Various recently completed pieces of pottery sit on shelves inside Mike Joens' Swan Lake Pottery studio south of Houston.

As he plies his craft of creating pottery in his studio inside a small historic outbuilding on his property south of Houston adjacent to Hog Creek, Mike Joens enjoys the peace and tranquility of the forested setting.

He also finds a therapeutic release from his fight with cancer.

Joens (pronounced “jens”), 53, recently overcame colon cancer while living and working near Duluth, Minn., but the disease has returned and has spread to his lungs. He began radiation treatment last week.

“I don’t let it get me down, and as long as I’m happy, that’s good,” Joens said. “And I’m happy when I’m out here messing around.”

Joens grew up in Texas County and attended school at Houston. He came back to this area about four months ago after spending the last 22 years working at a paper mill in Duluth.

In 2009, Joens decided to get into pottery and took a class at a community college. He founded his “Swan Lake Pottery” business in 2010 (named after the road he lived on near Duluth), and has since attended several more classes.

“Once you’re taking classes and you end up with a couple hundred pieces, what do you do with them?” Joens said. “I threw a lot of them away, but eventually I started going to craft shows and church bazaars and selling them. That got my name out, and then people were looking for my stuff and like buying my stuff.”

Examples of Joens’ work are available locally at several area locations (including Pit Stop’s Ozark Treasures and Pond Trail Farm Guesthouse in Houston, Mabel’s Trunk in Cabool and Artisans Marketplace in Springfield) and he has set up at local craft shows like the recent Pioneer Days in Mountain View and last weekend’s big annual event in Eminence.

While several methods of creating pottery exist, Joens said he works in stoneware.

“That’s basically a type of clay,” he said, “and most of my pieces are wheel-thrown.”

As its primary material, clay is the most integral part of pottery. Knowing your clay is important, Joens said.

“A lot of clays are classified by where they’re found,” he said. “A clay from Minnesota, for example, might be very different from something dug up around here.”

As he has gained experience as a potter, Joens has learned how to customize his own clay. That allows more flexibility in creating specific pieces with specific characteristics.

“I like mixing my own clay,” Joens said. “I might use four parts of Kentucky ball clay, three parts of another type and two parts of another.”

The combination is mixed in a bucket with water to form a “slurry” that is then allowed to cure, or dry. Finding the right recipe is often a simple matter of trial and error.

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