“She was born confident in life”
Born in Aalborg, Denmark in 1930, Kirsten lived a comfortable life in the country until World War II when her father moved the family to Copenhagen. Kirsten’s sister, Inger Blondel, says the war changed their lives forever.
“I never understood how Kirsten could be so confident after all the suffering we saw during the war. But she was born confident in life, [surely] that is why she was so good for others.”
Shortly after graduating from a well-known school of tailoring at the age of 20, Kirsten came down with an untreatable illness. Her suffering was severe, said Inger, and doctors diagnosed her with rheumatism articulaire (rheumatoid arthritis). When medications failed to help, her doctor suggested a change in climate. Kirsten’s father immediately sent her to visit an aunt in sunny Santa Barbara.
The climate was kind to Kirsten and she found work as a seamstress in downtown Santa Barbara, where she met Frank Pedersen, the son of Danish immigrants. They married in 1952, and soon had a family: son David was born in 1953, and daughter, Julie, in 1959.
Kirsten became interested in pottery and took ceramic-making classes from famed potter Oscar Bucher. Bucher’s work is, today, considered “influential” in the California Craft’s movement of the 60s and 70s.
The Pedersen family moved to Solvang in 1958 and Kirsten opened a studio she called The Mud Mill, in a Solvang alcove near the present-day Gerda’s Iron Art Shop.
“She set-up a kick wheel and kiln, threw her pottery, put it on shelves and it sold,” son David recalls. “Locals and tourist would gather around and watch her throw pots. She often wore traditional Danish clothes and, always wore wooden shoes.”
The pottery studio grew into a gallery that included work by local artisans. She moved the studio across the street to a larger space on the courtyard of a Danish restaurant. Again Kirsten set her wheel near the window so she could be seen throwing pots. A Solvang attraction at that point, locals and tourists watched in amazement at her ability to work all day long, sometimes throwing many as 150 pots a day.
Her children played in the studio while she worked, as did many other local children, fascinated with the lady who made cookie jars from mud. David has fond memories of those years in Solvang.
“We kids would ask for cookies at Peter’s Pastries back door. Most people working in Solvang spoke Danish to each other then, and tourists compared visiting Solvang to visiting Olivera Street in Los Angeles. They came to Solvang to buy sweaters from a Danish sweater maker, candles from a Danish candle maker, sausage from a Danish butcher, chocolates from a Danish chocolate maker. It really was like being in a Danish village.”
In the mid 1960s the Pedersens “went wholesale” and opened a factory in Los Olivos. Kirsten mass-produced pots at an astounding rate, occasionally with the help of another potter. The entire family worked in the factory glazing pots, stacking and firing the kiln, packing pots for shipment. The business was a success until Kirsten injured her back, badly, and had back surgery. Doctors told her to quit throwing pots and The Mud Mill¡ºº Pottery factory closed.
By the early 1980s, her confidence renewed, she founded a catering business with Melinda Klinger, of Santa Ynez, and named it Catering to You.
“We each had our own specialties in the business, I did my part, she did hers and, somehow, it worked beautifully,” said Melinda. “We were challenged, we explored new food ideas, it kept us hopping, it was such fun! We always said it was way too much work to be doing if we weren’t having fun.”
Though the catering company started small in Kirsten’s kitchen, within a short time Catering to You was the busiest and most sought after catering company in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“They catered all the big weddings,” says Kirsten’s daughter Julie Guitterez who helped out in Catering to You.
“She did most of the Valley’s celebrity functions in those years, lots of corporate lunches, the Vintner’s festival brunch, Byron Winery dinners for 13 years, even after Mondavi bought them, parties, holiday events and luncheons for people all over the Valley including the Firestone and Fess Parker family, the annual Hollister Ranch luncheon.”
“We did the business together for 25 years, Melinda said. “We wound down gradually, and our last event, a Christmas dinner, was four years ago.”
A tailor, a potter, a caterer, a loving wife, mother and friend, Kirsten Pedersen’s steadfast confidence in life never failed her.
She leaves behind an enduring memory.