Willmar graduate Hiep Nguyen finds a community around the pottery wheel


— Hiep Nguyen started drawing and painting when he was a boy growing up in Vietnam. It was a past time that came with him when the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Willmar when Nguyen was 15.

"It is something I have been doing since I was little," Nguyen said. "It was always a hobby on the side of everything else."

Art is a hobby Nguyen continued to foster through high school and college, even though he focused on science, not art. He graduated from Willmar High School and then attended Ridgewater College for two years before transferring to St. Cloud State University where he completed his bachelor's degree in environmental science and chemistry. He is now working on his master's in environmental chemistry at SCSU while he works as a quality system coordinator at Cold Spring Brewery.

But art still holds a special place in Nguyen's life, and today he focuses on a new medium — pottery. He was introduced to pottery at the

Paramount Center for the Arts in St. Cloud

, where Nguyen worked as a visual arts assistant. Not only did he learn how to work in a completely new medium, but he found himself surrounded by like-minded people.

"I have a community now," Nguyen said. "It is more encouraging to do it as a group of people instead of painting by yourself in a basement."

Nguyen enjoys the physical aspect of pottery — how you use your entire body to create a bowl or vase. He likes using his hands to create something from a shapeless mound of clay.

"I do traditional forms," Nguyen said. "I try to stay with the round, curvature form."

As a potter, Nguyen said he likes to take his time with each individual piece and makes each one unique. His creations include earth globe vases, pieces painted with a yin and yang motif along with bowls, cups and tea pots of various finishes.

"Detailed and delicate is how I would describe my art," Nguyen said. "And unique too. They are all different."

Many of Nguyen's pieces are on display at the Willmar Education and Art Center as part of the "Paints and Pots" exhibit, a dual exhibit with Nguyen's pottery and paintings by Willmar painter Ana Serrano. (See the Jan. 25 edition of the Tribune for a profile on Serrano). The exhibit, put on by the

Willmar Area Arts Council

, is open 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday through January at the WEAC.

Nguyen doesn't create his art to sell the pieces, though he has had some success there. For Nguyen, it is more about ephemeral gifts that he enjoys.

"It is very relaxing to do it. It is very satisfying with the clay and the movement the clay can do," Nguyen said. "It is a form of meditation."

Because he doesn't own his own pottery wheel, Nguyen does most of his art at the

Paramount Center for the Arts

, in its community studio. That, too, is part of the process Nguyen enjoys.

"It is a place to meet up with your people," to not only do art, but be social, Nguyen said. When the center shut down for several months because of the pandemic, Nguyen said it was a sad time, to lose that connection with people. "For me, it is a comfort place."

Nguyen also shares his love of pottery on social media. He posts videos of him making pottery on


. He urges people to give pottery a try if they've never have; they might just find a new hobby.

While Nguyen plans to find a job in a science field once he graduates, he never plans to give up his art. The fact that he doesn't have the pressure of making a living through his pottery is probably one of the reasons he enjoys making art so much.

"I have never had a thought to stop art," Nguyen said.