The Saint John’s Pottery awarded $500,000 for Japan-based research and study

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August 17, 2017

The Saint John’s Pottery at Saint John’s University has been awarded a $500,000 grant from the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation to establish the Mary Griggs Burke Fellowship for Japanese Artists and Apprentices.

This gift is the single-largest grant to the Saint John’s Pottery in its nearly 40-year history, and is one of the largest gifts for visual arts programming in the history of SJU.

The Mary Griggs Burke Fellowship for Japanese Artists and Apprentices creates a new research and study endowment to provide opportunities for artists interested in furthering Japanese visual culture. This gift establishes the Saint John’s Pottery as a regional center for exchange with Japan, enabling it to host artists from the country which has grounded its work since 1979.

“For nearly 40 years, this studio has offered apprenticeships and artist residencies to U.S.-based artists interested in the deep history of Japanese ceramic art,” said Richard Bresnahan, Director and Artist-in Residence at the Saint John’s Pottery. “This generous gift expands that to provide new opportunities for Japanese emerging artists to visit SJU and carry that tradition forward.”

Central to that legacy in Minnesota is Mary Griggs Burke. Born in 1916, Burke was the daughter of Theodore W. Griggs and Mary Steele Livingston. Her maternal grandfather, Crawford Livingston, had made a fortune in railroads, banking and other ventures. Her father’s family included prosperous lumber merchants and food manufacturers. She earned a bachelor’s degree in 1938 from Sarah Lawrence College, where she studied literature and painting. Afterward, she earned a master’s in clinical psychology from Columbia.

Burke amassed the most comprehensive private collection of Japanese art outside Japan, and was a pioneer of nature conservation in both countries. In 1987, Burke was awarded Japan’s prestigious Order of the Sacred Treasure. Upon her passing in 2012, her collection was given principally to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City.

Burke’s connection to Bresnahan stretches back to the time of his apprenticeship in Japan, where he worked with a 13th-generation National Living Treasure pottery family. Following an extended tour and conversation with Burke about his work, Bresnahan, then 23, received notice of a surprise gift: a special research grant allowing him to further his time in Japan, awarded to him by the foundation in recognition of his efforts.

“Mary was interested in the study of Japanese ceramics in all its forms,” Bresnahan said. “Her first gift in support of my early work sustained me during my apprenticeship abroad, and is just one of countless examples in which she passionately supported artists and researchers worldwide.

“With this new endowment, we will ensure that her generosity and commitment extends across generations.”

Guests to the Saint John’s Pottery are familiar with Bresnahan’s willingness to share the studio with other artists. The studio hosts an annual residency for emerging artists from Minnesota and New York City, and recently administered a unique environmental artist fellowship in Cassis, France.

Its current apprenticeship program provides young artists — typically recent college graduates — opportunities for not only technical development, but also the stability required to formulate their own conceptions about art and life. Past apprentices have since formed their own studio practices, pursued graduate studies in art and secured teaching positions.