Buy Now


Part Artist, Part Alchemist: Flathead Lake Potter Mimi Werner
Montana Senior News, June/July 2013
If you accept the idea that our childhood passions shape our lives, then you can well believe that a little girl who loved to make mud pies could grow up to become one of Montana’s most talented potters.

“That was the beginning of my career in clay,” remembers Mimi Werner, who still delights in having her hands in and on the earth whether she is forming dishes on her pottery wheel or tending her orchard. “I would play in the mud or sand for hours creating things. I always knew I would be an artist.”

Her goal as a studio potter has been—and continues to be—to create household items that are well-balanced, flawless, and appealing. If a customer senses that Mimi’s clay creations also come infused with her love of and fascination with molding the earth, all the better.

“My attraction to this medium is the transformation that occurs from a piece of soft mud to something hard, useful, and hopefully beautiful. And I do like to make beautiful things that can be used. Functional art is a reflection of our environment and culture,” says Mimi, who calls her work Lava Jazz Pottery. “I enjoy the physical part of creating pots, the tactileness of the medium. I inherited a strong work ethic from my family, who were all hard workers. So I’m self-motivated and my own best critic.”

Although she has been selling her mugs, plates, bowls, and other porcelain pieces since 1974, Mimi still appreciates the challenge and possibilities this art form presents and considers herself a perpetual learner. Never one to remain in a rut, she continually strives to reach beyond her professional comfort zone.

“I like to leave room for exploration. It takes you to a new place. I’ve got many years of skill under my belt but am constantly experimenting to work in new ways. I feel like I am always the beginner. Which is a good place to be because you’re inquisitive. You need to learn the rules but then you need to learn when to break those rules to advance yourself so you don’t get stuck,” says Mimi. “It’s important to challenge your skill level. If you aren’t trying anything new, it’s not an interesting way to work. It’s all part of the creative process.”

Not surprisingly, Mimi’s varied body of work reflects that sense of experimentation. The sheer variety leaves the impression that her pieces could have been crafted by different artists. Yet they all bear Mimi’s signature stamp of graceful form and unique design partnered by comfortable heft and rich tones. Of all the pieces she hand tosses on her pottery wheel, Mimi has a special affinity for the bowls she turns out. Be they large or small—sauce, soup, or salad bowls—she finds herself drawn to these practical items perhaps more than any others that emerge from her kilns.

“As vessels, they provide beautiful spaces to be filled. I like to anticipate what will go into them. That completes the piece,” she says. “We add ritual to our pieces and develop memories for ourselves.”

Living as she does along Flathead Lake’s Finley Point, Mimi draws on her rural locale for inspiration. Inevitably, the colors she sees from her studio windows—the deep greens and cool blues—appear in her work. Aside from digging silty Montana clay from Flathead Lake to use in her pots, she also incorporates unusual high-silica materials such as lava from Mount St. Helens and wood ash to add distinctive touches to her pieces. In the heat of her kilns—she has four—the lava turns glassy and imparts a subtle yellow-green hue to glazes while the wood ash melts into a shiny residue.

“The colors I end up with are gifts of the kiln, a function of temperature and heat. Every little thing can alter a firing, even the weather. High wind and low atmospheric pressure can cause down-drafts that effect the firing,” she explains. “But you learn through trial and error. A potter is part artist, part alchemist. What happens is more like magic and mystery than science.”

For anyone considering buying pottery, Mimi advises choosing things that will incorporate into your life in useful ways. Other than the obvious mug for coffee or bowl for cereal, to find a little dish to place a teabag on or a wide-mouthed jar to hold utensils, brushes, or pens.

“Pick up the piece and feel it. Pottery is a tactile individual experience. Don’t worry about matching things. Break the rules,” she advises. “Every piece should have a different pull and appearance. They’re all made by hand. They aren’t mass produced.”

Many people are concerned—and rightfully so—about breaking pottery in the course of daily use. Mimi readily admits this can be a problem but it is one problem that can be avoided.

“There’s a degree of mindfulness required when handling pottery. You have to have respect for the piece and the amount of work that went into it and handle it carefully,” she cautions. “There’s no forgiving to it.”

For anyone considering pottery as a career or avocation, she suggests following your own artistic muse.

“Do what you know you can do well. Make what you want to make. But remember,” she warns, “there’s always a degree of failure no matter the amount of work that goes into it. There are a million opportunities for things to go wrong. High-fired ceramics requires a lot of letting go.” Still for Mimi, despite all that can go haywire during the various phases of production, creating each new piece that meets her standards makes it all worthwhile. “I love the connection of feeling with this ancient art form,” she says. “I feel honored and gifted to be a part of that, especially nowadays when we don’t need pottery, when we can buy plastics or ceramics from Japan and China.”

Besides the pleasure she derives from fashioning lovely earthenware and porcelain items for the home, Mimi cherishes the many friendships she has made with strangers who have stopped by her gallery to browse and left as friends. Many of whom now collect her work.

“My customers are the best part of my job. It makes me happy when people write me notes telling me they enjoy using my pots and incorporating them into their life. After all,” she adds, “it’s the using that gives them meaning not storing them on a shelf.”

For more information: visit, call 406-887-2596, or email