Duluth ceramicist's wares featured in 'Makeover' home

When the Huber family's new home is featured on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," area art enthusiasts will recognize at least one friendly face: Tonya Borgeson.

Tonya Borgeson
Ceramicist Tonya Borgeson at "Waters What About the Waters II," a recent solo exhibit at Washington Galleries. Matthew R. Perrine/Budgeteer News

When the Huber family's new home is featured on "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," area art enthusiasts will recognize at least one friendly face: Tonya Borgeson.

The noted ceramicist, who runs Snoodle Ceramic Studio & Gallery in West Duluth and is an art instructor at Lake Superior College, had the opportunity to donate her skills and know-how to the well-publicized Oakland Township build. Not only that, but Borgeson also had a chance to show host Ty Pennington and guest star Patricia Heaton ("Everybody Loves Raymond") a thing or two about her art.

"Ty and Patricia were really just down to earth," Borgeson said. "Patricia and I talked about her kids, if she ever did pottery, and she just looked at my stuff and asked questions. Ty was also interested in ceramics -- he said if he wasn't so busy he'd be doing more."

Despite the fact that ABC's cameras were on the trio for the entire tutorial (and, in turn, more than 10 million viewers once it airs), Borgeson said she never felt uncomfortable.

"It was just like any old day: two people coming in for a ceramic lesson on my pottery wheels," she said humbly. "I really enjoyed it; I completely enjoyed the experience. Everybody was so interested (in my work) and kind. ... The crew could not have been nicer."


And, to think, it all started with a phone call. Borgeson was contacted by her dean at LSC, who informed the Snoodle proprietor of the popular show's intentions to feature locally produced ceramics. Perhaps not believing the news, Borgeson returned to her work that evening; it wasn't until one of the show's producers called her and laid out their plans that the Monticello, Minn., native fully realized what kind of exposure was coming her way.

"The wife (Jessica Huber) had had some interest in doing ceramics," Borgeson said. "They were looking for 20 to 30 pots that kids from a local daycare could decorate the next day. They were transplanting the family's herb garden from one part of the yard into the home and they were going house the herbs in these flower pots."

The ceramicist's communication with the show producer continued via her cell phone (including images of what they were looking for/what she had and text messages back and forth about the particulars) until Borgeson arranged to bring a prototype over to Barker's Island for "peace of mind" -- as she didn't want to put in hours of work only to show up on set and find out the flowerpots didn't work for whatever reason.

With the producer's blessing, Borgeson returned to Snoodle to pump out as many pots as she could.

"So, I stayed up until about 3 o'clock and made the flowerpots, and my friend came over at about midnight to help me construct some of them," she said. "That was really helpful."

The next day, Borgeson transported the goods to 5742 S. Swamp Road, where the daycare children worked on them for about two hours.

"When the kids got 'em, they just stamped in them, marked 'em up, wrote on them ... so, they kept the shape of the flowerpot, but it was definitely the characteristics of the children's marks," she said. "That was just really neat to see that type of change on something I made, because it's a collaborative piece of artwork then. Even [Pennington and Heaton] coming to the studio was a collaborative experience and I learned some things as well."

What they probably won't show you on the show is the blood, sweat and tears poured into each and every ceramic piece behind the scenes.


Borgeson, who estimated that she spent about 15 minutes on the 20-odd pots, layed out the process: "You roll the slab out, then you make a pattern, cut all the pieces out; some of them have to dry, so that's when I start the construction," she said. "When that starts to dry I can clean up a little bit. So it's not just like I make one -- I make a big assembly line."

But creation is only half of the battle. The nail-biting starts when it's time to throw them in the kiln, which, if you're working on high-profile, not-a-second-chance pieces like Borgeson was with the "Home Makeover" pots, the very-real threat of explosions reducing all your hard work to rubble can do the same to your confidence.

"That's just the nature of ceramics," Borgeson said. "You have to construct and compress your pieces really well -- otherwise there will be an air pocket. And that's when it explodes, when the steam and the moisture is trying to leave and it can't. [Laughs]"

Intrigued? Borgeson said anyone can make ceramics. All it takes is a little money for materials and a willing teacher.

"You don't have to have any experience," said Borgeson, who offers two-part sessions at Snoodle for $30. "I work with kids who are in daycare -- you know, 3-year-olds all the way up to the elderly in retirement facilities. You don't have to be of any age, you just have to have an interest in making something."

And, the instructor believes, there are additional benefits to making and/or buying handcrafted wares.

"[Locally produced art] brings the personality of the person who made it -- the characteristics of the maker -- into your home," Borgeson said. "When it gets down to it, it's just about supporting your local economy."

Snoodle Gallery and its adjacent ceramics studio are located at 7107 Grand Ave., right next to Lake Superior Zoo in Duluth. For more information about current exhibits or classes, check out or call 310-8903.

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