Bear Paw at the wheel


The incredible beauty of the Northwoods has spawned a very active and diverse community of artisans sprinkled throughout the area. Bear Paw Pottery is one of these unique businesses.

Bear Paw Pottery, LLC, recently relocated to St. Germain bringing with it, not only lovely utilitarian and decorative pieces but also passionate artisans who are working to spread the word and help grow the art community.

John Langer is the potter, and, along with his wife, Vicki, the two produce beautiful creations in stoneware, porcelain and Raku. Bear Paw Pottery LLC began in 1995 in Lake Tomahawk.

Langer began throwing in the early 1970s. Langer said the couple works together and he is, “the mud-slinger. Vicki does hand-building and she also does different Northwoods decoration on pieces I throw. For example, I’ll throw a platter and she will do leaves and acorns on it. Or I will throw a mug and she will put a moose or bear on it.

“We try to keep a Northwoods theme. Try to stay towards functional pottery but I have branched out and done some decorative things and Raku pottery. It keeps me growing in pottery.” Bear Paw Pottery also does commission work requested by individuals.

People who know that Langer has been creating pottery for 45 years ask him if he hasn’t done everything in pottery already.

“A famous potter, by the name of Bernard Leach from England, said a person could do a new thing every two hours in pottery and after 80 years would still have things to accomplish,” he recalled.

Bear Paw Pottery, LLC has also been a part of the Northwoods Art Tour since the tour’s inception. The Langers moved to St. Germain in August 2015. To create a storefront, they converted a two-car garage into the art gallery within a couple of months.

“We have 1,300 square feet of gallery, kiln, glaze and pottery studio,” Langer described. He said he and his cousin and carpenter, Andy Laska, worked 12 to 16 hour days. They needed to complete the building so they could move the pottery supplies from their former home.

“The movement of the pottery was way more work than moving the house,” said Langer. “We had to move a 28-cubic-foot kiln, a big trailer and a forklift, 100 buckets of glaze, tons of clay and chemicals.”

For most of his pottery career, Langer was wholesale, placing his pieces in several art galleries with which he still works. Throughout the years pottery was a hobby and he entered craft shows.

John is now retired from a 37-year career in medicine as a Physician Assistant. Prior to that, he worked in several fields, including teaching. Pottery was always an active hobby during his years in medicine. And now medicine is still an active interest, if not occupation.

The move to St. Germain is Bear Paw’s entree into the retail market. “Now we have a very accessible storefront. People don’t have to come very far off the road to come to the entrance. I really enjoy interacting with the public who stop by. I will spend the time to show them what we do and demonstrate pottery. A lot of people have never seen a pot thrown. If they are willing, they get a tour of the place,” he went on to explain.

Langer, a self-described “efficient potter” who can throw a quantity of pottery in a short amount of time, says there are several venues where he spends the majority of his time.

First and foremost he became attached to the Warehouse Art Center in Eagle River as a volunteer, exhibitor and instructor. He is passionate about promoting the work done at the Warehouse Art Center. Vicki also volunteers at the Warehouse.

A current Warehouse project Langer is dedicated to is the “Empty Bowls” event that will be held at the Warehouse Art Center on April 29 from 4:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. This is a fundraiser to benefit the Warehouse and the Vilas County Food Pantry. Those attending make a good-will offering for which they receive a bowl of soup and a piece of bread. A donation of a non-perishable canned good for the Food Pantry is requested.

Businesses in the area will donate soups, served in handcrafted ceramic bowls that go home with the diners, made by volunteers at the Warehouse. Naturally, John created a number of bowls.

To learn more about how to engage in the bustling art scene throughout the Northwoods, visit the website for the Warehouse Art Center and their Facebook page. Be sure to catch up on the dates and participating artists for this year’s Northwoods Art Tours this summer and fall on their webpage.

Bear Paw Pottery, LLC is located on St. Germain’s east side, at 9020 Highway O. They are open all year and they invite you to drop in. If no one is in the studio, just honk your horn! Or call 715-277-2762. To see examples of John and Vicki’s work, visit this webpage

Pictures courtesy of the Northwoods Art Tour 

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