Pottery in the Grotto: Building Community


Potter Bob Arnoldy has created a treasure in Linden Hills with his curbside pottery grotto. He explains the concept of the grotto and how the community has embraced it.
Q: So, tell us what pottery in the grotto is.
A: The grotto is a small cave-like structure built into my retaining wall facing the sidewalk. It’s perfect for small pieces of my work.
Q: How did you come up with the idea?
A: You know how you feel when you really like or enjoy some material thing and then it is given to you for free? That surprised, joyous feeling, that leaves you with such gratefulness. That is how I came up with the idea. It is to spread that happy, joyful feeling. I have been giving away my pottery for years and years, to family, friends, anyone that comes over to my house, really. And every time, they are so grateful and surprised that I would just give it away. It was an unspoken rule that if you came over, you left with a piece of my pottery. However, as time went on, even friends, guests, and family had had enough. I had to do something, so I thought a grotto in the front of the house would be a good way to give away my work, and to hopefully make someone’s day.
Q: Besides your pottery pieces, what do you hope to offer people through pottery in the grotto?
A: I have a sign in the grotto that reads “FREE. But to take my pottery comes with a deal. If you like this piece, it’s yours. All I ask it that you do something nice for a stranger today.” So, the idea is to spread kindness. The world seems so angry lately, and the more kindness we share and the more we can get along, the better. It all starts in our own communities.
Recently, I had “business cards” made up to explain the mission – to spread kindness. Along with the cards, I’ve started placing my pieces in new places, such as on a park bench at Lake Harriet, or at a bus stop, or along a path going to the lake, anywhere really.
Q: What do you get back from the grotto and the people who visit it?
A: First, I get to free up space in my garage! Second, I do get joy thinking about how someone liked what I put in the grotto, or left on a park bench. If the piece brings them joy too, and they pass on that joy, that is enough, really. I do, on occasion, get a thank you card or a small little toy that may have belonged to a child. But the most amazing gift I received was from a neighbor a few blocks away. She had painted an amazing rendition of my house and included the nicest card with it.
Q: Have you been surprised by anything since starting the grotto?
A: I have. There are a few other places and people that are doing their own things to spread kindness. Little Colfax Garden, on Colfax Avenue, for example, hands out painted rocks with positive sayings. Free Little Art Galleries in Chicago give away art instead of books. My grotto’s Instagram handle is @potteryinthegrotto. Through the handle, people find me and I find other people all over the country who spread joy and kindness.
Q: How long have you been doing pottery and in what direction is your work going these days?
A: I’ve been a potter for the last 22 years. A friend took a class at Northern Clay Center and invited me to take a class there too. I did, and I loved it. I have been going to Northern Clay Center for nine months a year ever since. I’ve made more than 200 pieces in that time.
As far as my ceramic art, I enjoy functional ware, such as cups, mugs, bowls, and plates. But I also do sculptural work. That work includes garden art such as fun little houses and totem poles (ceramic pieces stacked on top of each other and fit onto a central supporting pole). I also make pieces that can hang on a wall.
I have recently joined another studio in South Minneapolis called Forma Clay Community. At Forma, they fire their kilns to different temperatures than Northern Clay does. These higher temperatures allow me to explore much brighter colors, which I am super excited about.
Bob Arnoldy’s pottery is also available for purchase at my gallery, Everett & Charlie Gallery (2720 W 43rd Street in Linden Hills). Check us out at 


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