Creating requires a combination of solitude as well as breaks from the isolation. A desire to feel connected while working independently during the long winter months of the northern plains brought forth the development of a small collective of ceramic artists now known as Cone Pack. Inspired by similar groups around the country, Cone Pack (www.conepack.com) provides a glimpse into the making process as well as expanding the visibility of ceramics in the Fargo-Moorhead region of North Dakota and Minnesota. Community outreach, public lectures, exhibitions, and pop-up sale events became a way to socialize with other artists in the group and connect with our community. Current members of Cone Pack include Tara Fermoyle (@tfermoyle), Catie Miller (@catiemillerceramics), Jennifer Nelson (@jennysueart), Adam Priebnow (@dakota_crystalline), Kelli Sinner (@kellisinnerstudio), and Brooke Stewart (@brookestyo).
Many of our events bring together art and food lovers through partnership with a local coffee shop, deli, or farmers’ market whose mission aligns with that of our group. These collaborations have equal benefits of bringing exposure to new audiences, conserving resources, and expanding programming cooperatively. We try to stay relatively small (5–7 active members) so that we can be nimble and simplify communication. Working as a group divides the tasks of planning and executing events. Each member brings their strengths to the planning process, resulting in events that are enjoyable for all of the artists involved.
Collaborations and Events
An example of one collaboration was with BernBaum’s, a popular deli owned by chef Andrea Baumgarner in Fargo, North Dakota. Members of Cone Pack as well as two invited artists made soup bowls and bagel plates to sell in the restaurant. The purchase of a bowl or plate included a free bagel with cream cheese, which encouraged shoppers to enjoy a lunch as well as buy handmade ceramics.
Another popular event where customers line up early to attend is our Mug Market. We partner with local coffee shop Twenty Below Coffee Co. and set up an adjacent booth at the Red River Market, a farmers’ market in downtown Fargo. A cup of coffee is included with each mug purchase, resulting in a swarm of handmade mugs being used in the packed crowd of the market, and great exposure!
Membership of Cone Pack is constantly in flux as members move away and pursue other opportunities. Former members include Helen Otterson, who moved to Kentucky to become a professor at Morehead State University; Guillermo Guardia, who moved to Minneapolis to become a resident at Schmidt Artist Lofts; Chris Alveshere, who is currently pursuing an MFA at Alfred University in New York; Sam Norman, who opened Bee Hive Tattoo Parlor in Fergus Falls, Minnesota; and Chris Boedigheimer, who teaches art in Park Rapids, Minnesota. Because friendship is an important aspect of the group, those who move away are considered honorary members. New members are added with a group vote. We search for artists who mesh well with current members, make great work, and bring a complimentary skill set to the team.
Visibility in the Community
To expand the visibility of ceramics in the community, we recently curated the exhibition Cone Pack Invitational: A Place at the Table at the Plains Art Museum in Fargo. In the height of the many political movements happening in our country, the exhibit encouraged artists to use their voice to introduce conversations that begin in a domestic setting and permeate outward. Using the dinner table as a metaphor to initiate change within society, 33 artists were invited to create a place setting. The artists in the exhibition ranged from professionals and educators to students, community members, and local artists who don’t normally work with clay.
The place settings reflected the unique vision and interests of the participating artists. Dar Eckert examined the fragility of the environment and the protection of species. Catie Miller created a child-themed place setting to give a voice to youth impacted by school shootings. Nancy Leier’s place setting questioned the current state of democracy in the US. Sean Scott’s work was a reflection of his fresh-water and wooded surroundings as well as the nourishment from eating locally grown ingredients with family on handmade dishes. Tara Fermoyle’s place setting reacted to issues of societal norms, image, and mental health.
Collaboration with the Plains Art Museum education director Netha Cloeter expanded programming opportunities connected to the exhibition. Participating artists were able to speak about their work in formal lectures and informal meet and greet events. Children were invited to draw their own place settings on paper plates adjacent to the exhibition and to work with clay at a free Saturday Kid’s Quest event. The exhibition closed with an event focused on food and community. Sparked by the leadership efforts of Peter and Julia Schott, the International Potluck event connected people through shared food and stories. Cone Pack members were invited to participate by bringing food in dishes they created. It was a night of openhearted conversations from nearly 100 community members putting forth the effort to promote understanding and support diversity.