Robert Archambeau Retrospective in Celebration of his 50 years​ or silver anniversary with the School of Art and the University of Manitoba will open in mid-November at the School of Art Gallery

The precise date is still to TBD but it will be around November 15 running until mid-January.  This is an amazing chance to look back at the work of one of Canada’s legendary ceramic artists and someone who has given so much to the School of Art and its students.  ‘Bob’ has been a fabulous mentor to those working in ceramics.

If you or anyone you know has ceramic work of Bob’s and would loan it to the School of Art Gallery for the exhibition, please get in touch with me as I will be curating the show.  The contact information is maryann.steggles@umanitoba.ca

Stay tuned for more details.

Photo:  Bob working in the ceramic studio, School of Art, 2016

Give it Up for Joo Young Han, one of the Manitoba Arts Council’s Major Award winners. Well done!

Joo Young (Grace) Han is one of those extremely talented young women, a rising star in Canadian ceramics.  Raised in South Korea, Han graduated with her BFA from Dankook University where she studied traditional Korean ceramics.  There she watched the master potter, Joon Hoon Park, while making hundreds of Korean tea bowls, sambal, a day.  For seven years, Han worked to perfect her ceramic skills including the making of the large jars for fermented vegetables, the Onngi.  In 2011, Han moved to the Canadian prairies.  The image above is a still from an upcoming CBC special on Han.  In 2016, Han graduated with an MFA from the School of Art, University of Manitoba.  There, for two years, she worked tirelessly in her studio asking herself many, many questions.  Am I Korean?  Am I Canadian?  Where is my voice?  Her thesis exhibition focused on those binaries as does the photo above.

The Manitoba Arts Council recognized Han’s artistic excellence by awarding her their major grant of $30,000 this past week.  It is rare for a ceramic artist to achieve such recognition so early in their career.  MAC  not the only one, however!  Han will be part of the Banff’s Centre’s Clay Revival Residency from June 3-July 7 and she will also have a solo exhibition at Medalta.  Well done, Grace.

For a more detailed discussion of Han’s struggle with her identity and the male world of Korean ceramics, see my article in the current issue of New Ceramics, ‘Joo Young Han.  One Path, Two Identities, pp 13-15 (2/18).

Carol and Richard Selfridge

Richard Selfridge arrived in Canada in 1969 to pursue a PhD in Political Science.  A native of Seattle Washington, he first studied at Washington State University leaving the United States just before completing his PhD dissertation in Political Philosophy.  Selfridge taught at the University of Alberta for four years.  He became a Canadian citizen in 1974.

Richard Selfridge never intended to become a potter.  But life has a way of throwing curve balls at each of us.  “Happy Accidents” was what Paul Soldner used to call them. In between his studies, Richard met Carol and his interest in ceramics began.   In 1973 he took his first pottery lessons with David Green, one of the individuals behind the formation and an instructor for the Edmonton Potters Guild.  These early classes were followed by specialized

studies at the Banff Center with Wayne Ngan, Walter Keeler, Tom Coleman and Janice Tchalenko, amongst others.  A year later Richard built his first electric kiln with a single chamber downdraft gas kiln quickly following in 1975.  He was hooked on clay!  Carol and Richard are both interested in clay, its form and its functionality.  At the same time, they are passionate about experimenting with different firing temperatures and glaze effects.  The couple built a two chamber cross draft gas and wood-fired salt chamber kiln in 1980 while continuing to fire their majolica in the electric kiln.  In 2001, they built a wood-fired coffin kiln.  Since 1974 their work has been a joyful collaboration.

The duo taught at the Student’s Union at the University of Alberta in the 1970s, later teaching for the Extension Division of the University of Alberta. Carol was a high school art teacher in Vancouver and Edmonton from 1969-74.   Her interest in the figure and drawing have been furthered by workshops at Red Deer College, The Banff Center, and the University of Alberta.  In addition to more than 250 international exhibitions, Richard and Carol have also taught workshops across Canada and internationally while still finding time to host two annual studio sales per year since 1974.  The pair received major grants from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts and the Edmonton Arts Council. They are nothing short of prolific in their output and the generosity with which they share their knowledge of firing effects and glazing.  Their work was part of the prestigious Claridge Collection.

Robert ‘Bob’ Archambeau: Enriches the lives of those around him

Robert ‘Bob’ Archambeau (born 1933)  is one of Canada’s most renown ceramic artists.  When I asked him when he first fell in love with wood firing, he chuckled and said it was ” probably around the age of five when he made a fire that almost burnt the family garage down.” Bob graduated with an MFA degree in ceramics from Alfred SUNY in 1964.  For the next four years, he taught at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) before accepting a teaching position at the University of Manitoba where he teamed up with Charlie Scott solidifying a wood firing tradition (of vessels) that continues today.  Long before he was awarded the Governor-General’s Award for Excellence, those around him knew that his work was special as was his teaching.  Exceptional might be a better word.

Bob Archambeau has a deep respect for the art of Asia and the limited forms that he chooses to make are a reflection of this.  Note the word ‘chooses’.  There is nothing limiting about the vessels he creates despite the fact that he focuses on four or five vessel forms.  He says that he works on the same few shapes over and over again to improve his integrity as a maker while, at the same time, having deep respect for the traditions that inform those forms.

Anyone who has passed through the wheel throwing or hand building area of the Sculpture/Ceramics Building at the School of Art will be familiar with Bob.  He remains one of the best mentors that any of our students (and faculty) can have.  He is there working late through the night, on the weekends, and sometimes during the day.  When there are no classes being taught in the summer, he is one of a few that take over the clay area till the leaves begin to fall and students return in September.

Two or three years ago he had pieces drying – hundreds of them it seemed – spread across the tables in the hand building room.  At that moment, he was using leaves he had found on his walks as stencils for his plates.  He told me that he was making his granddaughter an entire set.  I was taken aback by this because, at the time, I believed his granddaughter to be 8 or 10.  What a remarkable gift to leave a child.

Twice a year, Bob heads to fire his work with Dan Anderson and his students in Illinois.  He has travelled around the world firing wood kilns with some of the leaders in the field.  On his retirement, his intent was to work in his studio in Bissett, Manitoba (about three hours northeast of Winnipeg).  He built a wood kiln in anticipation of the freedom he would have to work 24/7 if he chose.  Then there was a series of events that happened one of them being an entire ban on burning wood – despite the fact that one could argue that a kiln is an enclosed space.  Still, his dreams halted, Bob was quick to take a different path and it is the reason that he is at the School throwing with many students watching and learning.  In fact, Bob believes that students learn by “watching”.

Bob is also a collector.  Not only of leaves to use as stencils but anything handmade that catches his eye or objects of nature.  One day he had covered the two shelves of a trolley with shells.  He called me over saying, “Always look to nature for inspiration.”

One of Bob’s dearest friends was the late Takamori Akio. In 2015 Takamori was asked to provide a story (Bob loves stories) for a catalogue I was writing for an exhibition of vessels at the School of Art Gallery.  He wrote to me about Bob’s first visit to Japan.  Takamori said:  “Naturally, Bob was very visible in the small Japanese village when he visited me in Nagura, Japan.  He was a giant from Canada.  He would say that Japanese people might think that he was 100 years old because his hair and beard were turning white prematurely.  Bob wished he was invisible perhaps and he tried his best to become as small as he could like a ball of mercury.  He was so careful and acted like a gentle giant who tried not to irritate people around him.  So, Bob walked around very carefully with a shy smile on his face and if he had to talk, he whispered.  His effort worked very well.  Everybody liked him and nobody was intimidated by the stranger.  He did not bump his head or break things when he visited the small houses in the villages.  Bob could satisfy his insatiable curiosity by going to all the niches of the villages and finding small treasures for his eyes to see”.

Bob continues to be a gentle giant at the age of 84.  And those who are fortunate to see his passion for clay continue are truly blessed.

IMG_8358Bob Sandblasting a pot 1IMG_8268

Pamela Nagley-Stevenson

Pamela Nagley-Stevenson moved to Canada to study ceramics at the University of Victoria after living in Hawaii.  While she was a high school student at the Punahou Academy in Honolulu, she had the opportunity to study painting, art history and fine crafts.  When she was a grade 11 student, the Honolulu Academy of Arts hosted an exhibition of vessels by renowned Japanese artist, Toshiko Takaezu [She was born to Japanese parents living in Hawaii].  Nagley-Stevenson went to her artist talks and repeatedly visited the exhibition.  It seemed to draw the young student in like a magnet.  She said, “Her work opened my heart in ways that defy words, and set me on the life path to become a studio potter.”   Nagley-Stevenson thrived in Honolulu where students could take intensive summer courses in clay and in 1970, she enrolled full time as a ceramics student at the University of Hawaii.  There she studied with Claude Horan and Patrick Myers-while also taking a minor in Asian art history.

As a student in Hawaii, Nagley-Steven was active in protests against the Vietnam War.  She was part of the Hawaii High Schools Students for Peace and participated in the Peace March Campaigns and demonstrated to support Hawaiian Sovereignty, Native Land Rights, and the beginnings of the local environmental movement.  “Classmates were fleeing the States for Canada to avoid the draft, the Trudeau Government was seen as being enlightened for that time, and coming to Canada suited my values and life goal to live close to the land as an artist working with clay.”  In 1971, Nagley-Stevenson began her studies at the University of Victoria.  “I was eager for the opportunity to go to Canada in those end times of the Vietnam War.”  Unfortunately, on her arrival, the young student realized that the ceramic studios at the University of Victoria had closed.  She worked instead in the printmaking studios and spent two years in painting and sculpture while immersing herself in Islamic art.

She says, “I left school abruptly for love in 1974, to join my future husband at an artist’s coop in Vernon and begin life as a working potter.”  She put 500 lbs of clay, some glaze materials and a cone 8 electric kiln in the van and headed East.  The couple first lived in the rural Coldstream Valley.  Nagley-Stevenson says her early work was influenced by her knowledge of Asian art.  She “married” it with a crunchy granola aesthetic resulting in some functional ware with “whimsical details.”  The couple bought land in the Slocan Valley in 1976.  “Land in the Kootenays was pristine and affordable, with a lovely counter-culture community of mountain-loving back-to-the-land self-employed artists.  She was also able to teach at the Kootenay School of the Arts bringing in much-needed cash when sales were slow.  The couple planted gardens and orchards moving as quickly as they could to a more self-sustaining life, one in harmony with nature.  After the move, the young potter studied at the Banff Centre for the Arts taking workshops with Les Manning, Pete Voulkos, Mick Casson and Wayne Ngan amongst others.  For fifteen years she produced highly decorated landscape pots that helped pay the couple’s mortgage and feed their two children.  Nagley-Stevenson, like so many others, felt limited by what an electric kiln with its oxidation atmosphere could do and over the course of time, she moved to cone 10 porcelain fired in a wood kiln.  Her first kiln was 16 cubic feet (2000) and today she fires a two-chamber 73 cubic foot wood-soda kiln which was built in 2008.  Firing with wood was able to give Nagley-Stevenson a more natural look to the surface of the clay.  Today she sells her work at her own studio in Winlaw, BC (by appointment),  and at the gift shops and public galleries in Nelson and Castlegar as well as at special summer and holiday markets and tours.

Her work has been exhibited in Canada and the United States.

Objects and Memory: Ruth Gowdy-McKinley and Byron Johnstad

Canada was very fortunate when, in 1967, Don McKinley, for personal and political reasons (the Vietnam Conflict), took a position at the Sheridan College of Art and Design in Mississauga.  That year Canadian ceramics became all the richer.  Ruth Gowdy-McKinley was made Resident Potter and the couple built her catenary arch wood kiln on a pad just across the drive from the little house the School provided the couple and their daughter.  Few women were firing wood kilns in Canada at the time.  Gowdy-McKinley was quickly recognized for her meticulous vessel forms – teapots, colanders, small storage containers, and even ashtrays!  She was made a member of the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1976, the first potter to do so.  As a student at Sheridan during the summer of 1976, I was fortunate enough to have met her a number of times and to have had tea with her.  I recall how frightened all of us were when we could not get her kiln to reach temperature.  We sat in a semi-circle trying to conjure up anything but nothing worked.  The pots were embarrassingly dismal when unloaded.

Gowdy-McKinley was the driving spirit behind many of the major happenings in ceramics in Canada between her arrival and her untimely death in 1980, at the age of 51.  She never strayed from her devotion to beautiful well functioning domestic ceramics.  In 1993, in honour of Gowdy-McKinley, the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery opened in Waterloo, Ontario largely due to the efforts of Gowdy-McKinley’s friends and colleagues and especially Waterloo ceramist and professor,  Ann Roberts.

The piece above is a porcelain lethal bullet vase made by Gowdy-McKinley.  It was one of a group of objects left to be fired when she died in December 1981.  Her husband, Don, and friends arranged for a small group to gather together and fire the kiln one last time.  I was not at that firing but I had heard about it over lunch with Robin Hopper and Judi Dyelle in 2015.  Robin showed me his vase and told me the story of one of the individuals wrapping the last log with gold leaf and putting it in the kiln before it was sealed.

In May 2017, I had the pleasure of meeting Byron Johnstad in Kelowna.  I was there to interview him, Bert Borch, and Roger Painter for my project on the impact of Vietnam resisters on Canadian ceramics.  It was a hot day Byron had fixed green tea iced tea on his patio.  I do not recall what it was that I must have said that sent him into his house but when he returned he had Ruth’s vase in his hand.  I gave a shriek – and began babbling on for a minute or so about Ruth and the gold leaf around the log.  Anyone knowing Byron, more than I did at that moment, would have quickly recognized that it was him – what a gesture to a wonderful woman from another great ceramist.  Byron handed me the vase.  He had never met Ruth.  It was mine.

This is what I mean about objects and memory.  This vase now holds several stories of two of the finest Canadian artists I ever had the opportunity to meet.  Thank you Byron.

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!