Earth Day 2019

As Earth Day 2019 comes to an end, there are young people around the world dropping out of their classrooms to go on ‘Extinction Walks’.  A sixteen-year-old Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, is calling out politicians around the world for their irresponsible behaviour towards caring for our planet, what I have come to call the ‘Mothership’.  In Greta’s speech to the Swedish Parliament last year, she said:  “This ongoing irresponsible behaviour will no doubt be remembered in history as one of the greatest failures of humankind.”  I am hopeful that my grandchildren who can vote will vote and that they will have a loud voice in shaping policy in Canada towards the environment and its protection not the profits of large corporations and their stockholders.

I wear many hats, so to speak, and one of those is as a ceramics instructor at the University of Manitoba, and the other is as a maker.  Recently, I have seen other ceramists on various Facebook pottery groups ask if there is anything they can do to help the environment.  Some have shown photos of poorly made pots that broke wondering how to repair them while others wonder what to do with all of the work that they cannot sell.

Ceramics has a large footprint, and it is not ‘green’.  All the clay and Earth’s minerals (in whatever form we use them – stains, oxides, ready-made underglazes, etc. – are mined.  They are packaged and shipped around the world.  Responsible management so that none of those materials is either wasted or harm the local water table needs to be considered.  Firing.  Some regions use fossil fuels to create electricity.  We should all be aware of issues related to natural gas and oil.  How then to fire our work so that we do not waste those resources?  One way, so simple, is to make sure those kilns are full.

I am reminding myself to make sure that the first year students understand fully that greenware (before the clay is fired the first time and then it is bisque ware) can touch other pieces.  Just be mindful of weight distribution, etc.  But then there is the real question:  what is worthy of firing?  This is something that only you can answer.  But if you make more mugs than you can sell then just fire the ones that are magnificent and worthy of the resources.  The plan this year is to cut back further on what my students are firing.  They need to learn to be self-critical.  We all do!  And then there is the question of firing and to what temperature.  Wood is a renewable resource.  But what about gas kilns, LPG, or oil?  How much is saved in terms of cubic use by lowering the temperature of firing from cone 10 to cone 1?  I do not know the answer, but I am confident that if we all Googled it, we would find many answers.

As potters and knowing that our planet is in peril, perhaps we need to contemplate what we can do and how we can help others to be productive, create beautiful work while at the same time being more conscious and lowering our impact on the environment.  Maybe this year is the time for each of us to stand up and challenge ourselves over the coming year.  When I look at my grandchildren, I know that their future, the future of the animals, and our Mothership deserve it.

Third European Wood Fire Conference in La Borne, France, continued

La Borne has been home to potters since, at least, the beginning of the 17th century.   The oak forests around the village were planted to provide wood to build the navy vessels for King Louis XIV’s fleet.  Today they supply the potters and their kilns and are carefully managed.  For the most part, the potters use the wood found on the floor of the forest and that from the ‘thinning’ management.  One informative talk during the conference was precisely on the history of the forest and its management, something that is not a normal topic in Manitoba because we have so little available wood in comparison.  Indeed, one of the reasons for building the new Bourry Box kiln is to be able to continue wood firing at the School but also, to conserve the amount of wood used in these firings.

The shape and type of kilns built in La Borne has evolved with economic and social changes in the country.  The early, extremely colossal kilns, often known as ‘whale kilns’, were used to fire storage jars for transporting and storing food.  In the 20th century, demands by the local farms for pottery slowly declined because of new manufactured products that served the same purpose but were cheaper to purchase.  After World War II, there was a shift in the type of work made in the village.  Up until this time, the pottery production in La Borne was entirely for domestic uses related to the storage, cooking, and serving of food and drink. After, there is the arrival of the first individuals trained in art school, many of whom worked in creating clay sculpture.  Jacqueline and Jean Lerat were two such ceramic artists.  Their son gave a superb talk about their work and the change in the type of production in La Borne at this time.

Today, the kilns in La Borne are much smaller, suitable for the production of one or two persons.  They range from the Sevres style with a  one cubic metre ware chamber that belong to Atelier Dominique Gare-Roz Herrin and the same style of kiln to Jean and Claud Guillaume.  Dominique Gare has  a six cubic metre noborigama while Svein Hjort Jensen fires a three cubic metre anagama.  Included with the Bourry Box styles and the Asian kiln types are also a number of kilns based on the designs of Fred Olsen.  Sylvie Rigal has a one cubic metre train kiln while Dominique Legros fires a 300 litre Four Dragon kiln.  At the end of October, these kilns will be lit, most at the same time, for the firing festival known as ‘La Borne senflamme’.  It has been an annual event since the 17th century.  This event and the Third European Wood Fire Conference has brought many outsiders to this picturesque village, some 40 minutes from Bourges.  It is hoped that the village and its potters continue to prosper in the centuries to come.  If it is, there needs to be a way to bring more youth to the village to establish their own studios. Indeed, there were many young people who attended the conference so there is hope!

I am grateful to all the members of the Association Ceramique La Borne for all of the events they organized.  It was difficult to decide which talk or workshop to take from the descriptions on line.  This was so unfortunate.  But, like everywhere else, choices had to be made.  The conference took advantage of local resources and the beauty of the Loire Valley.  There was an excursion to the Decorative Arts Museum and St Etienne in Bourges on Thursday and tomorrow there is a trip to Sancrette.  Of course, having time to catch up with acquaintances that you haven’t seen for four years or meeting new friends and having discussions in between the formal events really is what these events are about.

And a correction.  There are three countries interested in hosting the Fourth European Wood Fire Conference.  They are Latvia, Belgium, and Spain (Barcelona).  It had been anticipated that the next host would be announced today but, each of the venues has asked for more time to consider their resources in relation to the hundred attendees (the average of the paying guests during the first three conferences).

 

 

Interlake Studio Tours June 9-10

Every year the Interlake supports its makers with bi-annual open studio visits.  This year the dates are June 9 and 10 and September 1 and 2.  Go online, check out the map and visit the workplaces of the more than 29 plus talented individuals.

The Interlake has a history of creative individuals.  The Wave tour began in 2002 when School of Art graduate and Winnipeg Beach painter, Helma RoggeRedhers, organized the event. RoggeRedhers joined forces with Sandy Driscoll, a graphic designer, creating a self-guided tour of studios along Manitoba north highways 8 and 9.  The tour has grown successfully since its beginnings to encompass more than 29 artists (some years 40!).  Pottery, painting, sculpture, textiles…there is something for everyone.  Good luck to all of the artists this year!

 

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xICXWJNpEro&sns=em

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.