From Two-Wheeling Mountaineer to Pot Pedaler

Posted by Michael Zimny on

"This has got to be the best view in town," says Clay Dykstra, looking out at Lookout Mountain from the muntined windows in his Black Hills State ceramics classroom.     

Dykstra knows it well. He's cranked his way up the mountain countless times since junior high, when the Spearfish mountain biking scene was growing out of its training wheels.   

"Lookout Mountain was some of the first trail that a lot of us got to ride. It's close to town, so that's kind of where you cut your teeth. For the most part in the early days it was a mix of hiking trails, fire roads and old logging roads." 

In a way, his potter's wheel and all that two-wheel trail time share a common axis. When he moved back to Spearfish after college in Wyoming, one of the first works he made in clay was a trophy for the Dakota Five-O.     

"It's a really cool event and something that I'm passionate about. I just did it voluntarily. Then I started making mugs." Twelve years later, he's still custom making kiln-fired wares for riders at events like the Five-O and the 28 Below, in a town where mountain biking has become engrained in the local culture.

(In 2000, the city of Spearfish and the Lookout Mountain Preservation Trust bought the land where Lookout stands to prevent residential development, and has since developed dedicated hiking and biking trails. Recreational opportunities are one of the factors that have long made Spearfish one of the fastest growing towns in South Dakota.) 

dykstra5.JPG

Dykstra Pottery has also expanded into making vessels for local independent businesses. You can find his mugs at Green Bean Coffee and Blackbird Espresso in Spearfish, Sturgis Coffee Company, and Harriet & Oak in Rapid City. His tankards have been a feature at Flanagan's pub in Spearfish for years.  

Through homegrown connections and dedication to his craft he's finding a way to make it doing what he loves. He's also passing along the knowledge he's acquired through the years as an adjunct professor at BHSU. 

He's had some good teachers himself. "Dan Binder was the ceramics teacher at [Spearfish] High school. When I was a junior I thought it would be really cool to take a class from him. There was definitely a lot of kids that were better at it then I was. But I took a second semester in my Senior year, and I'd go in during my free hour and make pots." 

After school he went to Northwest College, near Yellowstone, to study anthropology.
"My goal at the time was to be an archaeologist. I've done a lot of volunteering with the Forest Service here and been on a number of digs in the area, so I thought being an archaeologist would be cool." But the wheel had cast a hypnotic spell on him. "Pottery was open and unattended. They had a big box of clay and I'd go in and make some pots."

"Then I kind of realized that the more I got educated, the more I'd be behind a desk. And it wasn't the desk stuff that I liked, it was digging and walking around. I liked reading about it too, but I didn't want to sit behind a desk most of the time. So I realized: ok, I think I want to be a potter for a career. And I started getting serious about it."

Dykstra Pottery mugs for Black Bird Espresso, Green Been Coffee, Harriet & Oak. Dykstra Pottery mugs for Black Bird Espresso, Green Been Coffee, Harriet & Oak.

He continued his education at Casper College under the tutelage of respected potter and longtime ceramics instructor Lynn Munns

Since moving back to Spearfish, he's experimented with different formulas for making it as a small town potter, often doing other work — construction gigs, managing the family business (Good Earth Natural Foods) for a while — to get by. 

He estimates that the work he does for local businesses comprises the majority of his output. "It's about ninety percent of what I'm doing. To make it as a potter in the Black Hills, you've got to branch out and do some different things." 

Making it here has its challenges, but can also inspire.

"The natural world, aesthetically, is a huge influence on me. Some of my favorite pots — I see them as pieces of a whole, like that really interesting stone that you see on the side of a trail, or that interesting branch on a gnarly old tree. If I had no limitations and could just make what I want, I'd make pots that look if they were left on the side of a trail. They'd just look like they belonged there."

subscribe to sdpb email updates food blog link image learning blog link image living blog link news and information blog link science and technology blog link sports blog link image

Related content from SDPB Radio - Art

Art That Takes You Home

In The Moment ... July 18, 2018 Show 381 Hour 2 Jon Crane creates "Art that Takes You Home." After a tour at...

Renowned Artists Visit Oscar Howe Summer Art Institute

In The Moment ... June 19, 2018 Show 361 Hour 2 Art can be meditation, expression, activism, and escape. It can also...

Eagle Butte Artists Learn Tips To Flourish

Artists who turn their passion into a business venture can find it a challenge. They need to figure out the details...

2018 Sculpture Walk Installation

In The Moment ... May 2, 2018 Show 328 Hour 2 Visitors to Sioux Falls will soon be able to stand beneath a giant...

Books

Read, Baby, Read: What's America's Best-Loved Novel?

In The Moment ... May 22, 2018 Show 342 Hour 1 What's America's best-loved novel? You get to decide. PBS launches...

Author Kirk Wallace Johnson's "The Feather Thief"

In the Moment ... May 1, 2018 Show 327 Hour 1 The centuries-old art of salmon fishing fly-tying has a dark side. It...

Jane Yolen Celebrates #Yolen365 And Counting

In The Moment ... April 26, 2018 Show 324 Hour 1 In March, author Jane Yolen released her 365th book. That means you...

Christine Stewart: 41st Great Plains Writers Conference

In The Moment ... March 21, 2018 Show 301 Hour 2 The 41st Great Plains Writers Conference kicks off on March 23 at...

Music

Fun Approach To Music Theory

Andrew Rogers – in home music lessons designed for children and young adults. Uses a unique teaching style that...

The Literary Style of Reina del Cid

Reina del Cid kicks off her summer tour with a stop in Sioux Falls at the Icon Lounge. She joins SDPB's Lori Walsh...

Eric Johnson Returns For Black Hills Playhouse Opener

In The Moment ... May 29, 2018 Show 346 Hour 2 Leave the ordinary behind at this year's Black Hills Playhouse Season...

The Claudette's: Making Music In The Midst Of Crisis

In The Moment ... May 24, 2018 Show 344 Hour 1 The Claudettes play Total Drag Records in Sioux Falls, Saturday, May...

Theater

Broadway Choreographer Chet Walker

In the Moment ... April 9, 2018 Show 311 Hour 1 The University of South Dakota Theater Department presents "Cabaret"...

Images of the Past: Stage To Screen

In The Moment ... November 27, 2017 Show 227 Hour 2 A new exhibit at the Old Courthouse Museum tells the story of...

Personalities: From Huron High to Broadway

Singer, actor, and teacher Joseph Mahowald graduated from Huron High School in 1977. He went on to study music and...

In The Moment ... Alex Meyer's Scenic Design

In The Moment ... May 10, 2017 Show 090 Hour 2 Alex Meyer. He's a junior art and theater major at Augustana College...