Sara Berg has been working with clay for a little over a year. One day after our class, Sara came to talk about the clay that the School was buying for the students: Danish White. She didn’t like it and insisted that her work would improve enormously if she were allowed to use porcelain. I don’t know how many ceramic instructors have had a student come and declare an affinity with porcelain so early in their education but, I never had. Indeed, for those of you unfamiliar with porcelain it is, as famed Canadian ceramist Harlan House proclaims, ‘a difficult mistress’. Porcelain was made famous by the Chinese early in their history. China has, along with Germany, the right drying conditions for this pure white material – lots of humidity and the right temperatures. It needs to be dried slowly. Our throwing area sometimes obliges but on more occasions than not, it doesn’t. Everything dries too quickly! House also says that one has to love trimming because, with porcelain, you will be doing a lot of it. None of this, of course, daunted Sara. With my permission she went off to purchase a box of porcelain returning to the ceramics area where she worked most of the night. Sara was right. She has a wonderful relationship with this fine bodied clay. In a former life, it is quite conceivable that she was a porcelain master.
Over the course of three months in the summer of 2018, Sara worked on her cobalt blue painting. She devoured any book that crossed her path on ancient Chinese ceramics and, in particular, the beautiful blue and white of the Yuan and Ming dynasties. Just like the painting students at the School who learn by copying and then changing the work of the old masters, Sara studied the shapes and the painted decorations. In the process she began to learn the symbols that the Chinese used and what they meant to their culture. On some work she added a contemporary twist. During the fall of 2018 she abandoned the standard studio glazes used by most of the ceramic students and began a study of Chinese Chun and celadon glazes. Mixing and testing, firing, taking photos, making notes – all of this became second nature to her. And it has paid off with some remarkable work. She also pushed herself more and more with her trimming to the point that her work was almost too thin!
In 2019, Sara Berg will begin her Honours year. For Sara, who lives and dreams porcelain, it will give her a chance to focus entirely on her exhibition pieces. In the meanwhile, it is sheer joy to stand back and watch such a talented young woman continually honing her skills. Porcelain is, indeed, her ikigai – that thing that she wakes up in the morning so happy to do, wanting to learn more and more and never getting bored.