Grace Han is at Ace Art

The work of Grace Han along with eight other Manitoba Association of Women Artists (MAWA) mentees is currently being shown at Ace Art, 290 McDermot Avenue (second floor).

The exhibition is entitled SHIFT.  Collectively it focuses on identity politics, adaptability of identity alongside studies of the self, the body, and the land.  Some of the work deals with the artist attempts to regain that which has been lost through trauma, illness, memory, and lineage.  The works of sculpture, painting, installation, photography, ceramics and performance reflect the diversity of the nine emerging artists in the exhibition, their relationship to their self and to society.

At a distance, Han’s ceramic installation (with video) challenges the viewer to distinguish the shapes forming the Onngi jar.  Moving closer the white porcelain wall pieces appear very feminine, very fragile, almost flowerlike.  Yet, when you are face to face with the wall piece, it is easy to see that the form is made up of large casts of metal nuts, a motif previously utilized, in a smaller scale, by Han in her MFA exhibition installation.  Sometimes associated with DIY or an auto mechanics workshop, nuts are commonly used together with a bolt to hold multiple parts together.  In this instance, they are alone, useless at binding two parts together, an ideal metaphor for the shifting identity of Han, for the loosening up or ‘unbolting’ of her Korean identity after having now been in Canada for some seven years.  Enclosed within the Onggi jar is the short video by the CBC of Han wrenching with her personal identity as a Korean living in Canada.

The Foundation Mentorship Program is one of the most important services that MAWA provides for emerging women artists in our community.  It is an intensive year long partnering with an established artist where the mentees receive critical feedback on their work, help with networking, and an open and safe place to share their ideas.  Each year there is an end exhibition.  Other mentees included in this end of the year exhibition are Susan Aydan-Abbott, Carol-Ann Bohrn, Erin Frances Brown, Amber Christensen, Maya de Forest, Sue Joang, Chris Larsen, and Kathy Levandoski.

If you missed the opening like I did, the exhibition remains open until January 10.  The gallery is open Tuesday-Friday from 12noon to 5pm.

 

 

Warren MacKenzie, 1924-2018

I was reminded by ceramic artist, Sally Michener who provided the featured image of MacKenzie, that he lived to be 94!   That is a staggering accomplishment.  Sally also mentions often that it takes bravery to live a long life.  Very true.  Sally was a student of MacKenzie’s when she was working as a social worker in Minneapolis, a time before she went to study for her MFA.  In fact, he fostered her love of clay.  Sally hoped to visit him this year.  Instead, I imagine, that she is so grateful for those times that she was able to spend with him.  MacKenzie was a role model to so many lives.  His teaching was inspirational, and it was a testament to his patience and generosity that he shared his knowledge freely with anyone that had queries.  He did not hide it away.

MacKenzie produced functional ware, and he did not apologise for it!  The tableware that he threw on his Leach style kick wheel – the jugs, mugs, salad bowls, soup bowls, plates, and teapots were purchased by generations of enthusiastic clients.    Those pieces enriched the daily lives of all who used them in the way that Bernard Leach and Soetsu Yanagi imagined – the marriage of beauty and functionality giving joy to the user. It is said that a little corner of Minnesota was renamed ‘Mingei-sota’ in recognition of MacKenzie’s debt to the Mingei movement promoted by Leach, Yanagi, and Hamada.  MacKenzie desired is to create the best functional work that he could by repeating shapes over and over again.  For him, like so many others, throwing was meditative, something that he learned from Hamada.  His work is, as many say, the antithesis of that of a throwaway society.  He never succumbed to calling himself an ‘artist’, setting himself apart from those that created work to be useful.  Indeed, he fought to curb the rising price of his work.  His profound belief that people should be able to enjoy his pots just as much as collectors led him to attempt to control the price of his work and the amount that individuals could purchase. He did this so that profiteers would not accumulate stock and sell it on one of the online auction sites marked up ten or twenty times the purchase price.

MacKenzie was very humble.  As a young student at the Art Institute of Chicago, he acquired a copy of Leach’s A Potter’s Book.  He believed that it was possible to join artistic expression and good design with functionality; in fact, this served him well for the more than sixty years he worked as a potter out of his studio in Stillwater, Minnesota. Warren MacKenzie lived to an incredible age leaving beautiful, functional work for all of us to enjoy along with all of the students who themselves have become teachers and mentors.  He left the world a better place.

Need some ceramic inspiration? Looking for a place to hone your skills while immersing yourself in the culture of the French countryside? Well, then I have a place for you…..

Are you looking for a place to refresh your pottery skills?  Learn more while immersing yourself in local French culture?  What about all of that while staying in beautiful accommodations in the Loire Valley?  Well, if this sounds like a good way to spend some of your summer or, if you have time during year, then I would like to introduce you to Christine Pedley, the person who can make this dream of yours come true.

I met Christine while I was attending the Third European Wood Firing Conference in La Borne, France, last August.  Christine Pedley was one of the key organizers of the weeklong event and one of a small number of local potters who helped get the new contemporary art centre built after two decades of negotiations.  As one of the longest resident ceramists in this village of potters, Pedley is an inspiring instructor who offers courses at her studio in La Borne.  And that is precisely why I am including Christine in today’s blog.  There are many places to go and learn ceramics, but it is rare to find someone whose roots go back to the studio pottery movement in Britain and who are individuals who connect to the modern movement in clay in La Borne.  For lessons, cultural tours, visits to wineries, well…I cannot recommend anyone better than Christine.

Christine Pedley studied studio pottery at the Harrow School of Art in London, England before apprenticing with David Leach in Devon.  She spent a sabbical year touring Japan in 1973-74, three and a half months of which was devoted to working with a traditional potter, Takeo Sudosan, in Mashiko.  She also studied with Jean Claude de Crouzax in Switzerland and Antoine De Vinck in Belgium.  It was the time she spent in Japan, however, that gave her a special view of the world.  She says, “My time in Japan was an eye-opener to a world with no limits, only the ones we give ourselves, and with this new inspiration my work and my life goes on moving forward from the ‘source'”.

Today, she continues to create objects for daily use out of porcelain and stoneware.  Some are lightly salted to further enhance the effects of the wood firing.  Christine’s “raison d’être” in La Borne is her strong interest in the 4-century old tradition wood firing techniques and the excellent local stoneware clay which is a pleasure to throw.  She says, “I am fortunate to feel that live in my element and connected to the abundant nature which surrounds La Borne”.

If you are looking for that special place for inspiration, look no further than Christine in La Borne.  For information on pricing of accommodation and classes, please visit Christine’s website:      Chris-pedley.eu

Use Google Translate if you French is not so good.

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Happy Holidays to Everyone

We are going to take a break from digital media and people for awhile and slide into holiday hibernation mode here in Canada.

I want to thank all of those wonderful students and people who brought so much joy into my life over the past year.  Getting up in the morning would be nothing without you!

If I could give each of you a box of gifts it would certainly hold lots of good health and ikigai – a source for your own happiness and waking up and seeing the wonder in the world.  I would give the world calm and a truck load of trees to plant.  Imagine planting trees and stopping deforestation!  They say it will help clean up the mess we have made of this beautiful planet of ours.

No matter how or what you celebrate this holiday, have wondrous moments with those who really matter to you.  And may 2019 be full of hope.

Mary Ann

Kendra Wile’s Secret Gardens

Teaching beginning wheel throwing where students meet once a week for three hours for a period of twelve to thirteen weeks can be a challenge.  For the students, it takes dedication, perseverance, time, and a lack of fear of failure to be successful.  Some of you might have followed this blog for the past you months.  If so, you will know that I had the most extraordinary group of talented young women in this single class.  I was blessed.  Many of them could be found working at any hour of the day or night in the throwing room.  Kendra Wile was no exception.  Also, she always had a smile on her face.

The last assignment for the students allowed them flexibility.  It read:

THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO ADD SOME ORIGINALITY AND INNOVATION IN YOUR WORK.  IT COULD BE THE WAY THAT YOU SHAPE THE CLAY, DECORATE THE SURFACE, OR COMBINE THE INDIVIDUAL FORMS TOGETHER.  USING A MINIMUM OF 8 DIFFERENT FORMS, YOU ARE TO CREATE A SINGLE OBJECT OR A SET THAT REPRESENTS YOUR OWN AESTHETIC IN CERAMICS.  THIS MEANS THAT YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER BOTH THE FORM AND THE FINISH.  YOUR PROJECT WILL BE GRADED ON 40 % QUALITY OF THE THROWING AND ASSEMBLAGE, 40 % QUALITY OF THE GLAZING AND APPROPRIATENESS TO THE AESTHETIC THAT IS YOUR OWN, AND 10% FOR VISUALIZING YOUR IDEA IN CLAY AND 10% FOR APPROPRIATE PRESENTATION.  – WITHIN A LIMITED FRAMEWORK, THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO BE YOU!

My very best friend, the late Charlie Scott, who started the wood firing tradition at the School of Art, always said that ceramics was more like architecture than any other medium.   Ironically and sadly, Kendra will be leaving the School of Art and taking a place in the Faculty of Architecture this coming year.   Her last project suggests that she is extremely patient, knows how to deal with enclosed space, can offer surprises with the reveal, and understands the use of colour.  She also makes decisions that are best for the project at hand, switching up her approach to firing and colour.

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Kendra created what on the surface looked like four soup or latte bowls with various knobs.  She quietly sat them down on the lower platform and walked away, saying nothing.  Little did any of her classmates expect the environments inside when they lifted the lids.  Ellina was fascinated.  She got really close staring into the tiny interior environments.

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In the end, Kendra chooses wisely.  She opted to use underglaze stains and fire her work in a cone 5 or 6 oxidation environment in one of the electric kilns rather than lose the detail in the gas reduction kiln.  Can you imagine the time it took her to create each one of these?  Did she secretly use tweezers?  And how many times did she have to redo an interior?  We will never know!

What I do know is that exciting things are going to come from this very creative young woman and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she will design and what kind of a name she will make for herself in the world of architecture.

Sara loves porcelain

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.

 

The second wood firing had its challenges but it was very successful and all were happy.

It is one thing to fire your own wood kiln so many times that you know its behaviour.  And, yes, we can predict certain things but students brand ‘new’ to wood firing or only having participated in a single wood firing workshop are handicapped to say the least.  Our kiln was designed to use Poplar logs but we cannot get Poplar logs in the late fall.  They have been cut and split for firewood sales.  So, we tried oak slabs, very hard oak slabs and a partial grate.  What did we discover?  The kiln can reach 13.5 on the Oxyprobe in 12 hours with a 3 hour gas pre-heat.  The top of the kiln needs to be ignored.  Oak by itself is not good.  It creates immense amounts of ember but if you want to raise the temperature and finish the job, it had to be mixed with scrap lumber and pine.  The ration was 1 part oak to whatever else we could lay our hands on.  The pots, as anticipated, that were placed in the throat had amazing yohen effects.  Kusakabe would love them!  The students also learned many things about the glazes.

In the ceramics area we have big pails of ‘shop glazes’.  I have no idea who started this practice and, at times, it is a hindrance, not a help.  The students – because the tiles show the glazes by themselves and then mixed with one other studio glaze, cause a lot of dipping.  Dipping without thought, dipping and getting the glaze too thick and when the work comes out fantastic the dipping often causes blank looks on the faces of the students!  Of course they have been told to have a method of recording so that they know what they did and could replicate it.  One of the best of these ‘dipping’ pieces was a tea bowl by Jiawei Dai.  I wish I had a photo of it.  She put temmoku underneath and Haystack Green on the upper half.  It was fantastic.  In fact, those old Sun dynasty glazes fired in the wood kilns of 9th and 10th century China are superb.  The other glazes were the ash ones that we made out of the Poplar ash from the first firing.  Those included a Nuka (gorgeous soft white), a red made with half ash and half low fire red clay, and an amber.

The bagwall question plagued us.  In the end, we put it at the back and loaded the middle half of the kiln tight and put Kewen’s walls there so that we would, hopefully, keep the flames dancing about and the ash as well.  It seems to have worked great!

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We also had lots of ash…did someone say a 12 hour firing in a Bourry box doesn’t produce ash?  It does!  and almost all of the students got to experience what every wood firing potter in the world knows:  grinding is a part of the process.  They also learned about alumina hydrate and the difference between wadding made with it and without.

They were a great group, full of laughter, great at problem solving, and community minded.  Everyone did their part.  Even one of the students who had recent foot surgery showed up on the last day and found that while they couldn’t be outside in the cold, they could grind and clean shelves.  Incredible.  They are such a good group and the plan is to fire the kiln again in April when the weather has warmed up (or in May) outside of a class for fun and also for them to be able to undertake it with some assurances about the oak and the other scraps and pine – that it works!

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