Byron Johnstad

I didn’t meet Byron Johnstad as soon as I should have.  Diane Carr was to work with me on my Vietnam Resister study.  She kept telling me:  “Phone Byron”.  It wasn’t Byron, it was the phone.  Some people are e-mail persons and others like phones.  Somehow I had managed to live life pretty good without having to spend time holding a receiver.  The Friday before she died, she phoned me.  Diane had a new cell phone.  She broke the news that she had pancreatic cancer, “I don’t know how to tell you this….” while at the same time insisting that I now get in touch with Byron.  He would help me.  Diane was right.  Byron Johnstad is one of the nicest and most helpful individuals with a great memory of what was going on in British Columbia in the late 1960s and 1970s (later, too).

Byron Johnstad studied ceramics at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  He received his BFA in 1965.  Upon graduation, he headed across the country to study at the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland.  He graduated with his MFA in 1967.  He had applied for and been contracted to teach ceramics at the Vancouver School of Art.  He had a letter of employment in hand and eventually, Johnstad crossed the border as a documented landed immigrant.  He was one of the first with a graduate degree in ceramics to arrive in Canada, if not the first.  He says, “For several years I was the only person on the Canadian West Coast in Ceramics – a true advantage at that time and place”.  It arrived in August 1967.  Having turned 26 while his application for landed status was being processed, he was no longer eligible for the draft.  In fact, Johnstad could have remained in the US but the social unrest and the Vietnam War caused him to immigrate regardless.  It was Canada’s good fortune.  But unfortunate for Johnstad, the position he came for had been given to someone else during the time it had taken for the immigration papers to be completed.  Johnstad, instead, took up teaching positions in Burnaby and West Vancouver.  He would later teach at Emily Carr College of Art and Design, Malaspina College, and Capilano College.  He led workshops across British Columbia and Alberta.

Johnstad’s work was unique.  Diane Carr often held a little plate with a simple decoration in rutile and cobalt.  She would rub her finger on it saying that Johnstad’s pieces were some of the most beautiful she had ever seen.  What spoke to her was a different style, one originating in Scandinavia but with a blend of Bauhaus.  Johnstad told me that he was interested in the surface, one to be decorated and not that much interested in clay.  His design choices were vastly different than the Leach tradition that was being taught both at the Vancouver School of Art and elsewhere in British Columbia and Canada, at the time.  Johnstad’s surface decoration, using only three or four oxides – rutile, cobalt, iron, and copper –  was energetic and fresh.  Every piece was well designed.  Over time his work began to change.  By the 1980s he was exploring new forms, throwing large platters and producing sculptural forms pushing the medium as much as he could.  But by 1983, the sheer physical nature of creating such large work took its toll and Johnstad began to slow down and eventually quit working with clay.

Byron’s influence as a teacher is still remembered and his talents as a ceramist were recognized when he was selected to one of a small group to a new organization, Ceramic Masters.

I am grateful for his guidance and his knowledge.  Diane Carr was so right, “Call Byron”.

Main Photo:  Byron Johnstad with his friend, Pete Scott, at his studio in Burnaby. Large pots are Pete Scott’s.


Keith ‘Skip’ Miller

I am going to switch it up a bit today.  For the last couple of days I have written about amazing Canadian women who work with clay, a little sideways path off the road of the Vietnam resisters who came to Canada.  Today, I am turning my focus back on that group of individuals, 117 of them so far, that came to Canada because they did not want to be complicit in the Vietnam War.  One of those young men was Keith ‘Skip’ Miller.  Miller arrived in Vancouver in 1967 to avoid the draft.

Miller has been making pots since spring of 1967 (50 years), although he tells me that he has had to earn his living by a variety of jobs from running a bookstore to being a research associate and archæologist, museum director and curator and adjunct faculty for a few institutions and author of books and numerous articles. He has been a self-proclaimed intellectual hunter-gather for most of my working life.

Miller first studied pottery at the University of New Hampshire where he was majoring in Chemistry.  He wanted a break from all of the technical studies and he was concerned that chemistry could play a role in the war in Vietnam that was just beginning ‘to heat up’.  He did not want to be a part of it.  Miller’s first instructor was Charles “Chuck” Chamberlain who was on a one year contract to fill a position of a faculty member on a year’s sabbatical. Chamberlain had just received his MFA from SUNY Alfred College of Ceramics. After just one semester under Chamberlin’s mentorship, Miller fell under the trance of potter as so many of us have.  Chamberlain felt that the young chemistry student had great potential and told him that he should transfer to Alfred.  Chamberlain even offered to take him there so he could see the school for himself.  Miller wound up staying with Val Cushing and his family.  He was accepted almost immediately and started in the Fall of 1967. There he was mentored and ‘befriended’ by Daniel Rhodes, Ted Randall, as well as Cushing and  Robert “Bob” Turner, whose friendship, personal aesthetic, and sense of craft remained a lifelong guide for Miller.

From the beginning, Miller employed both throwing and hand building in his work,. He mostly made functional work although he admits that often took on a more abstract and sculptural quality than just that of a simple domestic vessel.  Miller loved wood and salt firing – readily admitting that even though he knows all about glaze chemistry, he doesn’t like the glazing process.

Miller to Vancouver, BC, in the spring of 1970 and started work almost immediately at Northwest Handcraft House in North Vancouver.  He was helped by the Friends Service Committee and his friends at SUNY Alfred College of Ceramics who were Quakers.

His early work in Vancouver was thrown with wood ash glazes or glazes high in rutile mixed into ball clay to create ash-style surfaces. At NW Handcraft House he built a large gas-fired kiln and started making large hand-built sculptural vases inspired by living in the temperate rainforest of the coastal Northwest.  To achieve the type of surfaces that he wanted, he often placed his pieces where there would normally have been a bag wall in the kiln to deflect the flames from the gas burners. The direct flame overheated the vessels making the surfaces begin to bloat and actually vitrify, almost like the effects from a salt or woodfired kiln. On occasion, he would use small areas of glaze to bring highlights or texture to his work.

Miller returned to America in 1977 once President Carter’s full Amnesty was announced.  His great interest in nature and his feeling of being intimately connected with Mother Earth and Mother Clay has kept him balanced and focused throughout his life.  Miller has worked extensively in New Mexico where he was the Lead on Forest Archaeology and Tribal Relations (USDA Forest Service) at the Carson National Forest in Taos.  He continues to work with clay.  One of his latest projects has been a series of Mother and Father bowls.  Miller took the ashes of his parents and mixed it with local clay and mica and made pinch pots which he fired in a pit.  The bowls of his parents were shared with his siblings.


Susan Delatour: Crossing Bridges

3-2.1In 1978, Susan Delatour came to Canada from the United States, as a post-graduate student, to study ceramics at the Banff Centre’s School of Fine Arts in Banff, Alberta.  It was there, in the beauty of the mountains and lakes, that Delatour suspended her wheel throwing practice and embraced the expressiveness of hand building.  Encouraged by Les Manning, she began to experiment with various forms of firing including pit or sawdust firing and raku.

On completion of her studies at Banff, Delatour relocated to Shawnigan Lake, British Columbia where she set up a production studio in the centre of the village.  With the financial downturn, Delatour and her then-husband, Steven LePoidevin, sought out alternative means of earning a living.  He returned to teaching while Delatour set up a studio at their new home in Princeton, British Columbia, where she also raised the couples, two sons.  At the time, she relied on two kilns, one electric and one sawdust.

Delatour’s early exposure to alternative firing methods helped her to develop a deep passion for creating primitive fired ceramic sculptures which she notes are full of ‘mystery and allegory.’  She smokes her pieces in a brick box, a practice she has been using for many years because the method incorporates shadows into her work that evoke ‘ancestors and generations of people who came before us’.  Her work honours the animals that live in the surrounding environment, as well as people and places that have touched her ‘in significant ways’.

She is currently working on a new series entitled Crossing Bridges, a reference to the universal life-changing events that we experience such as ageing and changing relationships.  In 2014, Delatour turned sixty years old, a pivotal moment that had a profound influence on her new body of work.  Her parents died, her two sons got married, and she became a grandmother.  One of her sons lives in China while the other is on the eastern coast of Canada; Delatour is in the middle, a place from where it is not easy to physically visit with her children on a regular basis.  The theme of the ‘bridge’, an object that connects something to another, that allows us to cross over, also represents aspects of transnationalism.  Delatour struggles with her identity;  she is an American living in Canada.  She tries to understand migration, immigration, and the crossing of borders, all aspects of her new series and her life.

Her work is exhibited internationally including some of the most prestigious juried exhibitions in Asia including the 6th Taiwan Golden Ceramics Exhibition in Taipei and the 3rd World Ceramics Biennale in 2005 in Seoul, South Korea.  Delatour is another unrecognized Canadian talent.  She also teaches workshops.   That is a hint to anyone looking for someone who really knows their way around sawdust and pit firing!

Gunda Stewart

I do not know when I was first introduced to Gunda Stewart.  I wish I could remember who it was that told me to contact her because I would like to thank them.  I consider her a dear friend, a treasure, that came into my life so unexpectedly.  I do remember flying into the tiny airport at Cranbrook from Calgary.  What a view over the Rockies!  And driving a rental car – some sort of Honda that had to have rear wheel drive through the mountains, south to Canyon BC.  On the road to Gunda’s studio and home, nestled in the valley of the Selkirk and Purcell Mountains, there is a single blue artisan sign.  But it doesn’t tell you that if you follow it, you will discover one of Canada’s best wood fire potters!!!!  Gunda lives on a beautiful acreage with gardens, both flower and vegetable, with her partner Wayne and their dog, Sadie.  Her studio is separate from the house and next to it is her Mamabigama 40 cubic foot wood kiln.  It is a beauty!

Gunda studied with Tam Irving at the Vancouver School of Art.  Her work clearly shows the influence of Irving as well as Irving’s friend, John Reeve, who also taught at the VSA for a short time.  Her temmoku bowls, mugs, and baskets are covered by the deep rich iron glaze breaking at the lip into kaki (persimmon).  She says she puts them at the back of her kiln and in the front is the ash glazed ware, runny and luscious.

Her work is sold at the local artisan market during the summer and at several holidays sales in the late fall.  She also has a few sales out of her studio and visitors are welcome to drop by and purchase ware when there is not a public market or sale.

I often wonder if the people who attend the weekend markets in Canyon beginning in May know what a treasure they have in their midst?  Or does the old adage, ‘You are not a prophet in your own land’ still apply?  Google her.  She has her own website where she features images of recent work.  This was a bad year for all the wood firers in British Columbia.  The wildfires kept the fire ban going until the end of September.  Then it was a mad rush to fire the kiln, load after load, tiring and backbreaking at the same time, to get everything ready for the holiday markets.

Now that the season is drawing to a close, Gunda tells me she is ready to curl up, drink nice tea, and read a few good books as the snow covers the landscape in the winter.

If you happen to be in the area, follow the artisan sign.  You will be so happy you did!


Jeanne McRight: A Ceramist who migrated to Canada because of the escalation of the Vietnam War

Jeanne McRight was born in Delaware and was awarded her MFA from the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia before moving to Canada.  In 1970, after Nixon invaded Cambodia, McRight and her husband, Wayne Cardinalli, along with a group of like-minded artist friends decided to emigrate to Canada, “our welcoming multicultural neighbor, where country property was affordable and a renaissance in the arts had begun”.

McRight and Cardinalli built studios on our 50-acre farm, set up a small storefront gallery in nearby Hastings, Ontario, and began connecting with artists and craftspeople coming out of the new programs at Sheridan as well as other American and Brit ex-pats. They arrived at a good time.  Besides becoming involved locally, Jeanne began to explore her identity through a series of installations.  Cardinalli became Chairman of the Ontario Clay and Glass Association, later Fusion.  Their work was exhibited with the Ontario Potters Association, the biennial ‘Fireworks’ exhibition as well as in galleries across Canada and in the United States.

McRight’s work is often influenced by ‘happenings’ around her.  A multimedia performance collaboration book place at Trent University in 1987.  It was influenced by the Badlands of Canada and the late John Chalke.  You can see it on youtube:

McRight is the woman in the khaki shorts throwing bisque ware artefacts into the cracked clay surface.

McRight taught full time after 1990 for the Etobicoke School of the Arts in Toronto.  She is now retired and has a studio in Mississauga, Ontario.

Her work in ceramics, photography, and painting is informed by a search for identity and memory set within the context of history.  She investigates our interaction with natural and manufactured objects removed from their original context and how those changes and our interactions create new meanings.  McRight’s work has been recognized by the Ontario Arts Council through more than thirty grants and two Canada Council grants.

McRight’s lifelong artistic practice in ceramics, painting and photography explores how identity is shaped by sensory experience and memory within the context of history. I often use local geologic features and archaeological excavations as places of departure, working in sequential series. Also, I like to investigate our interactions with natural and man-made artefacts removed from original contexts and how those interactions charge the objects with new meaning. I am the recipient of over 30 Ontario Arts Council grants and awards, and two Canada Council B grants.

Joo Young Han


Joo Young (Grace) Han graduated with a BFA from Dankook University in South Korea, an art faculty that focused on traditional Korean ceramics. It was at Dankook that Han learned by observing the master, Joon Hoon Park, and by throwing hundreds of Korean tea bowls, known as sabal, daily.  Over time, she became proficient in using the Onngi wheel to create the large earthenware vessels used to store water and fermented food such as kimchi.    From 2004-2011 Han continued to perfect her ceramic skills before moving to Canada.  On June 3, 2016, five years after arriving on the Canadian prairies, Han graduated with her MFA.  She struggled throughout her graduate studies to find her own voice, somewhere in the middle of being a traditional Korean potter and a new Canadian studying pottery in a Western tradition.  Today she is one of the rising stars in Canadian ceramics.

Since her graduation she has been a resident at the Medalta potteries, her work has been selected for the International Exhibition at Mashiko and was shown at the First Craft Biennale in Toronto.  She has taught for the School of Art at the University of Manitoba.  Her class on onggi making was a huge success.  Han is spending December 2017 in Korea studying reduction cooling in wood firing.




Article I wrote on three Vietnam Era Ceramists appears in Toplerflatt in English!

My good friend Gunter Haltmeyer is charged with the digital layout of the German Potter’s Association journal, Toplerflatt.  He does one fantastic job, and I am always so grateful that the members welcome news of what is happening in Canada.  

The fall/winter edition includes an article I wrote on the work of three Vietnam era ceramic artists who migrated to Canaday.  They are Sally Michener who taught at the Vancouver School of Art (later Emily Carr), Debby Black who taught at George Brown College in Toronto, and Richard Gill who taught at various colleges but he is known mainly for his large and very complicated architectural installations.  

Gunter sent me the PDF and hard copies to share with the ceramists.  Those who read my blog and my Facebook page do not (with the exception of one) belong to this potters association.  I do not want to take away any issues regarding copyright or sales. 

The link is below.  Click on steggles:

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