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!

Well, my goodness

My students and I prepared for the worst.  But look at the faces of Sara (left) and Monique (right).  It wasn’t all bad.  No cones down, Oxyprobe reading said that we were only at about cone 3 and, of course, no real view into that wood kiln when we ran out of wood.  We were disappointed but at every turn, there was something to be learned.  Today, as a few of us unloaded the kiln, there was confirmation that the shelves were too close to the back wall.  Next time, they will be 10 cm away!  But, of course, we need wood.  Manitoba surely isn’t known for its abundant forests.  Too bad.  Several are searching to try and help us.  So, what we need are logs, no bigger in diameter than 15 cm but at least 1 metre long or able to be cut to 1 metre.  And they need to be dry.  But…for the disappointment, there was also some joy.  Some of the pieces did get some lovely ash and some of the glazes did mature.  Have a look!

 

 

How Blessed I Am

In her Ph.D. thesis, June Raby (University of Brighton, 2015) titled “Material, memory, metaphor:  convergences of significance in the ceramic vessel” states, “… that the most important task of a useful pot is to generate caring”.  Raby continues discussing that some of the things in our life that we consider so important, such as cell phones and automobiles, do not generate real caring at all.  But, more to the point, she discusses the practice of purchasing pots and whether or not we need them and ultimately two questions arise for the author.  The first is, “How is it [the pot] to live with?” and “How would it be to live without it?”   We all know that beautiful pots to put our food on feed our eyes and our soul.  The Japanese have known this for hundreds and hundreds of years.  Western society is just picking up on this with the recent turn to purchasing lovely bespoke dishes.  Raby says, “Dishes can sidle up to you the way a dog sits at your feet while you’re eating; you start petting his head without really thinking about it, but something good comes through.  You find you feel a little warmer, a little softer or kinder, a little more in sympathy with the world.”  This brings me to the goblet that is the featured image.  It was made by Pamela Nagley-Stevenson, fired in her two-chamber wood kiln, and mailed to me, arriving a few days ago.  It is not just a pot that meets the basic criteria of being good to live with, it humbled me, and made me feel close to a group of women that I so admire – those who fire with wood in Canada.  And it arrived at a special time for me.

For the past three years, I have been researching the Vietnam resisters that came to Canada.  The intention was to write a book on the topic but something happened.  One of the men said to me one day that the women “didn’t give up anything when they came to Canada”.  A year of research negates that notion.  The women gave up a lot – the ability to drive or walk across town and meet their friends, family, and colleagues in a casual way, lost their studios, their careers, their identity and place in the world.  It is incorrect to believe that they could return any time they wanted.  It took money and means and both were often in short supply.  True, the women did not face criminal charges or would go to jail but it has to be remembered that more women came to Canada in the time of the Vietnam era than the men.  They often came to bring comfort to the men.  In the end, a large majority of the marriages and partnerships broke up.  Which is where Pamela Nagley-Stevenson’s beautiful goblet comes in.  We had a short e-mail exchange and I confided to her that I have lost the passion to deal with the men who came to Canada and impacted ceramics.  I have written about this in various journals such as The Studio Potter and I have given talks on the subject.  The University of Toronto is interested in the manuscript but the reality is this:  women still face obstacles.  If this were the last five years of my life, what do I want to leave as my legacy?

This morning an article that appeared in the New Yorker, October 8, 2018, arrived in the mail.  The title is “Annals of Art.  The Canvas Ceiling.  New York’s postwar female painters and the obstacles they faced” by Claudia Roth Pierpont (beginning on page 20).  A note inside the envelope reads:  Lighten my understanding, Kindle my will, begin my doing, Incite my love, strengthen my weakness, enfold muy desire.  It continues:  Mary Ann, so timely – really enjoyed this article and thought you would as well.  Pamela.         Every woman needs a reminder that their life and quest are important.  Thank you, Pamela.

Pamela’s goblet has, like so many pieces made by my friends, added to my daily life in a positive way.  I am grateful for her friendship and for that of so many of the women wood firers in British Columbia I have come to know and those that I need to get to know.

Ceramics has the ability to add love to your life.  I have coffee with Gunda every morning.  She is there with me in the beautiful temmoku mug I have of hers.  It brings me joy and links us even though we are thousands of miles apart.

So, if you are reading this and get to this point, I ask you to consider two things.  If you know of a woman who fires a wood kiln, let me know.  The history of Canadian wood firing needs to include them.  If you are buying holiday gifts, stop and understand that a bespoke piece of ceramics can enrich an individual’s life more than anything that is purchased that has been mass manufactured.  But, make sure that it is beautiful and useful, that it reflects the care of a well trained artist.

Namaste.

The Learning Kiln, Round 1

I haven’t added anything to this blog since the beginning of the term but, it is now time to once again praise a great crew of people.  The students from the first Wood Fire Class at the School of Art:  Jaiwei Dai, Julia Beasley, Kendra Wile, Kewen Qiang, Monique Chartier-Kroeker, Sara Berg, Yijia Zhang, Zach Dueck, Anastasia Waly, Alexandra Ross, and Hyoungjung Lee – in no particular order.  I would also like to thank a former student and Ceramics Club co-president (with Selena Panchoo), Donna Garafolo, and a current student in another class who came to help and really did, Keith Barber.  Of the eleven students in the class, only two had ever fired a wood kiln. The learning kiln did everything that ‘it’ was supposed to do.  If a university is about learning and problem-solving and if woodfire is about building community, teamwork and collegiality then this firing was one of the most successful I have ever been a part of.  I would be proud to fire with any of these respectful, hardworking, and tenacious individuals and I am looking forward to another firing before the end of the term with this teamIMG_0365IMG_0374IMG_0380IMG_0385IMG_0391IMG_0394IMG_0399IMG_0407IMG_0409IMG_0413 if we can procure dry logs of the right length and diameter.

While I would like to be showing you amazing pictures of lovely glazed work this morning, I can’t.  We ran out of wood at cone 3 after using up every available piece of wood and borrowing a table saw from Keith and a chainsaw from Donna.  The Oxyprobe worked brilliantly.  Students learned how to translate numbers into reducing or oxidising and even neutral atmospheres inside the kiln.  They were, however, disappointed at not having bellowing black smoke go everywhere – the kiln is, after all, a smokeless one.  They learned about building a proper ember bed and not blocking the flue, about ‘stoking on the hobs’ – even the word was like one from a totally foreign language – hobs, what are hobs?  Oh, those are the hobs!  It is interesting, as a teacher, to find that actually doing something is more of a learning tool than reading and talking about it (a bit like reading how to put a diaper on a baby and then being presented with a real child)- especially when most of the students do not know the language of wood firing.  The majority did not know what an ember was nevermind an ember bed.  They do now!

These students did everything right according to Steve Harrison’s Laid Back Wood Firing and Markus Boehm’s instructions in the summer.  They pre-heated the kiln with gas (thanks Sara from coming out in the middle of the night) and then started using sticks and branches to start the ember bed before going full fire on the floor.  They built one of the most beautiful ember beds I have seen in a long time.  They went to the hobs following the schedule in Steve Harrison’s Laidback Wood Firing – a book that I will now require for this class in the future.  But it was there with them at every moment.  And the temperature rose slowly not to warp or dunt the pieces inside.  One of the surprises to them was one that caused a moment of problem-solving.  The flames which had been ‘going down’ in the Bourry Box began to look like a ‘campfire’ – they were coming up.  When we ran out of dry suitable wood, they attempted to use some cut off slabs (remember I said they didn’t want to give up) and one of these blocked the flue into the main chamber for a bit.  Back on track they built up their ember bed, went back to the hobs, and then got to full-blown fire resulting in reduction.

Harrison lists the possibilities for a stall and we carefully examined page 14 and his list.  We ruled out not enough ember pile to preheat combustion (see feature photo with logs on hobs), going to the hobs too quickly (we followed the medium length firing schedule in the book), top of the firebox was hot enough, and we had good dry pieces when we went on the hobs (again see above).  The firebox design was made for one-metre poplar logs and worked well at the first firing.  And the students did not forget to clam up the bottom stokehole door.  This left us with two choices and they were the two culprits that defeated us at cone 3:  too big a cross-section of timber because of the large mass it took too long to reach the flashing point and that wood was wet.   We sealed up everything and cleaned up.  The area looked fantastic due to their efforts.  And, in the midst of all of this, we also did a raku firing.

So I want to repeat something because I do not want anyone to consider this firing a failure; it is not the student’s fault that the wood we had available to us at a crucial juncture was too big and too wet.  This is a learning kiln and if University is about learning and problem-solving, then this firing was 100% successful!  I do not want the students, or anyone, to think that a kiln full of beautiful glazed ceramics is ever the only goal.  If this firing had gone perfect, I actually suspect that the learning aspect would have been minimal.  We, me and the students, are humbled along with all other wood firing potters, even Steve Harrison, who have had issues firing their kilns.  I suspect that that is what, over the years, inspired Harrison to write his book so that we could learn from his experience.  Next time we are going to measure the diameter of the logs and their length.  I would give anything for the tool to measure the wetness of wood.  We will have our own chainsaw (and gas – thanks again, Donna and Keith).  We will, once again, check what to do in the ‘Harrison Bible’ and the firing will result in lovely glazed cone 12 ceramics.