For the Love of Clay

How Nancy Saathoff Supports the Diversity of WBCA

Nancy Saathoff has been involved with White Bear Center for the Arts since the 1970s, back when the organization was still the White Bear Arts Council. As an art teacher at Mahtomedi High School, Nancy was drawn to WBCA as a place where she could learn from fellow teachers and grow as an artist. “Everybody who’s in art education needs professional support,” Nancy said. As a teacher she was able to give, “but at the art center, I could take.” During the early days of WBCA Nancy not only took classes, but also organized concerts and events. At WBCA she took classes taught by pillars of the arts community like Frank Zeller and Polly Shank. “These people were my mentors, even though it was in a quiet way. Just to watch their performances and their successes and their enthusiasm–I think you need that as an artist.” Through her work at Mahtomedi High School she befriended renowned potter Warren MacKenzie who instilled in her a lifelong love of clay. She took her high school classes out to his pottery studio, and Warren would come to her classes to teach lessons on clay. According to Nancy, Warren was a force of nature. “You had to be careful when you shook his hand – he had a strong grip!” While Nancy taught all mediums in her art classes, she held a special fondness for pottery. “If you ever walk into a pottery class there are a lot of smiles,” Nancy said. “We’re so far removed from the earth, but with clay, you feel grounded. There’s something in clay that just makes people happy.” Nancy wanted to ensure that all students at White Bear Center for the Arts got to have the grounding, enriching experience of working with clay. She has long supported WBCA, and recently made possible the art center’s purchase of a wheelchair accessible clay wheel. It’s important for her to see clay classes open and welcoming to everyone. “I’m a strong believer in diversity,” Nancy said. “When I come into a clay class, I see young mothers, I see former students, I see retired people. White Bear Lake can offer diversity, and I think WBCA’s clay program is one place people feel really comfortable.” The personal development and the human connections made in the clay studio are what drive Nancy to give her support. And according to Nancy she’s in good company. “It’s just unbelievable, the success and progress of the art center, because of the support of the community.” “I hope WBCA stays as strong as it is,” Nancy said. “Sometimes you don’t need progress to be successful. You need to have strong roots.” Nancy has been able to follow White Bear Center for the Arts throughout its more than 50 years of life. She’s witnessed moves, expansions, new faces, and new programs. But at the heart of it all, “It’s the people who make WBCA what it is.”