Potter Mike Smieja Featured at Broadway Art Park in Grand Marais

When kids make it to high school graduation they often have to put their true love on hold and find a job to make a living. Often it’s well-meaning parents who demand they do that.

Mike Smieja was just such a kid.

Instead of making pottery for a living, what he always wanted to do, he let his mom talk him out of it. Mike grew up in Minnetonka, MN. He became a serial entrepreneur after high school, operating 15 different businesses in the Twin Cities area before he’d had enough. He owned coffee shops, bike shops, a catering company, and a couple of different marketing firms. By the time he was in his 30s, he’d graduated with a degree from the Carlson School of Management. He was the businessman his mom thought he should be.

But the arts cannot be denied.

Almost 25 years ago when he was in his early 20s, Mike bought his current home in Grand Marais. He visited off and on over the years and became a full-time resident six years ago.

His specialty is wood-fired pottery where he applies a glaze to the inside of the pot leaving the exterior to be decorated by the fire, smoke, and ash from the woodfired kiln. “I love that you never know what you’re going to see until the piece has been fired,” he said.

Mike fires his pottery at a wood-fired kiln at St. Benedicts in St. Joseph, MN which means he throws his pots here on the North Shore and must transport them for firing. “The kiln at St. Bens will burn six to seven cords of wood to fire 800 to 1200 pots,” Mike said.

They have to keep a fire going over the four to five-day firing process heating the kiln up to 2,375 deg f., basically 110 to 120 hours at a time. One day, Mike would like to build his own wood-fired Kiln in Grand Marais.

Grand Marais Pottery, Mike’s business, is featured at the Broadway Art Park in downtown Grand Marais, between The Sweetwater Company and the Beaverhouse. Mike is throwing his pottery on the wheel every Thursday through Friday from 9 to 5 until MEA weekend in October. He’ll be selling finished pottery and demonstrating his process. You may even get to see his dog, Roscoe.

As summer progresses, Mike will offer a “Paint Your Own Pottery” program at the Art Park. Folks will paint the outside of a pot onsite and under Mike’s watchful eye. He will fire them in his electric kiln at home, making the finished pot available within 48 hours.

Mike is fast becoming a Grand Marais institution. Stop and say hi at the Art Park and listen to the fascinating life story of how he came to find his first true love--pottery.