I have written about Gunda Stewart before. If you missed it, here is a little synopsis. Stewart studied with Tam Irving and Sally Michener at the Vancouver School of Art. She works on a treadle wheel and is a great follower of the Leach tradition. Both of us love the rich temmoku pots that come out of her wood kiln in Canyon, BC. Her ash glazes and her Shinos are also spot on. Lately, she has been experimenting with ‘blue’. Some of the results are now sitting on a few new shelves in my kitchen. They are lovely soft grey blues, far distant cousins from the coldness of the cobalt I have seen elsewhere. Stewart has been firing her large Manabigama kiln designed by John Thies and Bill van Gilder for ten years. I like it because it is easy to fire, using less wood and human hours than many kilns of the same size. The results are also stunning. What I don’t like about it is the crawling inside to stack the shelves. That has to be the only drawback and Stewart is wondering herself, even though she is in fantastic physical shape, how long she will be able to wood fire her work. For me, I hope it is much, much longer. Stewart used to sell her work to a gallery in St Louis and the Gardiner Museum of Ceramics shop in Toronto. I say ‘used to’. Many potters/ceramists, clay artists (what each individual cares to call themselves) rely on prestigious shops such as these not only for large sales such as the market in Toronto affords but also as a validation that their work is ‘excellent’. Stewart now sells all her work locally, either at the Saturday market or through her studio. Her buyers are repeat customers, often several generations from the same family, and tourists that come to the East Kootenays. She has trouble keeping stock and her recent, lovely ‘blues’ fly off the shelves as do the more traditional Sung dynasty glazes. How satisfying it must be to know that in an area with a small population your work is valued, even cherished. If you are in the Canyon area, follow the blue artisan signs. Her shop is open most days from 11-7 during the summer and fall.
As for me, I want to publicly thank her for hosting me, for talking pots, sharing her recipe for Quinoa brownies (delicious), and taking me for a walk in the beautiful cedar forests. I envy her the quiet tranquillity that surrounds her in addition to the reasonable, very reasonable, indeed, cost of wood in the East Kootenays. The wood here is not as good and is 5x more expensive – but, hey, we don’t have the trees that they do. It was also very refreshing that when I asked her if she ever felt marginalized as a woman wanting to work in the world of wood firing that she said ‘never really.’ Tam Irving was super supportive to her as a student and both Cam Stewart and Robin du Pont, wood firers from the Winlaw area, have been nothing but great and giving. Fabulous!
Those of you reading my blog know that the idea for the new Bourry Box kiln came because there was a need for a ‘learning’ kiln. A kiln that is easy to load, clean, fire and that can be fired numerous times in a short period of time to cone 13/14 and by one or two persons. We just about did it. The bagwall will be adjusted, new shelves will be ordered (please don’t use old soda kiln shelves), and a nice coat of Adobe will be spread. Anyone have any ideas what colour we should tint that Adobe? And we need some new insulating bricks for the door – we used the ones we had but it takes far too long to mortar them if they are broken.
The kiln requires a proper shed or it will simply deteriorate. Putting a temporary one up is an option but then people begin to see that this might work and they give up on building one that would cover the space, the ware carts, and the students when they are loading and firing. Hopefully, we will have this before winter sets in. Then the lever and pulley system can be installed allowing for one person to fire. But, we also need to figure out a way to safely pre-heat the kiln in a public setting. But, for now, this chimney needs to be attached to the building!
The kiln went up as Markus and I had planned and as we knew that it would. But others were caught off guard. You cannot mortar a proper chimney and weld all of the metal supports in two days. It simply cannot happen with other demands such as the welding of the fibre board firebox lid. And then if the scaffolding company comes and you haven’t finished, well…I can’t do a tell-all in my blog because in about a year the story of this kiln is going to appear in Ceramics Monthly and, hopefully, it will help others planning a community build. What I will continue to do is to praise the participants who signed up to learn and help; they were very thankful and repeatedly told me and Markus what a good experience this was. As I have said many, many times in this blog, it was their motivation, respect, and desire to build something the right way that made this possible (and, of course, Markus).
For now, though, I have to move on. The ashes from the first firing have been fathered (yes I wore one of those horrible masks) for experiments with Nuka glazes. I am going to go and see my friend Gunda Stewart in Canyon, BC in mid-July. She has a beautiful manibigama kiln and her wood-fired domestic vessels are solid. Then it is Guldagergaard and finally, The Third European Wood Fire Conference is in Le Borne, France at the end of August. Check it out. Paul Davis is giving a workshop on Oribe at Sturt (Australia) in early July (won’t be there but some of you might be able to jump on a plane; there are a few spaces left). There are lots of things happening around the world within the wood fire community.
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!