Someone you should know — Laurie HalbergIn May 1997 Laurie Halberg was the grand marshal at the St. Cloud State graduation ceremony, wrapping up a 34-year career as the architect and department head of the university’s first pottery department.
By: Margaret Ontl, Hudson Star-Observer
In May 1997 Laurie Halberg was the grand marshal at the St. Cloud State graduation ceremony, wrapping up a 34-year career as the architect and department head of the university’s first pottery department.
Within two hours, he and his wife, Dee, were in Hudson signing the papers to buy a condominium, bringing him back to the town of his father’s birth and home of one of their three children.
Halberg’s father, Reuben, graduated from Hudson High School in 1914 and the family still owns the homestead property on the St. Croix River in the town of Troy.
“My dad used to ice skate up the river to town,” said Halberg, who was born in Menomonie and always lived in Wisconsin, in towns from La Crosse to Frederic, because his father was a minister. “Five generations of Halbergs have lived on the land.”
Halberg, now in his 70s, is a unique blend of right- and left-brain thinking with an extra ounce of compassion mixed in.
“I planned to be an art teacher from day one,” said Halberg, who graduated from what is now the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. While in college he met his wife, DeLaine, known as Dee, while attending a Methodist Student Movement event in South Dakota.
He was from Wisconsin, she was from Iowa, and both agreed there was little point in trying to stay in touch. Soon after they each returned to their respective colleges, the letters started and, in 2007, the couple celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
Halberg and Dee both took teaching jobs in Bettendorf, Iowa, after graduation. It wasn’t long before Laurie started to work on his MFA at the University of Iowa in 1960, a decision that changed the course of his life forever. At the time, noted potters Jim and Nan McKinnell were teaching, and Halberg soon became their graduate assistant.
His skill in pottery was honed under their tutelage. As a result, in 1963 when jobs were difficult to find, he had a choice of two in Minnesota: a one-year position at the University of Minnesota filling in for department head Warren McKenzie while he was on sabbatical, or the opportunity to create a pottery department at St. Cloud State.
It was a simple decision. Since Halberg had a wife and family, he took the job with more future.
Using both his creative and business sides, he put together a renowned department. “We had an art department that was nationally accredited, and they proclaimed the pottery studio was the finest in the nation. I felt like I was doing my best.” Nine years later, the studio was again recognized as the best college pottery studio in the nation.
Halberg’s students not only learned how to “throw pots” they also learned how to build kilns, make clay, keep proper records, do accounting and practice safety skills they learned from the fire marshal.
“I wasn’t just teaching Pottery 1, 2 and 3,” said Halberg, who ordered clay-making materials seven tons at a time. “My first-quarter students would know more than many graduate students at other schools.” Halberg and his students used an industrial dough making machine to make their clay, which was then bagged in 25-pound tubes.
Kiln-building was Halberg’s specialty. He learned the concept of loose brick kiln building from the McKinnells while in graduate school. Taking the basics, he perfected the loose-brick, down-draft, two-chamber kiln.
“It was portable,” said Halberg. “I could pack up a whole kiln in one afternoon.” It meant his students could invest in a kiln that they could transport with them when they moved. His modifications also meant they had control of the temperature and air flow.
On the business side, Halberg was forward thinking and practical.
“I was dedicated to making it low-cost and available. Every quarter I had students waiting in line.” Students had to pay a $15 deposit. After that they paid for only the clay they used, weighing it after it was fired.
“The average cost was $7.37,” said Halberg. “This way it was proportionate for what they used.”
“We also made our own clay bodies and glazes.” It was all a way to keep expenses down and teach the students what they needed to know to survive in the profession. Many of his students went on to become distinguished potters, including Charles Pearson, whose studio is in Key West, Fla.
After 32 years in the studio himself, Halberg served as the director of British studies for a year, living at Alnwick Castle, leaving the studio in the capable hands of his graduate assistants.
“It was a wonderful project, but it brought an end to my time in the studio,” said Halberg who, upon return, took a sabbatical, traveling the nation to visit his successful students, collecting one pot from each of 34 former students for an alumni show at St. Cloud State.
While at St. Cloud, Halberg retired out of the National Guard Reserves in 1973 as a lieutenant colonel after 23 years. He originally joined in the 1960s and volunteered to become a pilot to supplement his income as a young teacher.
During this time he also designed and built a house in 1965 for his parents on the homestead land in the town of Troy, they lived there for 16 years and his son, Scott, lived there for eight years. So it was natural when it came time for him to retire that he and Dee would head to Hudson.
Since then, Halberg has turned to other creative pursuits such as landscaping his son’s yard, handcarving a cradle out of walnut for his grandchildren, helping with family projects in Hudson, North Carolina and Winona. He and Dee have volunteered for years in Louisiana with UMCOR. He spends a lot of time at the home he designed and built for his parents in Troy.
To commemorate the day he met his wife, he designed a necklace and presented it to her in the same town in South Dakota, 50 years to the day, that they met.
Laurie and Dee have three children, Scott and wife Jill, who live in Hudson; daughter Michele Malotky, a neurobiologist, who lives with her husband, Dan, in Greensboro, N.C.; and son Jeff and wife Jennifer, who live in Winona, where he is the University of St. Mary’s tennis coach. They have four grandsons.
Halberg recently consulted for the Caminito Art Studio on O’Neil Road, giving them tips on details such as how to make tools for a fraction of the cost.
“This is a wonderful place,” said Halberg. “It is a great idea.”
Over the holidays, he sat back down at the potter’s wheel to teach his grandsons a lesson about their grandfather’s passion.
“I need about two more lifetimes to get everything done,” said Halberg. “I’m having a wonderful time.”
Many are encouraging him to start creating pottery again but he is having such a good time pursuing other interests that the only thing he is sure of is that he is always busy.