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Pottery: A creative outlet for professor

Press Photo by Linda Sailer Andrew McGarva works at a potter’s wheel in the Dickinson State University art studio.

Dickinson State University professor of psychology Andrew McGarva uses free time away from teaching and research to get his hands dirty in the art studio. 

Considering it as a hobby, McGarva specializes in wheel-thrown ceramic pottery.

“It’s a creative outlet that feeds my soul,” he said. “I get absorbed at the task at hand, and what feels like 20 minutes is more like two hours.”

McGarva has completed three entries for the upcoming Badlands Art Association show. He’s entered a vase that is nearly as tall as the kiln. It’s made from three pieces of clay that are melded together.

He also is entering a platter with a glaze inspired by a Japanese potter Shoji Hamada, and a Japanese tea chawan bowl accompanied by wooden tomobako box (made by Cliff Fuchs.)

While he has made numerous bowls suitable for dining ware, McGarva prefers creating artistic bowls, vases and mugs. The pieces are for sale at JP Frameshop in Dickinson, Gate City Mall in Bismarck and Robin Reynolds’ pottery shop in Hebron.

“I sell pottery by necessity,” he said. “I can have only so many products at home until my spouse starts hinting some has to go.”

His wife, KayLynn, said there is a running joke about the abundance of pottery in the house.

“I think his art is beautiful, I don’t complain about it, but there’s times when I can’t roll out a pie crust,” she said. “The thing I admire about his art, is how unique each piece is — that’s where he stands apart.”

McGarva took his first art classes at the DSU studio several years ago.

“Actually, I started with painting, but I heard the potters on the other side of the studio slapping around their clay,” he said. “The sound was compelling. I had never touched clay in an artistic way, but my instructor Robin Reynolds has been impressed with the speed I picked it up. She’s been tremendous in nurturing me through the process.”

McGarva enjoys throwing on the wheel and working with the glazes.

“You can ruin a piece with a bad glaze or fix a mediocre one with a good glaze,” he said.

McGarva studies pottery throughout the ages for his inspiration.

“I see pieces in history made by the great potters and work to recreate them,” he said. “It all begins on the wheel. Sometimes I sit down with a specific product in mind or sometimes the clay speaks for itself.”

For the moment, he is among the artists making sponsor bowls for the upcoming Empty Bowl event — a benefit to feed the hungry.

“I’m making six corporate sponsor bowls,” he said. “It’s wonderful to think pottery is going to a good cause.”

To view his pottery online, visit