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John Lamb, Published May 29 2012

Wyndmere’s ‘One-Armed Potter’ overcomes disability, finds therapy in ceramics

FARGO – Some people have nicknames that hint at a character feature or a personal history. Few nicknames are as straight-forward and telling as Paul Lundstrom’s: “The One-Armed Potter.”

Actually, the Wyndmere man has two arms, two hands and 10 fingers. But Lundstrom was born with cerebral palsy, which severely limits the use of his left arm and leg.

While the condition limits his range of motion, it doesn’t limit his desire to create with his one good arm and hand.

“My pottery is a product of my belief that I can do anything I put my mind to,” reads the back of Lundstrom’s business cards at his show on display at DK Custom Framing at Gallery 14 in Fargo.

The show was his first and something he considers a success, as he sold half of the 100 pieces he displayed. It may have even been a little too successful, as Lundstrom is now getting orders in for his bowls.

“I never know what’s going to turn out until I get there,” he says with a laugh Sunday at DK Custom Framing.

While potters traditionally use both hands to center a ball of clay on the pottery wheel and then raise it up, Lundstrom doesn’t have the luxury of his other hand.

“If I do it (with both hands) it won’t be close to symmetrical,” he says, “The fine motor stuff isn’t there at all.”

What he does have is dedication – and a strong right hand he uses to form bowls.

“I just finesse it enough so I can do it with one hand,” he explains.

He knows he has a way to go to make improvements, like being better able to draw up the clay, pulling up the walls of the vessel with his fingers while the wheel spins and making smoother, more even shapes.

“It will make me better,” he says.

Some people think he’s already pretty good.

Denise Knudson, owner of DK Custom Framing, says Lundstrom exhibits good balance and symmetry in his work.

“That’s pretty bad-ass for only one arm,” she says.

Art therapy

Now 32, Lundstrom started throwing bowls in junior high school at the suggestion of teachers. He liked it, but didn’t stay with it until returning in college as a way to relieve stress, calling the creative process, “completely therapeutic.”

Lundstrom graduated from North Dakota State University in 2004 with his degree in mechanical engineering. He now is an engineer at Bobcat Co. in Gwinner.

“My degree isn’t the easiest, and my disability made it harder,” he says. “I can’t read that fast or write that well.”

After graduation he stopped ceramics due to lack of a studio, material and time. He recently started again using the facilities at ArtNfusion in Lisbon. At the DK show, most pieces are between $10 and $50.

All the money raised is donated to the Great American Bike Race in Bismarck, a fundraiser for children and young adults with cerebral palsy and related disabilities.

“It’s a great cause,” Lundstrom says, adding that in three years he has raised $18,000 for the charity. He also takes part in the ride on his recumbent tricycle.

“I do it to keep strong and try to stay fit,” he says.

His upper-body strength is fine, but he wears braces on both legs and his left leg is shorter, requiring an added sole on his work boot.

Lundstrom doesn’t let his disability get him down or stand in the way of getting things done and says it has taught him patience and independence.

He cites a home improvement project that involved him threading a nut while having to hold on to other parts. It took him two hours to get the nut on right.

“I have incredible patience,” he explains. “It’s not a blessing some days. But I will spend hours doing things I know I can. … I get into this zone where I just don’t give up and that’s how I get everything done.”

He hopes using the moniker “The One-Armed Potter” gets people to look at his work, but he doesn’t want sympathy or praise based on his disability.

“It’s one of those things,” he says. “People think I’m amazing for what I do. I’m not really amazing. I just wanted to do things.”

If you go

What: Ceramics by Paul Lundstrom

Where: DK Custom Framing at Gallery 14, 14 Roberts St., Fargo

Info: (701) 239-0063

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533