Opportunity Knocks

by Don Hunt

Tony Winchester giving a demonstration to students at Bethel Horizons
Editor note: My most influential teacher in high school was Don Hunt, my ceramics teacher. Don’s talent for teaching and commitment to his students is extraordinary. He has been a great influence on many other promising artists as well. For many years Don has lent his talent and leadership to the establishment and development of ceramics courses at Bethel Horizons, a Lutheran retreat center near Dodgeville. Recently Bethel Horizons has been in the process of preparing to expand that program with a new facility and expanded programing.

What would you do if you were recently retired from a job you had been devoted to for over 30 years, loved clay and kids, weren’t burned out, and couldn’t play golf or fish worth the greens fees and fishing licenses?

As a long time artist-in-residence and board member for Bethel Horizons of Dodgeville, WI, it had always been our dream to establish a third leg to our stool, the arts, a component to compliment our successful programs in environmental and adventure education that had been serving Southern Wisconsin for many years.

In 2003, two coincidental things happened. We had just been offered the opportunity to purchase seventy-three acres adjacent to our 476 acres overlooking Governor Dodge State Park and a former ceramics peer, Scott Dickinson, left us a generous gift in his will. This was enough for Duane Hanson, Bethel Horizons’ Executive Director, to call me in and say, “What do you think, Don? Is this the opportunity we have been waiting for?”

In a heartbeat the answer was “Yes!” and we made plans to visit Penland in North Carolina, a role model institution for the arts since 1929. After an encouraging visit with the staff and a tour of their facility, we headed home to make a plan and make the plan work.

We both felt the Midwest, especially the Dodgeville-Spring Green area, was rich in tradition for the arts and was complimented by Taliesin, American Players Theatre, House on the Rock and its many motels and restaurants.

Our board unanimously approved the purchase and vision. With the help of our architect, Fred Zimmermann of BWZ and a distinguished group of advisors, we set out to create a site plan and ceramics studio. Our advisors included a former Vice President of Development for Marshall Erdman and a world renown earth scientist, a philanthropist, two landscape architects, a former director for the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, the owner of a clay company, a Bethel Horizons board member, two UW Ceramics Professors and a couple of friends and peers in the Madison ceramic community. After all, clay is a communal event, said long-time friend and fellow organizer, Randy Becker.

To make something out of nothing is not only biblical, but is the very nature of clay. Dirt and water, people and spirit, it was from the dust of earth that God had formed man himself. Our inter-generational clay workshops have attained a steady following (now twenty-five years strong) and will lead the way. Our programs will include churches, schools, the secular ceramic world and now be a year-round event. Plans are in the making for lodging, a four season studio, anagma wood fire kiln and a facility for studying one of the Midwest’s best contemporary ceramic collections. Students and professionals will be welcomed by a state of the art ceramics facility, 30 new Bailey potters wheels, gas and electric kilns, slab rollers, clay extruders and mixers. UW Platteville assists teachers wishing credit and is available upon request. For more information, log on art-ventures.org or contact Don Hunt in Black Earth, WI at dkhunt@art-ventures.org.

Related Website: www.art-ventures.com