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It’s a New Year and several new projects to carry through to 2020

This is the post excerpt.

Several ongoing projects will be finished in the next month and then two new ones.  Cris and I are finishing the revisions to the second edition of The Traditional and Religious Arts of Asia and, at the same time, I am updating two online introductory art courses for the School of Art.  Those will be finished this month.  If you have been reading this blog, you will also know that I am set to arrive at Hospitalfield in Arbrough, Scotland for March.  For the past six or so years, the amount of ceramics that are fired has disturbed me.  My beginning class of wheel throwers makes hundreds of cylinders, 15 cm high and 9 cm wide, to finally get the 40 they submit.  The goal has been to get them to see these as being ‘not precious’ and to recycle the cylinders that are ‘unworthy’.  It is difficult to imagine an archaeologist digging up our material culture in 1000 years and finding this ceramic work.  My last group of students really embraced this, and I was so proud of them.  In keeping with that and the theme of transience, the work that I will make and leave along the coast of the North Sea will not be fired. These are studies of the changing light during the day for the time I am at Hospitalfield.  The works will disintegrate over time, a metaphor for the passage of time, birth and death.  I will be using textile dyes, watercolours, and stains.  This is very exciting.  And in the spring a new studio will appear on our property in Winnipeg, a transition from my reduction of duties at the School of Art, to once again just being a studio ceramist.  So looking forward.

Canadian F1 Grand Prix Montreal

It is the one thing I cannot reconcile in my life – my worry over the environment and my love of F1 racing.  Cars going around at unthought of speeds burning up litres and litres of petrol for entertainment seems ridiculous when we talk about climate change.  And as much as I worry about the world I am leaving for my grandchildren, that much I also love about F1.  So, for now, I am going to have to live with it.  The SMART for Two that sits on our driveway and has been driven now for 13 years at the cost of only $2400 for tires and regular maintenance and gets 70 mpg – well, maybe that makes up for it.  On the other hand, that car is also a product of the testing done on F1 cars.  First, people look at the SMART and figure you can’t get anything in it.  Untrue.  There are only two seats, but they are full-size Mercedes sedan seats.  And it is safe…although no one believes that either.  Mercedes really needed to do a better PR campaign.  The car bounces if you get hit and it has a Kevlar cage like in F1.  If any vehicle is safe, it is just as reliable as the next.  Unfortunately, our family knows that cars are not safe…..

But back to the race.  Gosh, golly.  I think I have the same seats as I had in 1997.  Great view when they come down, slowing into the hairpin and getting ready to speed up for the straight.  It seems much too long ago that I was there with my son, Cris.  What fun we had that weekend.  James Brown was doing the entertaining and we even – how this happened remains a mystery – also got to sit at his table for a while when he was taking a break.  That year the race had to be stopped on lap 54 when Olivier Panis had an incredible crash breaking both of his legs if I remember correctly and the Canadian, Jacques Villeneuve crashed out early and walked entirely off the track in a bit of a pout.  Michael Schumacher won.  It was great to see him race.  I only wish I had seen Ayrton Senna and Alan Proust in competition.

The 1997 Suzuka Grand Prix at Suzuka, Japan was another win for Schumacher who, on this last race of the season, won the driver’s championship by one point over Jacques Villeneuve who actually was on pole but finished 5th.  It was a different story the following year when Mika Hakkinen won his first world’s championship at Suzuka driving for McLaren Mercedes West.  It’s my favourite track, and both times I was so lucky to sit on the start-finish line.  Suzuka is a bit like a big circus.  OK.  Everyone calls F1 a circus…but really, there is literally a Ferris wheel on the grounds during race weekend, and the most incredible Japanese fast food served in the stalls.  If you love F1, try and get to Suzuka one day.

Speaking of trying to get to a race…head’s up.  If you go to Gootickets.com, you can pay for tickets to any competition on their monthly payment plan.  Their offices are in Monaco.  Best to do your research on the stands and look at the layout of the track.  Sitting in a fast straight will cost you less, but you don’t get to see so much.   Personally, that is why I don’t like the start-finish lines…best to see them slowing down at a hairpin and then heading off to the straight.  And every track has huge monitors so you can see the leaders on all parts of the track.  Take a hat or your head will get scorched unless it is raining-.  Go for the weekend, take in the events, make it part of your holiday.  Enjoy the smell of high octane petrol!

 

The Serendipity of the African Pots

Decades ago, I registered for a summer evening course in African Art at the School of Art, the University of Manitoba where I now teach.  The course was taught by Susan Moffat who had her MA in African Studies from the London School of Oriental and African Studies.  What captivated me was her first-hand knowledge of the material objects, her love for the people of African, and her immense enthusiasm.  She also was the only art history instructor I ever had that brought in physical objects that we could examine.  That course was a sea-changing moment for me, and it was only then that I decided to continue my studies at the graduate level.

Years later, Susan Moffat was donating some of her African collection to the Museum of Man and Nature in Winnipeg when she decided to gift me two handmade woodfired vessels and a beautiful piece of local textiles (purple, white, and black) that was wrapped around the bottom of one to keep it steady.  I was so honoured by this present.  The two hand-formed vessels with their African motifs lived on top of a Chinese cabinet in my office when I was not showing them to students in my History of Ceramics class.

Traditional African ceramic vessels were made to be used and to add beauty to the homes.  In Barbara E Frank’s research on these domestic pots, used for both cooking and storing food, she stated that they also “carry symbolic import central to social identity, economic and political status, ritual practice, and belief”.  Frank further emphasised that if wanted to understand those roles that it is absolutely necessary to know more about the individuals who made them, most often women, and the social, economic, and the spiritual contexts that they . were created.  For all of us that have not studied the iconography (symbols) of African ceramics, Hunt stresses that our understanding of the vessels will be compromised because we cannot read the ‘script’.  Indeed, many of these vessels carry a religious significance beyond our grasp.  I am certainly one of those people.  My pleasure was imaging the women gathering the clay, taking out the stones, and coiling or pounding it on a mould.  I could close my eyes and imagine them firing the works with a bonfire,  sometimes I could even smell the smoke.  In all of this, I hope that the use of plastics is curtailed and that the local ceramic and textile traditions survive just as the culture of these countries needs to be maintained.

Last summer, a young African man came to visit me in my office.  By chance, a graphic design programme he was using for his class project could not be read by my computer, and he had come in to show me his work.  After looking over his assignment, his eyes began to scan my office, looking at the ceramics.  At one point, he stopped and pointed to the two African pots and the textile.  To my amazement, he declared, “These were made in my village”!  We took the vessels down so that he could handle them.  “Would you like some clay to make your own pots”?  He nodded yes, enthusiastically.  He even came down to the ceramics class meeting with some of the students and taking a keen interest in what they were doing.  After a few weeks, some handmade pieces appeared, and they were fired.  The students helped with those.  And then I did not see him again until one day there was a bag hanging on my office door.  In it were two pieces of beautiful African textiles.

The young man’s name is Opie, and he had made a trip to his home in Nigeria.  While there he purchased two pieces of fabric made by the women in his community for me.  What treasures!  I told Susan about this today.  That is what propelled me to write this blog today.  She believes that the spirit of the maker has travelled through time and space and that her decision to pass these objects that she had collected so many years ago, had a good home.  Of course, I am the one who is so grateful for Susan and Opi.  They opened my eyes to the beauty of African art.  I hope that the two pots with their fabrics will travel through my family and have many more stories and connections in the decades to come.  If only it were possible to sit down and talk to the women who made them!

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Harlan House

It was many decades ago that I met Harlan House.  Within the decade, I was fortunate enough to have spent some time with him and Maureen at their home in Lonsdale.  Harlan has always been there when a question needed to be answered.  So this weekend is kind of bittersweet.  It would have been the weekend that Harlan would have had his annual open house exhibition and sale.  It is the day that I have received my copy of his book, My Work, My Way.  Fifty Years in the Studio.  

Harlan once told me that one of the things he admired about Bert Borch, one of his instructors at ACAD, was that he wrote his glaze recipes on the board.  Anyone could use them; they would never be the same.  Nothing was a secret!  Harlan has already posted his book online for anyone to download.  If you haven’t found it, check it out.  Just Google Harlan House.  It is full of all of the recipes that he used over the years with images of his work from the very beginning in Calgary.  My fondness is for Harlan’s sense of humour.  It comes out in his work as do a myriad of influences that he discusses throughout the text.

In a world of excess, some have a desire for sustainability.  Harlan was way ahead of the game.  If you were to tour his studio, you would be able to see the old Electrolux vacuum cleaner that he used to spray glaze on his ware.  He maximised the use of stainless steel milk containers (being disposed of by a local dairy farmer) to mix up his slip, and his kiln was, the last time I was there, the original from forty years ago.  Harlan believed in treating everything around him with gentleness and love.  That gas kiln was fired for five days, slowly.  It lasted.  There is something to learn there!  I am pretty confident that one of the two Shimpo wheels in his studio was at least forty years old.  Harlan and Maureen lived in the slow lane, enjoying their family, their garden, and the life that Harlan’s creations gave them.

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Harlan is famous for his beautiful celadon porcelain and his ‘Iris’ pots.  He once gave a workshop at Pinecroft Studios (arranged by his good friend, Tony Clennell).  There he demonstrated how he applied the slip which, itself, resembled marshmallow cream.  Tools were, I suspect, rarely purchased.  Instead, ordinary objects found a home by his wheel.  This included a stainless steel bicycle spoke (note that stainless steel should not rust and hurt the beautiful white clay) that was used for a lot of things including levelling the edges of the wide rim platters when they decided to curl upwards.

Always ready to move on to something new once he has mastered a form, Harlan not only used the smoothy shiny Chinese glazes but worked on a series that resembled barnacles, the Morgan.

The one below is the GW Bush aircraft carrier single flower boat with one dim candle on board!  I told you he had a seriously funny sense of humour especially when it comes to ignorant politicians.

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For anyone considering ceramics, you should take a page out of Harlan House’s playbook – be patient.  Porcelain taught him to be patient.  He once advised me to tell my students that if they wanted to work with porcelain, they needed to learn how to trim, and they needed to like trimming.  He would also add that recycling the clay that was left from the trimming is a must.  I cannot think of any better advice to give to everyone working with clay, regardless of the type.

Many people – collectors, friends, curators, gallery owners, and locals – will miss Maureen’s cookies this weekend.  Harlan hasn’t quit working.  He just isn’t keeping a regular schedule.  Check out his website, read his book, look at his work – it is delightful.

Ruth Chambers at the Willock and Sax Gallery, Banff

I am a great admirer of the Willock and Sax Gallery in Banff, Alberta for many reasons, including their consistent support of ceramics.  Each of us knows that exhibitions are planned well in advance but the current April Flower shows seems more than appropriate after the area got hit with snow yesterday.  Each of us needs our mood brightened at the end of April when friends all over the world have been celebrating the arrival of spring for some months now.

One of the ceramic artists whose work is being shown at the Willock and Sax is Ruth Chambers.  Ruth spent a month last year working at the Ceramic Research Center in Skaelskor, Denmark while she was on leave from her position at the University of Regina.  Ruth hand-builds porcelain, often multi-coloured, firing to cone 6.  The gallery’s online catalogue states:

“Ruth Chambers creates bulbs and flowers out of delicately coloured porcelain at various stages of their growth. She carefully considers and skillfully constructs sculptures of extreme detail. Continuing research into the tradition of still life and its requisite considerations of space, form and time permeate her micro-compositions of fragile, improbable porcelain configurations. In this way, the artist addresses ideas of beauty and temporality.” 

I am personally enthralled at the patience, the observation, and dexterity it takes to manipulate a clay that often doesn’t want to be controlled.  There is a softness, a gentleness in the way that Ruth handles the colours but the underlying core has to be related to Vanitas, the transience of life genre of seventeenth-century Dutch painting.  In this way, Ruth pays homage to the women like Rachel Ruysch who popularized that genre in her depiction of grand bouquets full of blooming and dying flowers.

Unlike many ceramic sculptors who have been pushing the size of their objects beyond the colossal, Ruth has kept some of the pieces life size.  One bulb looks like it is just beginning to sprout is 2 x 2 x 1.l75 inches.  Ruth has captured the moments after dormancy when the tunic (skin-like covering that protects the fleshy scales) and the shoots come alive.  The tunic is translucent; you can almost feel it crumble between your fingers if touched.

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There are twelve porcelain sculptures in all ranging from single bulbs to fanciful lidded cups with tulip knobs, footed bowls, and an amazing piece titled, Still Life with Snow Peas, Avocado, and Strawberries (feature image of this blog).  

Ruth studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design, receiving her MFA from the University of Regina in 1994.  She is currently the Associate Dean of the Fine Arts Faculty at the University of Regina.

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It is so great to see support for Canadian women working in clay.

Photo credit:  Willock and Sax Gallery

 

Earth Day 2019

As Earth Day 2019 comes to an end, there are young people around the world dropping out of their classrooms to go on ‘Extinction Walks’.  A sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, is calling out politicians around the world for their irresponsible behaviour towards caring for our planet, what I have come to call the ‘Mothership’.  In Greta’s speech to the Swedish Parliament last year, she said:  “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”  I am hopeful that my grandchildren who can vote will vote and that they will have a loud voice in shaping policy in Canada towards the environment and its protection not the profits of large corporations and their stockholders.

I wear many hats, so to speak, and one of those is as a ceramics instructor at the University of Manitoba, and the other is as a maker.  Recently, I have seen other ceramists on various Facebook pottery groups ask if there is anything they can do to help the environment.  Some have shown photos of poorly made pots that broke wondering how to repair them while others wonder what to do with all of the work that they cannot sell.

Ceramics has a large footprint, and it is not ‘green’.  All the clay and Earth’s minerals (in whatever form we use them – stains, oxides, ready-made underglazes, etc. – are mined.  They are packaged and shipped around the world.  Responsible management so that none of those materials is either wasted or harm the local water table needs to be considered.  Firing.  Some regions use fossil fuels to create electricity.  We should all be aware of issues related to natural gas and oil.  How then to fire our work so that we do not waste those resources?  One way, so simple, is to make sure those kilns are full.

I am reminding myself to make sure that the first year students understand fully that greenware (before the clay is fired the first time and then it is bisque ware) can touch other pieces.  Just be mindful of weight distribution, etc.  But then there is the real question:  what is worthy of firing?  This is something that only you can answer.  But if you make more mugs than you can sell then just fire the ones that are magnificent and worthy of the resources.  The plan this year is to cut back further on what my students are firing.  They need to learn to be self-critical.  We all do!  And then there is the question of firing and to what temperature.  Wood is a renewable resource.  But what about gas kilns, LPG, or oil?  How much is saved in terms of cubic use by lowering the temperature of firing from cone 10 to cone 1?  I do not know the answer, but I am confident that if we all Googled it, we would find many answers.

As potters and knowing that our planet is in peril, perhaps we need to contemplate what we can do and how we can help others to be productive, create beautiful work while at the same time being more conscious and lowering our impact on the environment.  Maybe this year is the time for each of us to stand up and challenge ourselves over the coming year.  When I look at my grandchildren, I know that their future, the future of the animals, and our Mothership deserve it.

Goodbye Grenada

Like every Canadian who takes a winter holiday in April, I had so hoped that spring would have arrived on the prairies.  Apparently, it is the opposite.  A big blizzard is whirling around intent on bringing lots of snow to about four million people.  Fingers crossed that Winnipeg is on the edge and only gets flurries!  It has been a fabulous holiday and we are looking forward to returning sooner rather than later.  Grenada has changed so much in the past three years and the resort that we are in, The Starfish, will evolve in the next few months from a 3.5 star to a 5-star resort with a name change.  I do hope that they keep the nature reserve area in the centre.  It has brought a lot of joy to a number of us.

This tri-colour heron spotted us walking over the bridges and within a blink, he was at the edge of the pond ready to catch his lunch.  They are very elegant standing on the rocks but when fishing, they pull down their neck and get into a striking pose.  Nothing much happens if they catch a small fish but if it is a bigger one, they quickly move away from the shore.  Sometimes they drop the fish but at least they won’t lose it.  It can take them a few minutes to get their catch into a size that will go down that long throat.  All of this is followed by gulps of water.  Then they are back into striking mode.

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Ready for action:

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Today a green heron aggravated the tri-colour who was not too keen to share its territory.

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The doves were satisfied just to get some of the crumbs of the crackers.  At one point there were eight of them.

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On the other side of the pond, the egrets were fussing about trying to get settled on the branches.

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It is hard to imagine how lush the vegetation will be in just a few months when the rains start.  There is a fire ban on the island but some are still burning.  There is no real fire department and it could be devastating if the wind caused some of those small fires to spread.

Grenada has been wonderful as it always is.  The people are friendly and the mini-van bus service is amazing.

So here are some tips to help make your next vacation in Grenada just that much better:

  1.  If you have a number of people travelling together, consider renting an Air BnB and doing some of your own cooking.  Make sure that you are close to a bus route so that you can get down to the beaches or get groceries with some ease.  Don’t even think about renting a car!  There are also short term apartment and house rentals managed by the local real estate agents.  Just Google ‘houses in Grenada for short term’.
  2. If you are independent, get one of the Grenada road maps.  Find the tourist attractions you want to do and see if there is a local mini-van to take you there.  You will save a bundle (and I do mean hundreds of Canadian dollars).
  3. Check out things to do and their ratings on Trip Advisor.
  4. Move a little bit out of your comfort zone.  For some of the best roti I have ever eaten, go to The Sugar Shack on True Blue Road.  And if you like East Indian food, the Punjabi near the airport brought in four cooks from India.  It is the best Indian food I have eaten in years.  The Malai Kofta had the creamiest cashew sauce ever.
  5. Remember that eating out is very expensive.  Groceries are expensive.  You might want to compare prices for all-inclusive hotels giving yourself the option to find some of the local restaurants (non-American or chain) every other day or so.
  6. Compare prices on tours.  They vary a whole lot for the same sites.
  7. You can get most anything you need on the island now.  You might want to bring some sunscreen just to start you off.  You will need a hat!  Even walking around for an hour without one will mean a sunburned head.  Not nice.  Remember that you burn quickly if you are in the water.  So take it easy.  You will get a tan to prove you had a winter holiday without much effort.  You don’t want to go home shedding like a snake!
  8. And last but never least, get on Grenada time.  Slow down.  ‘Chill out’.  Say hello to people, smile.  Have a great holiday.

I am looking forward to coming back. The plan will be to rent a house with a pool.  Turns out some of the most gorgeous properties are less than a 3.5-star hotel.  It should be fun and definitely something to look forward to.

The Day of the Iguana

The Green Iguana is the largest of the lizards found in Grenada.  Most of the time they live in the trees eating leaves, new shoots, and fruit.  Sometimes they are seen walking on the ground and today we saw two.  The large bright green one above as the featured image of this page and, later, a smaller one with a green body and turquoise head.  They can grow up to six feet long with at least half of that being their tail which they whip about when they walk.  They also appear to be excellent swimmers as both rushed into the pond once they were spotted and swam away easily.  Iguanas are actually endangered due to overhunting and also, like so many other of the animals, residential and commercial developments that wreck their habitats.

One of the nicest things about this resort is that they have maintained a large pond area that is full of birds and lizards.  I have also appreciated their labelling of the local flora and fauna.  Despite it being ever so dry here there are a few flowers that are still managing to bloom.
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It was 28 degrees with a UV Index of 10 today and 31 mph winds.  Despite the strong winds, everyone felt extremely blessed to be able to be outside.  There are so many Canadians here and the weather showed it snowing in Ottawa with snow showers in Winnipeg and temperatures of -4 C.  It is a wonder that we didn’t all rush the Air Canada office to extend our stay.

In the evening the perfume from the Frangipani flowers fills the air.

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Grenada is located near the Equator.  It has some of the most spectacular sunsets in the world.  Today I talked to a couple from England who said they had also witnessed the full moon rising up over the horizon.  What a sight that must have been!

This is a really short post but I wanted to just add some images for all of those stuck in a lingering Canadian winter.  The top one is the Caribbean Sea looking from Magazine Beach to St. George’s in the distance.

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Views from my son’s house in Egmont Bay.

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Everywhere you drive in Grenada, you will see goats tied at the side of the road eating the grass.  Today, in our ride back from Grand Anse in one of those wonderful minivans, the van backed up to let a man out by his house.  Little did we know till they stopped that the bag on the floor beside us held two baby goats!  Today, some people make the local goat cheese which is delicious.  Other goats find their way into the local dish, roti.  Roti can be filled with vegetables, fish, boneless chicken, or potatoes and peas.

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And speaking of roti, I apologize.  It was simply too good to stop at the beginning and take a photograph.  The Sugar Shack makes the BEST roti in St George’s.  They are located on True Blue Road.  Eating local is not only economical but can be delicious.  Three roti – 1 fish and 2 boneless chicken – a Monster drink, 2 Cokes, and a Sprite was 66 EC or about $29 CDN.  It was full of chicken, both dark and white meat and the seasoning was spot on.  They are moving from their temporary site into a permanent building with a new kitchen on True Blue Road shortly.  If you get to Grenada, take the minivan and ask the conductor to let you off.  They will surely know the place!

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