts instructors at BSU at that time – Marlon Davidson, Carol Strube, Natalia Himmerska and Butch Holden – who taught me glazes and how they work, were good.”

In 2006, Swann was invited to install his mixed media work, “Transition and Tradition,” at the North Dakota Museum of Art on the University of North Dakota campus in Grand Forks. He continues to sell his work at the museum shop there.

The space-in-progress is now a working studio where Swann creates his functional pottery that customers at the Wild Hare Bistro use every day when they order coffee or tea in a mug. Swann thinks of himself as their resident potter as he sells some of his pieces as well and has a show every year.

Swann also makes pottery for several coffee shops, including those in Nisswa and Cross Lake, and has a resident display at the McRostie Arts Center in Grand Rapids. Swann used the studio at McRostie to create the bowls for its annual Empty Bowl event.

Swann also has an installation at the Northwest Technical College in Bemidji. In 2011, he received a grant from the Five Wings Arts Council to purchase a slab roller which allows him to produce large scale tile projects and wall art.

A few of his tiles are in the show now at the Wild Hare. The tiles begin as stoneware plates upon which he makes gestural marks in wax resist on the base color and then applies a final glaze before the final kiln firing. His ever popular skulls, which he primarily sells through, also hold a commanding spot at the Wild Hare.

Swann uses an electric kiln for his bisque firing and then completes his pieces in a gas kiln. Swann accepts commissions for ceramic pieces ranging from the simple functional mug to larger pieces like the skulls on the board at the rear of the show.

To see more of his work without traveling to Grand Forks, Grand Rapids or Nisswa where his work is on display and for sale at several shops, go to

Swann’s newest work in the current exhibit shows more of the direction he wants to go: harmonize all the materials he uses into one statement.

By that he means, ceramics, drawing, woodworking and metal to create a whole by making them “fit right.” Swann makes his living by being a functional potter but he does not think that is what defines him in this continuum of experimenting and creating.

Father, local poet and author, Anthony Swann, was heard to say that “it was a wonderful surprise to have a potter in the family.”

Cyrus and his partner, Tanya Ryapy, have just welcomed a new member of their family. Avery Winter Swann was welcomed by big sister, 6-year-old Athena last Saturday.