Ceramicist Blayze Buseth creates Legacy Vessels to memorialize loved ones

Blayze Buseth has been interested in ceramics since a very young age. The Fergus Falls-based ceramicist says while he had always been interested in drawing and art, it was ceramic materials that he really looked forward to creating with, but they were always “out of reach” for him.

“I thought ceramics was a material you could create anything with,” says Buseth. “I knew if only I could get my hands on it I would train my heart out to create something. I always had big aspirations for ceramic material.”

1521938_10151913075477017_1775736034_nThe opportunity finally came to him when he started high school.

“I got on the potter’s wheel right away and asked my teacher what I can use to start carving,” he says. “I was teaching myself to create my own work. I would sculpt images from the TV and posted pictures of my work on social media. People from school started to get familiar with my work and I developed some fans.”

He would create abstract carvings and images that referenced popular culture. The next level for him was to start using a finer-quality clay that could capture more detail, so he advanced from stonework clay to porcelain.

Around this time he found out that a high school friend’s mother had passed away suddenly in a car accident and that she had been a big fan of his work. Buseth was asked to sculpt something with images related to her for her funeral urn.

“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with ceramics; I was just creating just for fun. But when I had a project like this it was much more meaningful. Since that was going to be her final resting place, it just had a lot more meaning.”

This first urn put Buseth on a path that he now hopes will become the cornerstone of his career in ceramics – creating individually unique, customized remembrance pieces.

When Buseth went to college at Minnesota State University Moorhead, he knew he wanted to pursue ceramics. He won an art competition that got him featured at a show in Fargo, where he saw for the first time that this could be a viable way to make a living. After that he spent three months overseas studying porcelain-making in Jingdezhen, the porcelain capital of China, where they mass produce the highly recognizable fine blue and white porcelain and the industry is so big that is has become highly specialized, with up to 26 people touching a single piece of porcelain before it is ready to be sold.

In China, Buseth focused more on carving. When he returned to the States, he decided to move in with his grandparents. His grandfather was dying from mesothelioma; the second memorial urn Buseth carved was for grandfather.

His grandfather had made pool cues during his life and had a woodshop in his home. This woodshop was converted into a ceramic studio for Buseth, and family and friends helped by getting a kiln donated and other things he needed to be able to make his work on his own.

Buseth makes what he calls “attribute” pendants: simple, recognizable symbols that represent different attributes of a person – a flexing arm for strength, a brain for wisdom, a raised fist for determination. These are available as pendants on cords of varying lengths that can be worn as a personal attribute, or these same pendants can be used in an attribute vase – a sort of totem – honoring a person with four symbols that represent their interests and skills.

13076706_10153710264392017_3477415917832103180_n“The totem poles capture a person’s personality,” Buseth says. “The symbols are super simple and are supposed to be. Hopefully these symbols are a way to spark further conversation. If it’s a remembrance piece or a trophy piece sitting around the house, it can bring about more conversation than an urn that’s dimly lit. These symbols tell you who these people are.”

Buseth also creates the memorial urns that started with his friend’s mother, which he calls “Legacy Vessels” – porcelain urns with hand-carved portraits of the deceased.

He has practiced tirelessly at carving portraiture, including mini-monuments of famous philosophers, to ensure that his carving skills do justice to those he is memorializing.

“It’s very hard work,” he says. “It’s purely subjective, and there is not a lot of room for making a mistake.”

Legacy Vessels is Buseth’s line of fully customized memorials and urns. He hopes for these to become the cornerstone of his business, and the recent receipt of a Kiva loan is helping him achieve that.

Buseth is the recipient of the first Springboard for the Arts-endorsed Kiva loan. As a new trustee of the microlending site, Springboard is able to endorse borrowers, which allows them to post their businesses for lending. Springboard is also partnered with Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to provide matching dollars on Kiva loans.

The Legacy Vessels Kiva campaign had 148 contributors for a loan totaling $10,000. This loan allows Buseth to focus on building his business specializing in porcelain urns, which includes creating marketing materials, buying supplies, and building out a studio with a storefront space where he will sell his ready-made items like the attribute pendants and standardized attribute vases that represent particular professions, like “The Athlete” or “The Entrepreneur.”

13179024_10153728401317017_9000058211805523644_n“Ideally I would like more people to know the type of work I do,” he says of his hopes for Legacy Vessels. “I gravitate towards people who really think highly of the individual they want to memorialize, whether they were an athlete or a scientist or a Nobel Prize winner. I would like to be someone who creates monuments for honestly anyone.”

He will sell his work primarily through tradeshows, his website, and referrals made through relationships cultivated with local funeral businesses. Buseth’s studio is now open in Fergus Falls. For public hours and upcoming events, follow his Facebook page.

CEX 5 Qs
(1) How do you like to collaborate?
One way is using my carving skills to bring ideas to life. I want to be able to aid in enhancing conversations. I feel that physical objects become platforms for discussion, whether that’s an urn with a portrait or symbolism carved onto a piece.

(2) How do you a start a project?
For custom orders I like to give the client a lot of options. In my own work I have some solid ideas about what I want. I visualize the type of vessels with a general assumption as to how the carving will be laid onto the piece. Often I create spontaneously. It is a preferred style. So I give myself freedom to form whatever seems appropriate. The positives are that I create some unique new vessels. The cons are that I have many useless pots that sit on the shelf. The pros are that if I have an idea for a carving I have many canvasses on the shelves to choose from.

(3) How do you talk about your value?
Value is not easily discussed and it changes from individual to individual. I look at my older work and see value in the freedom I embraced and that no vessel was alike and that every carving was a new chance to practice different designs. Value today is time-based. I have much more to do promoting myself and the time spent behind the wheel is much more scarce.

(4) How do you define success?
I feel success when I commit to my work, and my ideas or the ideas of others, and make physical objects out of them.

(5) How do you fund your work?
I am a part time caregiver for PioneerCare. As a sculptor I create custom monuments for individuals.