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Allik's residency is a long time coming

Before starting to work with clay, Ingrid Allik sketches ideas for sculptural ceramic pieces.1 / 2
Estonian ceramist Ingrid Allik, who is in residence this month at Tower View, is completing the final piece of a four-part series of works representing spring, fall, winter and now summer. Each contains a textile, a shard of a plate and a kitchen utensil.2 / 2

Ingrid Allik's month residency at the Anderson Center is the culmination of an artist fellowship that dates back more than 20 years.

Allin, a native of Tallinn, Estonia, met American potter Richard Spiller in the early 1990s, not long after Estonia re-established independence from the Soviet Union.

The Soviets had "annexed" Estonia in the 1940s, so Allik grew up and began her career as a ceramic artist during that era.

She studied ceramics at the Estonian State Arts Institute and worked as a designer in a ceramics factory, then in 1987 became an associate professor at the Estonian Academy of Arts.

Spiller now lives near Pepin and is affiliated with Lake Pepin Art & Design Center, but at that time he was a professor at East Carolina University in Greenville, N.C.

"He came to us many years in the 1990s," Allik said, bringing students from the college to Estonia and conducting workshops.

"He asked always for us to come to America," she said, but that was something they'd never been able to do before. "It was not easy to leave the Soviet Union," and not at all possible to go to America, she explained.

Though "freedom time" had come to Estonia, "We were not used to going out, and there was no money to go out." Permissions were needed, and visas. "It was quite hard to do this. ...

"I grew up in Soviet times," Allik explained. "I didn't realize it was so bad when I was a school girl. It's just 'your time.'"

Later, as an academy student interested in learning and exploring, she came to recognize how much opportunities were suppressed. "You couldn't have possibilities," she realized.

When Estonian independence was restored, times still were hard for everyone, but there was a major difference: "We had hope," she said -- a feeling that if they really wanted to do something it was possible.

Allik remembers going to neighboring Finland -- her first visit outside a Socialist country. Because she had a 6-month-old son, she went into a shop that sold baby items.

"I started nearly to cry," she said, seeing all the beautiful and practical baby clothes "compared to all those ugly things we had."

And while attending a workshop in Denmark, she discovered a method that was new to her -- raku. Right away, she said, "I knew this was what I wanted to do."

Then in 1997 Spiller took a new approach. He extended a formal, written invitation to the Estonian artists to attend a conference in North Carolina.

"That was crucial," Allik said. With the letter, she was able to go to the director of the academy and ask permission.

With help from others, "It was possible to go," she said. She and her husband, Andres, who built electric kilns, made the trip along with another Estonian ceramist and two Finnish artists.

They stayed with families in Seagrove, home of the North Carolina Pottery Center.

"For me, it was very important," Allik said, "but for (her husband) maybe more." He discovered a passion for wood-fired kilns and became determined to build one in Estonia.

At the conference, Spiller asked the potters to each donate enough for a single brick to help the visitors realize a dream. A few months later, the Alliks got a phone call saying some money had been obtained from Arts Link, and five people would be coming to Estonia in June to help build the wood-fired kiln.

"It came true," she said. Each year since that kiln was completed, people have come from all over the world to Tallinn for a symposium.

"This is a very great kiln," Allik said -- largely because of the connection it represents.

Spiller retired to rural Wisconsin, but a few years later he returned to Estonia and learned that the idea he "seeded" had become reality. He began taking young artists from the Lake Pepin area to the Baltic region, and again invited ceramists to come to the U.S.

In recent years some of those artists have stayed in Red Wing at the Anderson Center or in Pepin. A year ago the Alliks and some Estonian students traveled to North Carolina.

Her work continues to evolve. New experiences, places and emotions all have an effect on what she creates, she explained. Because of that, "My works are changing all the time."

This is her first visit to this area, but Allik feels an affinity for rural Minnesota. Her first impression was that "You really love and keep the history," she said. In addition, Red Wing and Tallinn have similar temperatures and natural environment populated by familiar birch, pine and maple trees.

"It feels kind of at home," she said.