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.
Ann Cummings arrived in Canada in 1974. She first lived in Edmonton and then moved to Toronto the following year. She says that she “wanted to get as far away from Detroit as she possibly could”. For those that do not know the history of race riots in the United States, Detroit was at the heart of many of them. They began in 1967 when Detroit erupted and caused further riots across Michigan. Imagine the US government trying to end the riots y sending in the Army National Guard. 43 dead, 1189 injured, 7200 arrests with 2000 buildings destroyed. The scale of the riot that year in Detroit was only eclipsed by the 1992 riots in Los Angeles. Like so many of those who came to Canada in resistance to the Vietnam War and the social ills of America in the 1960s and 70s, Cummings has been working with clay for more than fifty years. Her work has continued to evolve.
Cummings attended Wayne State University where she graduated with a BFA degree in ceramics and drawing. She has also attended the Archie Bray Foundation (1973), Sheridan College (1976) and was a resident artist at the Banff Center for the Arts in 1992. Cummings early work centred on wheel thrown vessel forms. Later, she created work that was both personally expressive and decorative. She also started using raku firing methods, a technique that she has taught to hundreds of students. She now works in cast and moulded porcelain sculpture. The subject of her new work is memory.
Her first studio in Toronto was with a few other Sheridan graduates in a large warehouse. Later she was at Harbourfront and later at The Spiral Potter in the Beaches area of Toronto. Eventually, like so many of us, she set up her studio in part of her home in Toronto – the basement. I wonder how many of us have done this? Today, Cummings lives outside of Toronto in Port Perry where she has a 900 sq foot studio, a LPG soda kiln and a raku kiln for workshops. She also does extensive firings in her electric kiln. Nothing has slowed her down from the day she crossed into Canada. She is still working, is still part of the studio tours in her region, she teaches workshops after years of successful teaching at George Brown College, Sheridan College, and Ontario College of Art to name only a few.
Cummings has been represented by the Prime Gallery, the premier Canadian gallery for ceramics in Toronto and has had many solo exhibitions in Alberta and Ontario. Most recently, her work was shown at the David Kaye Gallery in Toronto (2016) and at the Art Gallery of Burlington (2017). Cummings was in included in numerous group exhibitions. They include the Propeller Centre for the Arts in Toronto Invitational (2013-15), the Jingdezhen International Invitational Ceramic Fair in China (2009), the Work from Heart, Mind, and Hand Exhibition at the John B. Aird Gallery in Toronto (2009) to name only a few. Images and discussions of her work are included in the late Robin Hopper’s The Ceramic Spectrum, Paul Scott’s Painted Clay, Graphic Arts and the Ceramic Surface, Peter Dormer’s The New Ceramics: Trends and Traditions, as well as John Gibson’s The Decorated Vessel: Contemporary Approaches to name only a few. In addition, her work has appeared in numerous ceramics magazines including Ceramics Monthly, Fusion, and Contact Magazine.