Photo by Shane Harms
Regnor Reinholdtsen showing his studio at Salty Dogs, and demonstrating the balance, design and a "good foot" in his pottery.

More than clay: Ballard’s resident potter, Regnor Reinholdtsen

He’s been named the “the embodiment of the renaissance in Seattle” and “a wizard from Valhalla,” but many know Regnor Reinholdtsen as a humble potter and teacher.

Beyond pottery, Reinholdtsen is a complex man with many hobbies including fishing and sailing. He owns two wooden boats, one a 36-foot teak sloop called Hintha.

“I’m a jack-of-all trades really. My Achilles heal would be electricity,” Reinholdtsen said in a documentary friends made about him.

Reinholdtsen explained that when he was young he did not have electricity but later when he moved to Ballard from Norway they did and he shocked himself with a fork accidentally and was blown through
an end table.

Reinholdtsen has been a Ballard fixture in the arts for his entire life. Born in Norway, Reinholdtsen moved to Seattle in 1947 when he was just 4 years old. His father worked as a commercial fisherman living largely away from home.

"I did not get to see my father much at all. We had to live with a different family while he was away,” said Reinholdtsen.

Reinholdtsen grew up in Ballard, however his mother died when he was in the eighth grade and he went back to Norway for a year to be with his large extended family there, but returned the following year. He had a penchant for sculpture in high school and later took courses at the University of Washington where he discovered pottery.

“At first I thought I was going to be a sculptor, but I just fell in love with clay every time I got my hands dirty. ... It’s a universal, unifying material,” said Reinholdtsen.

Reinholdtsen received a degree in the arts from the University of Washington and later apprenticed with Robert Sperry for two years. “Watching him work changed my life. I learned things I never thought possible with clay. He was a real master,” said Reinholdtsen.

Later, Reinholdtsen started a pottery studio on Sunset Hill across from Walter's Cafe. He would also fish with his father in the summer time. “Fishing with my father was good because we missed out on a lot of that when I was young,” said Reinholdtsen.

Though he fished, Reinholdtsen's real passion was working with the clay and mastering his craft. His studio was there for 38 years and during that time he also taught pottery at Sammamish High School.

Local potter and private teacher, Carrie Gustafson, also grew up in Ballard and met Reinholdtsen at that time, and they shared the studio for 12 years.

“It was like a land of make believe with people coming and going in the studio, but it was real,” said Gustafson.

Like a bohemian mecca for artists, musicians, artists and characters of all types gathered around Reinholdtsen. He would also invite members of the community into his studio to share the art of pottery or to just have a good time.

Later, ownership of the building changed and they had to move their studios, which was no easy task. 38 years has a way of accumulating things especially kilns the size of a small room, as well as the legacy of a place.

Reinholdtsen currently operates out of Salty Dogs Studio, an artist collective at the corner of 14th Avenue N.W. and 46th Street. The studio has been operating for 35 years, which makes it the oldest of its kind in the Seattle area. Currently it houses 17 artists, including Reinholdtsen.

Since Reinholdtsen set up shop all those years ago, he has been hosting summer and winter solstice parties every year. The parties started out with Reinholdtsen and other artists and musicians hanging out with friends to celebrate art and the solstice, but the parties grew into larger events that are now open to the public. Every year Reinholdtsen and friends move a couple of his high fire kilns to the party location where onlookers can watch him work. He also invites others to express themselves through the clay and work on pieces of their own.

“The Norwegians really like the solstice. ... the parties are not just about the clay, it's about bringing people together,” said Reinholdtsen.

This year will be the 44th anniversary and co-hosted by Gustafson. They plan to have the party at the Ballard Elks Lodge (6411 Seaview Avenue N.W.) on Saturday Dec. 21st from 5 – 9 p.m. It's potluck style, and partygoers are encouraged to bring something to drink.

If readers want to know more about the party or want to view some of Reinholdtsen's work, drop by Salty Dogs studio before the solstice and check out the show room or ask for Regnor.

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