The firing was another great learning experience and a success!

The students are fabulous at problem solving.  Alexandra took her knowledge of wood burning stoves to set up a schedule for the second team to mix the oak and the scrap wood for optimum heat and then for the third team, Monique designed a sandwich of a layer of poplar or pine, then oak, and then a layer of poplar and pine again.  The temperature rose nicely but stalled and then we used only a mixture of poplar and pine to finish the firing.  Ms Zhang cannot wait to open the kiln; she noticed all the beautiful colours in the ember bed.  And once again we are all grateful to Keith and his table saw and Matt for bringing batteries that worked for the Oxyprobe.  All of the students showed up and the first entry in the log book showed that the temperature today was warmer than when we fired in October.  The wind wasn’t a problem either.  The only nuisance was the damp.

Wool really helped!  There was food and laughter and well…did I say blessed?  We will open the kiln together on Friday but it is hard to wait.  Oh, and leave it to Monique – she decided to burn an entire pallet!

IMG_1257IMG_1252IMG_1246IMG_1249

Loaded! And Ready to go…

The students in the wood fire class at the School of Art fired their first kiln load a month ago.  It was so cold that day and the wind just whipped through our coats right to the bone with a sharp chill.  It is hard to believe but it will actually be warmer in Winnipeg tomorrow when this kiln is fired.  How many times have I said that we are blessed?

The students did a great job.  Julia cleared the entire kiln courtyard of snow before Monique and Kendra started loading.  Jiawei, Kewan, and Hyounjung helped to sort all of the work and everyone pitched in wadding work if it needed it.  We loaded the kiln keeping in mind that The Laidback Wood Fire book by my friend Steve Harrison says to place the bag wall in the front.  Markus Bohm puts it at the back and in the end Steve has abandoned a bag wall altogether and gone with a tight stack in the middle.  Ours is a combination of all of those.  Pots were placed in the extended throat to slow and move the flames about.  Kewan’s arches are helping to keep the flames contained on the floor at the back and on the first shelf.  We listened and did not load the top as tight as we did before and there is room all around for the flames to travel.  Fingers crossed.  These students have worked hard and learned a lot – although I doubt if they fully comprehend all that they have learned yet.  Sara, Anastasia, and Alexandra put the finishing touches on bricking up the door.  It all starts in the wee hours of the morning when Sara does the gas pre-heat.  Stay posted…firing pictures to follow on Sunday.  We unload the kiln on Friday with high hopes.

IMG_1177IMG_1179IMG_1182IMG_1188

Those fabulous students preparing for the wood fire on Saturday, December 1

Those of you who have read my blog on a regular basis might be getting tired of me telling you of the great blessings I have had or the fantastic students that have come my way this term but, both are true.  Yes that first firing went 50% as planned but gosh did we ever learn a lot.  The weather was good to us and each of us quietly hoped that there would not be an Arctic freeze during the second firing.

On Friday, November 23, it was +2 C.  That day the students helped the ceramics tech, Chris Pancoe, with sorting, cutting, and stacking the oak slabs for the firing.  For safety reasons, Chris graciously took on the chain saw so that no student got hurt despite the fact that he was trying to get everything perfect for us as he and his wife, Jennie, were leaving for Sweden to build one of the ice hotel rooms in two days time.  Congratulations to the two of you and hopefully you will have a fantastic adventure.  Monique Chartier-Kroeker and Anastasia Waly helped Chris along with Hyounjung Lee who had, until that instance, never handled a shovel.  She enjoyed clearing up that sawdust!  Great work all of you.  Inside the sculpture building, Alexandra Ross was on the chop saw helping get the pre-heat wood ready to go.

So far, the two firings in the kiln have used Poplar logs so this is going to be new to all of us as no one has used hardwood planks before.  We have oak and the slabs are big and dry.  Chris welded us a grate so that we no longer have to depend on logs and I am hoping that the hardwood doesn’t cause us to have too much of an ember bed that it blocks the flue.  We will just have to keep our eyes on that!

Did I say that Monique discovered that the features of the oak slabs were really interesting?  One piece of wood even came inside the studio to be the mascot for the firings despite the fact that there was a debate over whether it was a ‘moose’ or a ‘rabbit’.   No clinical psychologists around to analyze the meaning for those choices so all is well!

Inside Zach Dueck and Kendra Wile helped mix up two of the favorite class glazes – Haystack Green and Tin Purple while the others glazed their work and wadded the bottoms of their pots for loading this coming Friday.

Over the course of several more firings they will find their way balancing the naturalness of the wood firing and ash with their need for colour.  But no one wants ugly brown pots according to Paul Davis’s definition.  We are all looking forward to how the new Nuka glazes using the ash from the second firing and some new shinos come out in this firing.  Julia Beazley, Kewen Qiang, and Yijia Zhang were putting the final touches on their new bisque pieces for the firing in our glaze room.

We will keep you posted on how it goes….Sara Berg will light the gas burner to pre-heat the kiln and chimney at 3am Saturday and hopefully the rest of us will have a ‘laid back’ wood firing and be finished by 11pm. This time we will not run out of wood and those darn cones will bend and the pyrometer will work!  Since there is so much salt build up we may just toss a little extra in!  Stay posted for action shots beginning Friday night!

Chaeban is much more than delicious handmade ice cream….

Today it isn’t about the lovely plates that Terry Hildebrand makes but what is on them.  It was damp and grey in Winnipeg, -4 or so.  One of those days when you feel a little colder close to the bone than the temperature outside would make you think.  In fact, it reminded me of when we moved to England so I could do my PhD.  We almost came back to Canada!  You simply could not get warm.  But…I had promised a long time friend that we would go for ice cream and the day we decided on, weeks ago, was today.  I can hear the moans already … what was she thinking?  Ice cream in Winnipeg in November!  But you see, die-hard ice cream fans can enjoy Chaeban any day of the week unless you are watching the calories, which I am, so this treat is once every several months.

But today we were in for a surprise.  There sitting next to the brand new coffee machines was a small tray of handmade sweets.  The baklava, if you look close, is bursting with nuts but it is the other date coconut and pistachio roll that takes the word ‘treat’ to a whole different level.  The flavours are fresh and what could have been overpowered by the strong flavour of dates, wasn’t.  They complimented the coconut perfectly.  The pistachios were held together ever so slightly with what I think is local honey…again, not too sweet.

So, if you aren’t in the mood for ice cream but you are looking for a beautiful spot to have coffee with a friend and a sweet treat, check out Chaeban.  They are located at 690 S Osborne in Winnipeg.  If you try the date coconut roll and like it as much as I did, tell them – and then smile and tell someone else. As a neighborhood, we are so happy to have Chaeban with us.

And next week, I plan to check out another new hangout just down the street, the new coffee shop at the corner of Morley and Osborne in the old BMO building.  There are people drinking coffee and working on their laptops in the morning and even more in the evening.  Looks inviting.

It also looks like there will be two other shops opening up soon…well done, South Osborne.  And no…I didn’t get paid to say these things…but I will be going back for more date, coconut and pistachio rolls…yummy.

It’s that time of year…holiday shopping and the Stoneware Gallery sale

I am not sure if it really feels like fall anymore in Winnipeg now that we have had our first dusting of snow but, it is time for all of the local pottery groups to be having their annual sales.  The Stoneware Gallery has been a cooperative venture since 1976, forty-two years ago.  Almost a decade ago I had lunch with Valerie Metcalfe and she was worried that the coop would not be able to attract young people to fill the places of the retiring members.  Fast forward eight years and the site on Corydon Street in Winnipeg is bustling.  They offer wheel throwing classes from September to June; there is always a waitlist.  It is an excellent place to start as a beginner or to remove the rust from once trained hands.  Members take turns in the gallery shop that represents the emerging talents and the well-established potters of our City.

Beginning tomorrow, the members will be opening their doors for a four-day sale.  For those of you looking for a secret Santa gift or for one for your valued other, you will find whatever it is you are looking for.  Steve Jorgenson has been making his casseroles for three generations of buyers.  Kathryne Koop and Valerie Metcalfe have marvelled all of us with their decorative porcelain while Alan Lacovetsky brings in his special wood-fired pieces.  These are the people that I know best but Barb Balfour has her raku and Jennifer Johnson has been getting assistance in spontaneous decorating from her two daughters.

Take an hour, drive over to Corydon Avenue, pick up some gifts for the holidays or, maybe just something for yourself.  Helping support someone who makes their living by making beautiful handmade ceramics is a ‘good thing’.

Afternoon tea with Destiny, Gunda, Terry, and Harlan

I am not actually having afternoon tea with Destiny, Gunda, Terry, and Harlan but, oh, how nice that would be!  But they are here with me regardless.  Harlan House’s Row House candle holder is always somewhere easily in sight.  Oh, what a nice man Harlan is.  He stopped having his annual open houses a couple of years ago but he still takes calls from collectors and clients and hasn’t stopped working.  He just wants to set his own schedule and after more than 50 years of working with porcelain surely he has earned it.  Harlan has also left another legacy.  He spent the past couple of years working on a digital book.  You can find it on his website – just search Google or ask Siri.  Last week he said that I knew everything that was in it but he hoped it would help my students.  And, indeed, it will just like the videos that he has inserted in his site have helped them to understand the great amount of effort that one has to put into trimming if they want to work with porcelain.  Most are too much of a hurry to allow the porcelain to cure as it dries.  For those of you who read my article on Harlan in Art and Perception you will know this story but, for those of you that don’t, it is a good way to remember to take care with your work.  You can have a giggle, too.  Harlan built a room within his carriage house studio to dry his porcelain.  He put regular household bricks on the floor and there were windows and those baby humidifiers from the 1970s shooting out their warm mist.  His thrown pieces were on shelves where he could see them through the windows.  He said, “These platters are kind of like a love affair.  At first, everything is perfect.  Then about two weeks in you start to notice little things begin to happen” – an upturn of the lip -.  He would remove the pieces, place them back on the wheel and return them to dry.  I never did find out how many trips those large thrown platters made in and out.  By the time they made it to the gallery they were exceptional. but

Gunda is never far away but, this weekend she is firing her wood kiln in Canyon, BC getting ready for the last big market of the year.  Her temmokus are luscious – I do repeat that often.  They break at the rim and over the finger marks into a gorgeous kaki.  Someone told me once that she could “just fire them in a gas kiln”.  Of course, she could but then she would not be part of the complete process.  She often makes her own clays and mixes her own glazes.  She is part of every aspect of the firing and my back breaks when I think of her climbing in and out of her Manibigama kiln with the heavy silicon carbide shelves.  But, if she put everything in the gas kiln it would lose that subtle softness that only comes with wood firing.  Gunda is the only studio potter I know of that makes her teapots so that you can actually fit, with ease, one of those large strainers in the top opening.  I thank her every time I want to make a full pot…and she is with me in spirit every day otherwise I would find myself travelling to BC far too often.

This is what I mean when I talk about the joy that quality handmade items make to your life.  I am not talking about the “crap” out there and the word “craft” still gets a bad name from people who purchase bags of parts of things and assemble them together and call themselves an artist.  It takes a long time of study and the mastery of the material to be someone whose work won’t make it into the garage sale in five years time.  Terry Hildebrand is young.  I wrote about my favourite plates of his yesterday.  Today one of them is holding the offering of lemon and rosemary scones to my guest while Destiny Seymour’s textile ties the whole lot of these lovely people together.

We have a very close friend, Ruby, who is a Cree Medicine Woman.  She deals with the dead.  But she has imparted a lot of wisdom to me over the years (thank you, Ruby).  One thing that I learned is to only surround yourself with the work of “good” people.  Remove the objects made by those who carry negative energy.  The world is full of it, why bring that into your house?  How lucky am I then to be having Saturday afternoon tea with such a remarkable, creative group of good and kind people?  Think about that when you are shopping, too and support these wonderful makers who have chosen to live a creative life.

Don’t Miss Out – One more day for the Crafted Show and Sale at the Winnipeg Art Gallery!

The Crafted Show and Sale is on at the Winnipeg Art Gallery til 9pm tonight, Friday November 2 with doors opening Saturday from 11am to 5pm.  This is the fourth year that the WAG has opened its doors so that  Manitobans can see the talents of more than fifty of its artists.  The entry fee is $5.

Once inside the door you are welcomed by the team that put together a great charity event.  Twenty of the ceramists and their bowls were teamed up with twenty of Manitoba’s top chefs to create a cookbook.  They are selling for $10 and the majority of the proceeds will go to Winnipeg Harvest.  It is beautifully designed and illustrated and is the perfect gift for all of you looking for a Surprise Santa gift.  Going along with the theme of soup and soup bowls, you can actually have your lunch while shopping.  On offer for $5 a bowl are Smoked Arctic Char Chowder, Curried Green Pea Soup, Chilled Roasted Golden Beet Soup, and Hemp Mulligatawny.  And if that wasn’t enough there is also White Bean Soup, Heirloom Tomato Gazpacho, Kale and Potato, Carolina Crab Bisque along with Vegan Carrot.  It is a great opportunity to rest between floors!  and visit with friends.  Despite it being a Friday, visitors were already flooding the stalls by 1pm.  One of my favorites Indigo Arrows, beautiful hand made and printed textiles by Destiny Seymour, was almost sold out by the time I got to the 4th floor.  Her simple designs on lovely dyed linen represent Destiny’s Cree heritage.

But, I have to admit that it really is heart warming to see so many talented ceramic artists that have been students at the School of Art.  Terry Hildebrandt has just returned from getting his MFA in Alberta (featured image).  Check out his beautiful wood and soda fired work up on the Mezzenine Floor.  He is right on the left as you exit the stairs.  I have a ‘soft spot’ for Terry’s plates, my collection extending back to when he was an undergrad student and more recently some of the most stunning plates found at the Manitoba Craft Centre’s shop.  Directly across from Terry is the talented Jessica Hodgson who not only creates work and teaches at The Edge Clay Centre but also works for the Manitoba Craft Council (busy young lady).  Alan Lacovetsky is part of the cooperative at the Mostly Stoneware Gallery.  His studio is located in St Andrew’s.  Alan is part of the Interlake Wave Studio tour that takes place in the spring and again the beginning of September.  It’s a nice drive and a great chance to check out his wood kiln!

The number of ceramic artists boogles the mind and again is a testament to the thriving ceramic community both within Winnipeg and out.  Their work is so varied and is a reflection of their strong creative spirit.   I do apologize if I miss anyone – you are all fabulous.  PJ Anderson combines her love for basketry and ceramics into distinctive smoked fire vessels.  I have always admired Kelli Rey’s sense of humour and her wonderful ability to handle clay since I first curated her work into the exhibition, Soup and Sustenance, in 2008.  That show also had a charitable theme with the gala soup dinner tickets going to the Portage la Prairie soup kitchen.  Funny too…it was a bit of a snowy blustery day back then.  Several other members of the Mostly Stoneware Gallery are included including the rising young talent of Teegan Walker and the work of the celebrated Kathryne Koop.

I could go on and on…the list of clay makers is long.  But I also want to call attention to two special people on the first floor.  The first is the ceramic technician for the School of Art, Chris Pancoe.  Check out his fermenting jars and his soup bowls.  Valerie Metcalfe, one of the founders of the Mostly Stoneware Gallery on Corydon, is next to Candice Ring just a short walk away.  I have admired Valerie’s work for decades but this year my heart went out to her as she and a group of devoted citizens tried to protect a wooded area, home to a large number of deer, near to where I live, from being destroyed by urban expansion.  In response, she made a lovely series of work specially dedicated to the Parker Forest and Wet Lands.  It was because of that big heart of hers that I had to break a promise not to bring any more ceramics into my house.  Valerie, I am sitting here enjoying the nicest green tea from that gilded mug.  What a tearful day it was and what will now happen to those deer that so long have called this area home?  One found its way into the traffic by Jubilee and Pembina.  Thankfully it wasn’t killed.

Ceramic artists share so many social and environmental concerns while at the same time making objects and vessels to enrich our daily lives.  The Crafted Sale has more than clay but, why not tomorrow, begin thinking of who might need something for the holidays – a teacher, someone in your family, a friend – and head down to the WAG for the last day of Crafted.  Have your lunch, buy a cookbook and feel good about helping others.  You won’t regret it!