Summer Students Finish Up (almost)

Five students at the University of Manitoba worked on various aspects of ceramics over the summer months.  They are winding up their studies and it is time for you to see some of the work that they completed.  They were Iris Smith, Jade Shynkaruk, Rebecca Sutherland, Sara Berg, and Selena Dyck.

These five students discovered in the spring that they required anywhere from 3-9 credit hours at the 3000 level in order to enter their Honours or 4th year of study.  Of the five, three work almost full time.  One student, Jade, had more experience with clay and is the President of the Ceramics Club for 2018-19.  One student, Rebecca, had no experience with clay.  The other three:  Iris, Sara, and Selena, had taken the three credit hour beginning wheel throwing class in the fall of 2017 and another course in wheel throwing in the winter.  At the School of Art, students take five three-credit hour classes per term.  In other words, these students did not have the luxury of working full time in the ceramics space until this summer.  Each was working on a different project.

Sara Berg is very interested in Classical Chinese cobalt painting on porcelain.  She wanted to master, as best she could, this technique before moving on to her own subject matter that would still be expressed in this ancient technique.  She also worked on classical forms and took part in the wood kiln workshop where she not only learned to properly mortar bricks and the laying of bricks but also was able to use her welding skills to create the frame for the kiln.  We were really grateful for these hidden talents!  Little did we know that she was also a diesel mechanic and had a license to drive an 18 wheeler.  Sara moved to painting her own story on the largest of the porcelain stools she constructed – a young warrior woman and she is truly a warrior!  She has not had the time to study the history of ceramics and the inspiring women of the 20th century but she came up with one bowl that is so reminiscent of Lucie Rie that I am including it.  Can’t wait to see what she does this fall.  DSC02959

Selena Dyck wanted to study cone 6 glazes.  She loves blue and green.  Selena’s work exhibits a dedication to detail, mastery of form, and consistent testing and questioning.  Her first project was to make a 12 piece place setting of dishes.  Her second was to create 40 test pots and learn how to take a transparent glaze, make it opaque, and then colour both the transparent and the opaque base.  She discovered that she prefers the cone 6 Campana clear with copper carbonate added.  Selena challenged herself to create a set of 5 perfect nesting bowls – which she certainly accomplished!  Her dedication to keeping her glaze journal, the details about each of the glazes and their reaction and where they were in the kiln will be a good tool for her in the future.  Selena was the first one to discover that Reitz Water Blue pinholes.  We now think that the overfilling of our kilns is the cause.  Didn’t impact the smaller bowls but was readily apparent on the larger ones.  Selena asked all of the right questions – has an enquiring and observational mind.  She would make a great ceramist.  The handles on the cups at the front fooled our MFA student.  Mary thought they were press-moulded.  Nope.  Selena got very good at pulling handles!  Sadly, the ceramics area is losing her to print media in year 4.

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Jade Shynkaruk came to Winnipeg from Brandon where she had studied ceramics.  She has a keen eye for a colour palette, understands the importance of colours and how they relate to interiors, and was one of the first students to know what the company Pantone does!  Jade works full time as a consultant at one of the Benjamin-Moore stores in Winnipeg and she translates that work into her ceramics which sell off the tables whenever there is a Club sale.  I am super impressed with the weight of her work, the size of the coffee cups, and the care that she takes figuring out the glazing and how the colours relate to one another.  Jade is not ready to set out and become a full time production potter but she worked on all the things that a professional potter had to master:  form, repetition of form, the right weight for the vessel, and the glazing.  She will do very well.  She also has an Etsy site:  Etsy.com/shop/jadecoraldesignDSC02923

 

Rebecca Sutherland came and wanted to try and see if she could take her love for Japanese ceramics and translate that into a short course in clay.  Rebecca had never worked with clay at the beginning of June.  And I have to admit that there was a part of me that worried an awful lot about her.  So, never touched clay before June and works full time at a Canadian bank.  This is an independent study class.  We met over the summer but, until today, I had never seen any of her work glazed.  Rebecca was marked on her progress during the course.  From nothing to a beautiful bento box out of clay with a pressed bamboo motif.  It displayed an attention to detail and the colour that she choose worked well, pooling darker in the blades of the Asian grass.  I am hoping that she keeps working.

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Iris likes colour (and marbles melted onto her plates).  When I first met her, I said something about orange, possibly that it was not so popular a colour in ceramics, unlike blue which I was told once, ‘everybody loves’.  Iris chirped up and said, ‘I like orange’.  She also likes green, pink, and takes a lot of risks in terms of putting colour together.  Iris took other academic courses while working almost full time and also finding time to train new staff at Starbuck’s.  I want to add here that she gave me a new respect for the coffee chain because they provide benefits for their part time staff.  Tomorrow she goes back to being full time before classes resume in September.  Iris approaches her work as something she wants to use.  Because she has arthritis in her fingers, she presses in the sides of her tumblers so that she can grasp them easily and on her rice bowls she faceted the sides.  Look at the combination of the Reitz water blue on the interior of the pink tumblers.  Quite unique.

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It was my privilege to work with these five young women over the summer.  To see what a concentrated time on a single project can benefit their learning.  I wish each of the five of them the very best.  Please keep your eyes out for their work…they are the young rising ceramic stars.  This includes Selena who I hope we can lure back into clay!

Apologies for the photos.  The lack of any quality is all mine and I should add that because of the light this morning, some of the work really is much more beautiful in person.

Top row, left to right:  Selena’s five set mixing bowls, Jade’s teapot and bowls, Jade’s trinket bowl.  Second row:  Iris’s tea bowls, Sarah’s dragon stool, Sarah’s vases.Third row:  a close up of Iris’s fluted tea bowls, Iris’s pink plate with marble, Selena’s mugs.  Last row:  Jade’s mugs, Rebecca’s bamboo box, Sara’s second porcelain stool with female mythology.

Top image:  Rebecca’s bamboo bento box and 2 pinched tea cups

The Art of Woodfire: A Contemporary Practice

As I began to prepare for my talk on the marginalization of women within the wood fire community (or women ceramists in general) at LaBorne in a few weeks, I took the opportunity to do what was done earlier with art history survey texts:  I started to examine the inclusion of women in publications on the subject.

In 2011, Mansfield Press, owned by the late Janet Mansfield (herself an internationally respected woman who fired her work with wood), published Owen Rye’s The Art of Woodfire:  A Contemporary Practice.  The book has a statement from Rye on why he is so passionate about wood firing in addition to a discussion on the aesthetics, history, and materials and processes of this very physical method of working with clay.  There are pages devoted to individual artists alongside beautiful (and large) images of their work and kilns.  Most discuss their choice of wood firing over other methods or what inspires them.  My objective was a little different.

The book was written in response to to an exhibition which was held at the Front Room Gallery in Gulgong, NSW, eventually travelling to all of Australia in 2011.  But it is much more than a catalogue and the discussions could be applied to the concerns within the wood firing community internationally.  Rye included a discussion of the 24 artists within the exhibition.  Of these the women represented include the late Janet Mansfield, Sandy Lockwood, Barbara Campbell-Allen (including a large photo of her anagama kiln in Kurrajong, NSW opposite an image of a vase and a bottle), and Carol Rosser.  Mention was made of others including Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Moraig McKenna whose lovely wood fire porcelain was featured in two photographs.

Would I like to see at least half of the attention go to women?  Absolutely.  But a gold star has to go out to Owen Rye.  Many of the other publications do not include a single woman.  Stay tuned!

“Viagra Wood Firing: Mine is the biggest and the dirtiest and I fire the longest”.

The quote is from the Australian ceramist, Paul Davis.  Markus Boehm told it to me and it fits my talk at the Third European Wood Firing Conference in LeBorn perfectly.  If you know Paul Davis (great guy, great sense of humour), you will understand that this statement was partly made in jest.  Still, for many, wood firing is all part of the male realm and the building of wood kilns and the firing of them has to be the biggest, the longest, and the dirtiest consuming vast quantities of wood for days and weeks.  As the School of Art and I began to plan for a new wood kiln that would be a learning tool, large kilns with firing schedules more than twelve hours were rejected.  We wanted a kiln that the students could fire in less than a day and fire so often that they could learn through experience.  There was also a huge desire to be kinder to Mother Earth.

Does anyone out there think that this would be a controversial issue?

Over the course of my research on the impact of the Vietnam resisters on Canadian ceramics, it became very clear that many of the men who immigrated believed and still understand that the women who came with them – whether it was a supportive partner, sister, mom, or friend – gave up nothing.  I was told so many times that the women could go back and forth freely without fear of going to jail that I almost took those statements for granted.  But, it is not true.  I was one of those women.  I left behind a very elderly grandmother who had raised me, my parents, and friends.  Others left behind careers, studios, and commissions.  The voices of those women were quite literally silenced.

There are only two Japanese women who fire with wood.  Why?  There is an ancient myth that the kilns will blow up if the women take part in the firing process.  Really?

Ironically, if you look at the percentage of women firing wood kilns, many alone, in Germany’s Mecklenburg-Vorpommern region, north of Berlin, you will discover that there are more women firing wood kilns than men.  Over the years I have been fortunate to meet some of these talented individuals and I am grateful.  They have shown me that women can manage trees, cut them down, haul them to the area for cutting, stacking, and drying.  And, finally, they can fuel their kilns with these logs.  Ute Dreist is only one of many women working in the field.  Others include Birke Kastner, Charis Lober, Katrin Otolski, Angelika Reich, Silwia Barke, Regine Schonemann, and Christiane Lambertz amongst others.  There are similar percentages in other parts of Northern Europe, France, and Scandinavia.  Indeed, a survey in Canada shows that the number of women who choose to wood fire their ceramics is growing steadily.

So what is the problem?  Is it just me?  Or is the books and the journals in North America that continue to feature more men than women?  How about exhibitions that focus solely on wood fired vessels or sculpture?  It is the same.  This is surely bothersome.  In ceramics classes across Canada today, the vast majority are female students.  Last year I had only one male student out of twenty-one in my class.  There are currently no male students registered in my fall wood firing class.  I haven’t gotten to the point – yet- where I am going to start to count the number of women featured in journals, books, and exhibitions like the Guerrilla Girls did when they took on the New York City Fine Art establishment and started a movement —- but I am almost there.  The examples of wood fired work in the display cases at the School of Art have only the work of men.  So who are these young women to look up to? And who is giving these young students ‘their’ vision of wood fired ceramics?

It all comes back to the featured image of the new wood kiln.  The whispers behind my back were not only about the size of the kiln but its style along with great disbelief that a kiln could be built and fired in a week.  I mean the ole’ girl went off her rocker, right?  That is the male view.  And it is that male view that is dominant in Canada.  If I could take these young women and transport them to see Priscilla Mouritzen firing a similar wood kiln or let them have coffee with Julia Nema, then they would have some role models.  But, in Canada and especially in the Prairies where we don’t have anything but planted trees, the ideal kiln is the anagama.  Apparently there are at least twelve of them in the neighbouring province of Saskatchewan.  Now, I have nothing against these medieval Japanese kilns who hurl smoke in the air and consume large quantities of wood except for just that – they hurl vast amounts of black smoke in the air, consumming larger and larger quantities of wood.  There are alternatives.  Paul Davis, who studied in Japan for years, will tell you that there are a lot of “ugly brown pots” coming out of those anagamas.  So why are they so privileged?  I wonder.

Stay tuned.  This whole issue was being discussed by some men back in 1973 including Fred Olsen.

 

 

 

 

 

The South Osborne Farmer’s Market Rocks with local honey, fresh veggies, free parking, Salvadorean tamales, Artisan breads…

I am embarrassed.  We have lived in South Osborne for two decades.  We got tired of the hassle of the St Norbert Market with the paid parking, the lineups and sometimes wondering if the veggies were local or coming out a box from the suppliers.  We wanted something a little simpler.  The fact that it was a short walk away from our house is why the head is held in shame today…but never again.

There is free parking.  That is a plus.  Mind you, it was busy.  You might have to walk a half block.  Several stalls selling fresh local veggies – corn, every kind of beet, beans, tomatoes, lettuce, broccoli (and more).  A stall with nothing but Artisan bread.  After your shopping, you can sit down and listen to the free music with a pint from one of Winnipeg’s microbreweries, Half Pint.  There is also fresh lemonade.  If you are hungry, check out the Salvadorean food truck with its tamales, tacos, empanadas, etc.  I say ‘etc’ because I can’t remember everything on their blackboard.  Next time, I will take a photo. There are the usual soft drinks and hot dogs, speciality coffees, a few jewellers stalls, and one that had ceramics.  I apologize if I really missed anyone.  But, you have to have a favourite and the young lady who has the bees on Beresford and produces South Osborne Honey gets my vote.  I hope that the bees who come to visit our Cosmos are hers!  And, by the way, this South Osborne honey is a lovely yellow with a delicate flavour reminding me of lavender.

Summer. Thinking ice cream? If you are in Winnipeg, head down to Chaeban in South Osborne

If you headed to my site today wanting to know what is going on in the world of ceramics, I am sorry.  It is summer and after watching a glaze kiln all day I needed a bit of a treat and what better than ice cream.

We are so lucky in the South Osborne area.  Chaeban opened in the winter and even then there were lineups for their handmade ice cream.  Read their story on their website.  It is heart warming.  And, as Canadians, it is a positive sign that we welcome refugees from the war-torn Middle East into our country and our lives by visiting this local shop which, by the way, brings a bunch of happiness into its customers lives (like mine).

The flavour of the week is Louis Riel Lavender, a blend of luscious infused lavender with the freshest of Saskatoons.  It is seriously amazing.

If you haven’t been to Chaeban, you need to go.  It reminds me of the old-fashioned ice cream parlours that we had when I was growing up in Oklahoma.  Everything is white and clean.  You stand in line inside in the cool.  The place is full of children with big smiles digging into their bowls.  It is just a happy place.  And now it even has free wifi.

You can’t buy the flavours at the local supermarket but they do have containers to take home.  If you are Vegan, no problem.  There is at least one flavour on hand just for you.  One day it was a deep dark chocolate with avocado.  The Plain Jane is anything but your old boring vanilla.  It is sweetened with local honey and is full of sour cream giving it a tang that you don’t find elsewhere.

Now…if they only had handmade pottery bowls…………………..Back to ceramics tomorrow but for now remember that ice cream is a wonderful way to cool down from the summer heat we have been experiencing.

 

Making Progress!

Adrienne Gradaur and Zach Quin have been making good use of the sunny days in Saskatchewan.  Look how far they have come in their new kiln build – the flue arch is up and curing.  You have to give these two young potters a round of applause.  The bricks they are using are heavy and much larger than those in the plans that were used for the School of Art’s new Bourry Box kiln.  But as anyone reading this knows, if you are a potter with a studio at home and a young family, you take what you can get your hands on and make it work!  They are doing just that.  Can’t wait to see where the pair will be in another couple of weeks.

If you are around Lloydminster and want to lend a hand, even for a few hours and you know what you are doing, track them down.  You can also contact them through Smiling Cow Pottery.  Well done you two.  So proud of you.

It’s no secret, I really like Gunda Stewart’s wood-fired​ vessels

I have written about Gunda Stewart before.  If you missed it, here is a little synopsis.  Stewart studied with Tam Irving and Sally Michener at the Vancouver School of Art.  She works on a treadle wheel and is a great follower of the Leach tradition.  Both of us love the rich temmoku pots that come out of her wood kiln in Canyon, BC.  Her ash glazes and her Shinos are also spot on.  Lately, she has been experimenting with ‘blue’.  Some of the results are now sitting on a few new shelves in my kitchen.  They are lovely soft grey blues, far distant cousins from the coldness of the cobalt I have seen elsewhere.  Stewart has been firing her large Manabigama kiln designed by John Thies and Bill van Gilder for ten years.  I like it because it is easy to fire, using less wood and human hours than many kilns of the same size.  The results are also stunning.  What I don’t like about it is the crawling inside to stack the shelves.  That has to be the only drawback and Stewart is wondering herself, even though she is in fantastic physical shape, how long she will be able to wood fire her work.  For me, I hope it is much, much longer.  Stewart used to sell her work to a gallery in St Louis and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics shop in Toronto.  I say ‘used to’.  Many potters/ceramists, clay artists (what each individual cares to call themselves) rely on prestigious shops such as these not only for large sales such as the market in Toronto affords but also as a validation that their work is ‘excellent’.  Stewart now sells all her work locally, either at the Saturday market or through her studio.  Her buyers are repeat customers, often several generations from the same family, and tourists that come to the East Kootenays.  She has trouble keeping stock and her recent, lovely ‘blues’ fly off the shelves as do the more traditional Sung dynasty glazes.  How satisfying it must be to know that in an area with a small population your work is valued, even cherished.  If you are in the Canyon area, follow the blue artisan signs.  Her shop is open most days from 11-7 during the summer and fall.

As for me, I want to publicly thank her for hosting me, for talking pots, sharing her recipe for Quinoa brownies (delicious), and taking me for a walk in the beautiful cedar forests.  I envy her the quiet tranquillity that surrounds her in addition to the reasonable, very reasonable, indeed, cost of wood in the East Kootenays.  The wood here is not as good and is 5x more expensive – but, hey, we don’t have the trees that they do.  It was also very refreshing that when I asked her if she ever felt marginalized as a woman wanting to work in the world of wood firing that she said ‘never really.’  Tam Irving was super supportive to her as a student and both Cam Stewart and Robin du Pont, wood firers from the Winlaw area, have been nothing but great and giving.  Fabulous!