Grand Opera House


Rick McKinney

“I took a circuitous route to get into art, but it’s where I needed to be,” says Rick McKinney, the lead artist of Fired Earth Pottery in Appleton. For the past 20 years, he has turned his passion for clay into something more than a career in art – he works to create what he calls “a clay community in the Fox Cities.” McKinney’s work is not just in pottery, but also in people.

Fired Earth began in 1997 as an empty set of rooms in the heart of downtown Appleton. He has since built or installed furnishings – tables, workbenches, shelves, kilns, and tools that McKinney himself created.


Rick McKinney

In 2003, McKinney started a company, MKM Pottery Tools, to sell these tools. MKM got its start with Decorating Disks, a guide for measuring and creating even facets on slab pots; the store also offers small, wooden, machine-carved rollers and stamps. These tools allow potters to simply and easily create, in his words, “an active, dynamic surface not achievable any other way.” McKinney now sells these and many other tools to potters worldwide.

But Fired Earth isn’t just for McKinney or visiting artists-in-residence. Three times a week, McKinney and another potter, Angie Bougie, teach pottery classes, and the studio comes alive with new ceramics creators at work. Their students, newbies and experts alike, can take their interest in pottery in any direction: they’ve created glaze colors, sculpted figurines, and thrown on the potter’s wheel.

Each eight-week pottery course culminates in a kiln-opening potluck, which is a time for Appleton’s clay community to come together. Before the potluck, “all the students load their stuff into a massive, gas-fired kiln that takes up its own room,” McKinney says. “Hundreds of [unfinished works] are piled up.” The kiln then fires up, and “15-20 hours later it’s done. The whole kiln is…full of shiny, beautiful objects guaranteed to latippy potst for 5,000 years.”

According to McKinney, the act of making pottery is more than creating something tangible; it also has significance. “History is a negotiated place,” McKinney said. “What I like about clay is that it’s much simpler. You create the piece, take it to the market and sell it. The work is beautiful, functional and permanent.”

Fired Earth starts the next session of pottery classes on March 7, 8 and 9. Learn more about McKinney and his work at or at


Bookmark this post.
Artist Spotlight

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.