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21Country: Wife, artist finish late ceramicist’s final works

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA) - “He never built anything small,” Janie Minick said of her late husband’s work, “he always worked in a large format.”

Artist Michael Minick died in 2018.

He left behind over 100 unfinished sculptures.

During the pandemic, Janie decided it was time to finish his last pieces, so they could be displayed and sold to the public for a final time.

“He developed cancer and had some health issues through the previous years which kept him from finishing the pieces,” she told us, “he was really in love with the form of the piece. The firing wasn’t as important to him. The sculptural aspect of the pieces were.”

Though Janie, an artist also, needed help.

Minick’s vessels were large and often couldn’t be fired in a traditional kiln, used for cups and other small pots.

Though she had experience as a ceramist as well, she hadn’t practiced it for a long time.

Eventually, she learned of another creative in Angola who had the skills and resources to get the job done.

“Normally when someone comes into the studio with that, I just go ‘no’!” Steve Smith said.

He explained firing other people’s work creates a lot of uncertainty. 

He doesn’t know exactly what materials were used, which could lead to failures in the firing process.

But Janie was different.

He recognized her last name, and attended art school with Minick years ago, though he never met him.

“I knew Mike was someone to be reckoned with,” he said, “everyone liked him. I was a lonely freshman, he was a junior at that point. I seen him coming out the basement covered in clay. That’s cool. This is the guy to know… and we never really talked that whole freshman year.”

Steve agreed to help Janie, and the two began to research the best approach to keeping the integrity of Minick’s work whole.

“We talk a lot about the process of finishing them and keeping them… trying to keep Michael’s style and approaching it with venerable intent,” Janie told us, “not opposing our artistic ideas on it. What we think - what he would want, how he would want them finished.”

What Steve wasn’t prepared for, was how large Minick’s sculptures were.

“I was at a point in my career… I’d been making pots for 50 years, and I was tired of what I was doing,” Steve said, “and I needed a kick in the pants and a shot in the arm.”

“After I saw Mike’s work I’m going, ‘oh what have I been missing out on?’” he continued, “I was mad at myself that we’d never met.”

Soon Janie began making trips with Steve to get Minick’s vessels from her home, to his art studio.

“Ceramics involve a lot of labor,” she said, “the fact that it was in the pandemic, during the start of this journey was somewhat beneficial to us.”

They had plenty of time to focus on their three styles: high-fire glaze, sawdust, and raku.

“To see three or four huge tables packed tight with all these forms - and they’re lovely and you can tell what series they came in and what inspiration might’ve been. Greek or Egyptian, he was a lover of history,” Steve said.

Every pot that was fired using sawdust, Janie did.

Steve completed those with the high-fire glaze at his own studio, and the two did the remaining vessels with raku firing in Minick’s old studio.

“The first time we opened the kiln and that first ash-glazed pot was sitting there when the door opened… first we kind of said nothing,” Steve explained, “and then huge smiles! It was the best I’d ever seen that ash look on a form. We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or what! It was just this flood of emotions.”

Now, Michael Minick’s last body of work is displayed until June 12, at the Castle Gallery in downtown Fort Wayne.

It’s exhibit is appropriately titled, “Revival by Fire”.

“We are reviving pieces that have been sitting in Mike’s studio, some of them ten years, actually even back to ’91 - almost entombed in his studio,” the late artist’s wife shared, “we are reviving them back to life… with fire!”

“This is Mike’s stuff - we had to respect his ideas, and I think we did,” Steve told us, “I didn’t mind making his pots nice. They were already nice pots. I was just cleaning them up and finishing them off, but I was getting a lot of excitement.”

Those with the Castle Gallery tell us, much of Minick’s work has already been sold, though all of it will remain on display through the exhibit’s run.

Janie was stunned by the community’s response.

“It was important to me to do all this. I had no realization that people would think it was so important,” she said, “he had a lot of impact on a number of people from the art school and his work and understanding of the art forms. I just hope that his spirit lives on through his work.”

Janie told us they still have a few more vessels left to complete.

She says the Castle Gallery is the perfect place for Minick’s work to be showcased.

He was friends with the owners, Jody Hemphill Smith and Mark Paul Smith, and even worked inside the building when it was the municipal art museum in the 1970’s.

The Castle Gallery is open from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, or by appointment.

The “Revival by Fire” exhibit will be shown there until June 12.

You’ll have until then to buy the remaining Minick vessels, if interested.

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Daniel Beals

Daniel Beals is the producer of the ABC21 feature franchise “21Country”. He is constantly on the lookout for ideas that capture the “people, places, things, and history” that makes Northeast Indiana unique. Feel free to reach out: dbeals@wpta21.com.

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