Red Winging it
A person can be married many years before uncovering secrets about their Significant Other.
For instance, we had been wed for nearly a decade when I learned that my wife is a stoner. Her substance of choice is Red Wing stoneware, cooked up in the unassuming river town of Red Wing, Minnesota.
This passion for Red Wing pottery came to my attention after my wife had a conversation with Doris and Jim, her aunt and uncle. Doris and Jim ran an antique store in San Luis Obispo, California. They mentioned to my wife that nearly anything made by Red Wing flew out of their shop and would she consider buying Red Wing stuff here and shipping it there?
So my wife began to attend auctions to purchase Red Wing crockery. This worked for her on several levels. First of all, she got to buy stuff. Second was that she was able to expand her knowledge about everything Red Wing. But the main benefit was that she got to buy stuff.
Doris and Jim retired and my wife lost her sole stoneware client. Which was just as well, because she had other things to do such as raising a couple of kids and getting me to grow up. But she never forgot her passion for pottery.
It was like a pilgrimage to Mecca for my wife when we recently journeyed to Red Wing.
Red Wing, a tidy community known for limestone and stoneware, sprawls at the feet of the bluffs that form the shore of the Mississippi. Geologic forces and vast eons of time left deposits of high-quality clay scattered about Goodhue County. Europeans arrived and soon began to use this clay to make sewer pipe. They switched to manufacturing stoneware after learning there’s more profit in pottery than in poop pipe.
Stoneware is evocative of a bygone era in rural America. Red Wing crockery is sturdy and unpretentious and is built perhaps a bit too heavily -- much like we Midwesterners.
When I was a kid, small pieces of stoneware were often given away as premiums. I saw the stuff as little more than kitsch, certainly nothing worth saving.
The trouble is, so did everyone else. As such, some of that “worthless” crockery now brings serious dollars.
One of our first stops was the Red Wing Pottery Museum located, appropriately, in a brick building that once housed a pottery factory. The museum displayed all manner of Red Wing ceramics, from miniature flasks that could be secreted in a pocket to crocks large enough to accommodate an entire cow.
We saw some of those “worthless” knick-knacks from my youth, along with advertising pieces and even some very attractive art pottery. I was pleased to see crocks similar to those my wife has collected; it’s gratifying to know that I’m not the only antiquated museum piece at our house.
We later journeyed to the Red Wing Stoneware Company, where stoneware is still being made. We watched a young woman named Liz throw a bread baker, a process that took about 4 minutes.