Photo of Tim Langholz at work by Kent Foster.
Photo of Tim Langholz at work by Kent Foster.
IN A SMALL, SMOKY BAR not far from the Mississippi River in Prairie du Chien, Wis., Joe Price is warming up for his first set. At a table near the stage, some fans from across the river in Iowa have come to hear their favorite bluesman -- not the first time they've made this trip. They've traveled much farther to hear him play, as a matter of fact. After Joe asks the bartender to turn down the lights a little, he takes a drink of something brought up to him by one of the fans, and begins to play.

A word to the wise: Take every opportunity you can to appreciate, as fully as you can, what is beautiful in the world -- laughter, a turn of phrase, a work of art.

I came to Tim Langholz a little too late to appreciate his laughter. I never met him; and almost exactly one year ago, the Postville-born, Luther College and South Bear School-trained potter died, suddenly, at 43. I'm familiar with some of the beautiful things he made, though; and in the past week or so, I've been privileged to spend time with a few people who knew him well -- his wife, Annette; his teacher and mentor, Dean Schwarz; his colleagues, Gunnar Schwarz and Elisabeth Maurland; his Decorah gallerist, Gail Bolson Magnuson, owner of Agora Arts.

It was Gail who first spoke to Annette about the possibility of hosting a memorial exhibit for Tim.

"I just thought there should be some tribute to Tim -- an opportunity to see his pottery, and to see how great a potter he was," Gail says. "He was very, very humble about his pottery. But I hope he realized how brilliant he was."

None of the work in the exhibit is for sale. Borrowed from private collections for the occasion, the pottery will be displayed in the lobby of the Hotel Winneshiek from Friday, Oct. 9, through Sunday, Nov. 1. Photographs by Kent Foster, another local artist, of Tim at work will also be on display.

Agora Arts is hosting a reception for the exhibit this Saturday, Oct. 10, from 5 to 7 p.m. at Agora Arts. The public is invited.

Remember that word to the wise.

"I'm not a potter at all; I'm a

gal who fell in love with a potter."

-- Annette Laitinen, Tim's wife

"That sounds like a country song."

-- Dana Jackson, Tim's and

Annette's friend, also a potter

"He was good at everything," Annette says about the man who was a force at, among other things, ultimate frisbee -- because, ambidextrous, he kept you guessing about which hand he'd be using when he tossed the thing.

In addition to making pottery, Tim also drew; painted; made block prints and world-class front-yard igloos; gardened and made May baskets with Ruby, his and Annette's daughter.

"Pottery and Ruby were Tim's greatest joys and certainly his greatest accomplishments," Annette says. "Tim took fatherhood and ran with it ... I remind Ruby a lot, about the things they used to do. We talk about him all the time."

Gunnar Schwarz and Elisabeth Maurland -- along with Tim Langholz, Bill Wilkins, Robin Bailey, Pete Blodgett, among others -- were part of what is sometimes referred to as "the third generation" of Luther potters trained in the Bauhaus-inspired tradition of their teacher: Dean Schwarz. The tradition goes back further -- before Schwarz, to his teacher, Marguerite Wildenhain and, before her, to her teacher, Max Krehan. And, indeed, before all of them, to what Schwarz has called "an old path of craft tradition" reaching as far back as 15th century Europe.

The work of students who apprentice in this tradition, say Gunnar and Elisabeth, shares a number of characteristics: strength of form ("we're not abstract potters"); good craftsmanship; decorated surfaces. Tim, in particular, once said he enjoyed "the message of the decoration most. On a small cup or bowl, the message must be short and to the point. A simple band, or some little squares. A large vase might require the story of creation" (

That third generation of potters was always, Gunnar and Elisabeth recall, a tight-knit and mutually supportive group. They attended classes together at Luther in the early '80s; they sat, sketchbooks (and cocktail napkins) in hand, in local pubs and drew the people they observed; they took road trips to see their favorite Iowa musicians -- roadtrips usually instigated by Tim, who one time piled them into his van and drove down to Chicago, to hear Joe Price.

Right before Tim graduated from Luther, that affection for Joe and his music found expression in a class project. Blues in My Kitchen/Joe Price, a wood block print, was reproduced for the cover of The Tapestry magazine in January, 2006. Tim described the piece in an e-mail to the editor (me):

"The block was cut with a skill saw mounted with a metal cutting blade, enhanced with oil pastel. I made it to celebrate the convergence of several things.

"I was finishing my last one credit of anything at Luther to graduate, and so I took a class over J-term 'Word and Images: Images and Words' (a joint project between the art department and the English department). We had to do a final project that included images and words. My job as a production potter had just ended; the owners of the house I had been sharing with some friends decided they no longer wanted tenants, and had served an eviction notice. Did somebody say roadtrip?, I mean, Joe Price house party!

"These were some of the early days of 'Joe' for me. I'm sure Joe has always been Joe, but it seemed like he was emerging in Decorah at that time. So I made some art for the walls, tar paper with drawings/prints etc., and I made this print, as the flyer/poster ad.

"So that was my final course project and also a Joe Price eviction party flyer. I submitted the wood spoons that had been rubbed down that night, along with the drawings."

After college, Tim worked (no longer an apprentice, now a journeyman in his craft) at a production pottery in St. Paul, Minn., owned and operated by Peter Deneen -- also a former student of Dean Schwarz, from the "generation" just before Tim's.

He traveled around the Midwest, working for a variety of studio potters. He studied in Alaska; he took design inspiration from a trip to Morocco with Annette.

He finally opened his own studio, in an abandoned farm house, in the Canoe Creek Valley north of Decorah. When, after three years, the landlord died and the house was sold, Tim moved his studio to a former school in Burr Oak.

"Werk: the craft we generate as the expression of our lives."

-- Dean Schwarz, in the Foreword to An Eyewitness Anthology: Marguerite Wildenhain and the Bauhaus, edited by Dean and Geraldine Schwarz. The term was, Schwarz writes, coined by potter Marguerite Wildenhain's master, Max Krehan).

In addition to being a ceramic artist, painter, writer and teacher, Dean Schwarz was also the co-founder and proprietor of South Bear School (1970-) a summer arts school located, after 1976, on a wooded rural property outside Decorah in a vacant 65-room nursing home. In her later years, Marguerite Wildenhain advised new students to study first at South Bear before working with her in California.

Tim served as an artist-in-residence (pottery) at South Bear in the '80s.

Of his former student, Dean says this: "Tim became a master potter because he learned from the conventional skills potters used historically then added personal inventive expressions of his own time. An example of this was how he used laser beams to make straight lines across his voluptuous pots. This helped him reduce laborious hours of work while creating exciting geometric decorations."

A collaborative effort between Tim and Dean is on display at Northeast Security Bank in downtown Decorah. Called "Father and Child with Hearts of Gold," the piece is a ceramic bottle thrown by Tim and decorated by Dean, and is a monument to both the mentor's and the student's skills.

At once both massive and delicate, the bottle is marked by its strong shoulder, and by Tim's double-rim that Dean took great care to preserve even as he reshaped the bottle's head into a new form.

Referring to the piece, Dean notes the way Tim has pulled the clay up on the wheel. "It's like he breathed into that thing, giving it life."

It's October, 2009, and in the small, smoky bar in Prairie du Chien, Joe Price is wrapping up his first set. His wife, Vicki, joined him earlier to perform some songs from her new CD, "Brand New Place" (cover design by Elisabeth Maurland), and she's stepping down now, for the break. Before Joe, too, leaves the stage, I ask him to play a song for Tim.

He plays "Grandma's Music Box."

"Why that song?," I ask Vicki, when Joe is done.

She smiles. "Tim just always liked that song," she says.