Lighting up the holidays

Laura Drietz, an art teacher in Flandreau and artist by trade, works on another ceramic tree in her studio on the family’s acreage just southeast of Flandreau. Drietz hadn’t set out to sell dozens of the trees each year since she started making them, but now cannot make them fast enough. About 80 holes have to be drilled into this particular tree size for the lights that get added in last. Each tree takes at least six hours to make between the prep, pour, paint, and finishing work.

About two years ago, local art teacher, artist and potter Laura Drietz was trying to reorganize the small studio space she has in the family’s barn just across the yard from the front porch. She was going through hundreds of casting molds to get rid of the ones she would never use, and make better use of the ones she decided to keep.
The Christmas tree molds are huge, she thought. Not only were they taking up a lot of space, she also believed that people no longer wanted those ceramic trees that at one time had been hugely popular.
She was about to get rid of the molds, but started to notice a trend amongst some of her fellow potters.  
“They (the trees) were making a comeback. People were paying crazy prices for the vintage molds…and I had 6 large ones, and many more smaller sizes,” said Drietz. “So I decided to pour a few. I made a couple the first year. I had several friends ask about them after seeing it. Then I really started to sell them…I kind of joke that I am really sick of them, but seeing the joy they bring to people, it is worth it.”
She sold 24 trees last year. This year, working as quickly as she can in the time that she has, the local potter is at 15 and counting. Each tree takes about 6 hours of her time to complete. Plus, she added, “Prices of materials went up so much this year, and it is hard at times to get the materials I need to make them, so that has held me up a bit. I also had to buy a couple new molds, as my old ones were just worn out…They are definitely something that make people happy. They remember the one at Grandma’s house, or that their Mom made one at the ceramics shop when they were a child. I was admittedly not a big tree fan to start with, but there is something about seeing those trees with the pretty lights at night that just makes you smile.”
Drietz is looking forward to trying out more of the other molds this coming summer, when she has more time to be out in the studio. She has a lot of garden pieces, gnomes, and other seasonal pieces available, “Everything you would find in a ceramics shop, I probably have a mold for. Just not enough time to get them all poured and made up! My studio has very limited heated space to work in the winter, so I try to do as much as I can during summertime.”
Drietz started working with clay in college but fell away from it for some time. About 15 years ago, she said, when she got to know former Flandreau art teacher Dave Spolum, was when she regained a love for the art. Hand-built pottery is what she gravitates toward if she has a choice, pouring wasn’t something she really felt a connection to until recently.
These days however, you’ll find her working hard to fill tree orders in about every spare moment that she and her husband, Thad, have. Thad, an engineer by trade, helps to finish the trees off by stringing in the lights. From the sounds of it, this year and in the near future, they might prepare to be busy selling a lot of them as Better Homes and Gardens reports this Christmas that “Everything old is new again”. The trees especially, are highly sought after items.
What she loves most about the art form — “It is the process of creating something literally from dirt. Mudpies…the grownup version? Especially with poured ceramics, you are starting with something that is pretty much mud. It is an amazing process to see it setting up in the molds, then becoming dry, and being fired to create something beautiful. I still prefer to use clay and create hand-built pieces, but now that I am spending more time on poured ceramics, I enjoy it a bit more. Like any art, the more you do it, the better you become at it, and then the enjoyment and satisfaction follow.”
Drietz, during the the school year, can be found teaching elementary art and working in the library at Flandreau Public Schools. A few of her trees are still available at Gone2Pieces in downtown Flandreau, and she plans to get a few more done before the holiday season kicks off in earnest.
She asks that anyone with questions or who might want to learn more, message her on Facebook at Laura Drietz Art.

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