Kendra Wile’s Secret Gardens

Teaching beginning wheel throwing where students meet once a week for three hours for a period of twelve to thirteen weeks can be a challenge.  For the students, it takes dedication, perseverance, time, and a lack of fear of failure to be successful.  Some of you might have followed this blog for the past you months.  If so, you will know that I had the most extraordinary group of talented young women in this single class.  I was blessed.  Many of them could be found working at any hour of the day or night in the throwing room.  Kendra Wile was no exception.  Also, she always had a smile on her face.

The last assignment for the students allowed them flexibility.  It read:

THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO ADD SOME ORIGINALITY AND INNOVATION IN YOUR WORK.  IT COULD BE THE WAY THAT YOU SHAPE THE CLAY, DECORATE THE SURFACE, OR COMBINE THE INDIVIDUAL FORMS TOGETHER.  USING A MINIMUM OF 8 DIFFERENT FORMS, YOU ARE TO CREATE A SINGLE OBJECT OR A SET THAT REPRESENTS YOUR OWN AESTHETIC IN CERAMICS.  THIS MEANS THAT YOU HAVE TO CONSIDER BOTH THE FORM AND THE FINISH.  YOUR PROJECT WILL BE GRADED ON 40 % QUALITY OF THE THROWING AND ASSEMBLAGE, 40 % QUALITY OF THE GLAZING AND APPROPRIATENESS TO THE AESTHETIC THAT IS YOUR OWN, AND 10% FOR VISUALIZING YOUR IDEA IN CLAY AND 10% FOR APPROPRIATE PRESENTATION.  – WITHIN A LIMITED FRAMEWORK, THIS IS A CHANCE FOR YOU TO BE YOU!

My very best friend, the late Charlie Scott, who started the wood firing tradition at the School of Art, always said that ceramics was more like architecture than any other medium.   Ironically and sadly, Kendra will be leaving the School of Art and taking a place in the Faculty of Architecture this coming year.   Her last project suggests that she is extremely patient, knows how to deal with enclosed space, can offer surprises with the reveal, and understands the use of colour.  She also makes decisions that are best for the project at hand, switching up her approach to firing and colour.

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Kendra created what on the surface looked like four soup or latte bowls with various knobs.  She quietly sat them down on the lower platform and walked away, saying nothing.  Little did any of her classmates expect the environments inside when they lifted the lids.  Ellina was fascinated.  She got really close staring into the tiny interior environments.

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In the end, Kendra chooses wisely.  She opted to use underglaze stains and fire her work in a cone 5 or 6 oxidation environment in one of the electric kilns rather than lose the detail in the gas reduction kiln.  Can you imagine the time it took her to create each one of these?  Did she secretly use tweezers?  And how many times did she have to redo an interior?  We will never know!

What I do know is that exciting things are going to come from this very creative young woman and I, for one, cannot wait to see what she will design and what kind of a name she will make for herself in the world of architecture.

Sara loves porcelain

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.

 

The second wood firing had its challenges but it was very successful and all were happy.

It is one thing to fire your own wood kiln so many times that you know its behaviour.  And, yes, we can predict certain things but students brand ‘new’ to wood firing or only having participated in a single wood firing workshop are handicapped to say the least.  Our kiln was designed to use Poplar logs but we cannot get Poplar logs in the late fall.  They have been cut and split for firewood sales.  So, we tried oak slabs, very hard oak slabs and a partial grate.  What did we discover?  The kiln can reach 13.5 on the Oxyprobe in 12 hours with a 3 hour gas pre-heat.  The top of the kiln needs to be ignored.  Oak by itself is not good.  It creates immense amounts of ember but if you want to raise the temperature and finish the job, it had to be mixed with scrap lumber and pine.  The ration was 1 part oak to whatever else we could lay our hands on.  The pots, as anticipated, that were placed in the throat had amazing yohen effects.  Kusakabe would love them!  The students also learned many things about the glazes.

In the ceramics area we have big pails of ‘shop glazes’.  I have no idea who started this practice and, at times, it is a hindrance, not a help.  The students – because the tiles show the glazes by themselves and then mixed with one other studio glaze, cause a lot of dipping.  Dipping without thought, dipping and getting the glaze too thick and when the work comes out fantastic the dipping often causes blank looks on the faces of the students!  Of course they have been told to have a method of recording so that they know what they did and could replicate it.  One of the best of these ‘dipping’ pieces was a tea bowl by Jiawei Dai.  I wish I had a photo of it.  She put temmoku underneath and Haystack Green on the upper half.  It was fantastic.  In fact, those old Sun dynasty glazes fired in the wood kilns of 9th and 10th century China are superb.  The other glazes were the ash ones that we made out of the Poplar ash from the first firing.  Those included a Nuka (gorgeous soft white), a red made with half ash and half low fire red clay, and an amber.

The bagwall question plagued us.  In the end, we put it at the back and loaded the middle half of the kiln tight and put Kewen’s walls there so that we would, hopefully, keep the flames dancing about and the ash as well.  It seems to have worked great!

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We also had lots of ash…did someone say a 12 hour firing in a Bourry box doesn’t produce ash?  It does!  and almost all of the students got to experience what every wood firing potter in the world knows:  grinding is a part of the process.  They also learned about alumina hydrate and the difference between wadding made with it and without.

They were a great group, full of laughter, great at problem solving, and community minded.  Everyone did their part.  Even one of the students who had recent foot surgery showed up on the last day and found that while they couldn’t be outside in the cold, they could grind and clean shelves.  Incredible.  They are such a good group and the plan is to fire the kiln again in April when the weather has warmed up (or in May) outside of a class for fun and also for them to be able to undertake it with some assurances about the oak and the other scraps and pine – that it works!

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A second chance to look a little closer at the work of some very talented young women in the Beginning Wheel Throwing class

It is really easy to write about the work of a very creative group of young women.  In my last blog I talked about their final assignment for their beginning wheel throwing class.  In that blog there was mention of each of them and their work.  Tonight I want to focus on a tea set by Haley Bean.

Haley Bean had never worked with clay prior to registering for this beginning class in her final year at the School of Art.  She said, sadly, that she wished she had discovered the medium earlier.  I wondered what she would have accomplished if this was her last Honour’s critique.  One can only imagine.  Notice the clean lines and use of angles. Haley has a great sense of design, proportion, and balance.  She also learned from the glaze testing she did and that of the others in the class and created a very quiet palette for her set.

Haley represents the future of ceramics, at least to me and several of my colleagues.  In fact, my friend Markus Boehm, said that the future of wood firing is actually women at his presentation for the Third European Wood firing conference in La Borne.  ‘Back in the day’ all of us had a copy of Bernard Leach’s The Potter’s Book.  At a time when there was limited information on kilns, glazes, and wheels, it became the constant companion for the potters of Europe, the United States, and Canada.  Leach toured North America first in 1952 promoting his book and his beliefs.  His influence was widespread.  The view of the rural idyll complete with pottery studio and high fire reduction kiln was common place.  Men ran the ceramics departments, were featured in the books and magazines as well as in exhibitions and they completely monopolized the prizes and grants categories.  But things are changing.

At the School of Art, there are two full time faculty teaching ceramics – me and my colleague, Grace Nickel.  Of the two sessionals this academic year, one is a very talented woman, Grace Han, one of the School’s recent MFA graduates.  My beginning wheel throwing class was all women.  And, yes, the future of ceramics is women – urban, forward thinking, highly creative and independent women like Haley Bean.

Those fabulous students preparing for the wood fire on Saturday, December 1

Those of you who have read my blog on a regular basis might be getting tired of me telling you of the great blessings I have had or the fantastic students that have come my way this term but, both are true.  Yes that first firing went 50% as planned but gosh did we ever learn a lot.  The weather was good to us and each of us quietly hoped that there would not be an Arctic freeze during the second firing.

On Friday, November 23, it was +2 C.  That day the students helped the ceramics tech, Chris Pancoe, with sorting, cutting, and stacking the oak slabs for the firing.  For safety reasons, Chris graciously took on the chain saw so that no student got hurt despite the fact that he was trying to get everything perfect for us as he and his wife, Jennie, were leaving for Sweden to build one of the ice hotel rooms in two days time.  Congratulations to the two of you and hopefully you will have a fantastic adventure.  Monique Chartier-Kroeker and Anastasia Waly helped Chris along with Hyounjung Lee who had, until that instance, never handled a shovel.  She enjoyed clearing up that sawdust!  Great work all of you.  Inside the sculpture building, Alexandra Ross was on the chop saw helping get the pre-heat wood ready to go.

So far, the two firings in the kiln have used Poplar logs so this is going to be new to all of us as no one has used hardwood planks before.  We have oak and the slabs are big and dry.  Chris welded us a grate so that we no longer have to depend on logs and I am hoping that the hardwood doesn’t cause us to have too much of an ember bed that it blocks the flue.  We will just have to keep our eyes on that!

Did I say that Monique discovered that the features of the oak slabs were really interesting?  One piece of wood even came inside the studio to be the mascot for the firings despite the fact that there was a debate over whether it was a ‘moose’ or a ‘rabbit’.   No clinical psychologists around to analyze the meaning for those choices so all is well!

Inside Zach Dueck and Kendra Wile helped mix up two of the favorite class glazes – Haystack Green and Tin Purple while the others glazed their work and wadded the bottoms of their pots for loading this coming Friday.

Over the course of several more firings they will find their way balancing the naturalness of the wood firing and ash with their need for colour.  But no one wants ugly brown pots according to Paul Davis’s definition.  We are all looking forward to how the new Nuka glazes using the ash from the second firing and some new shinos come out in this firing.  Julia Beazley, Kewen Qiang, and Yijia Zhang were putting the final touches on their new bisque pieces for the firing in our glaze room.

We will keep you posted on how it goes….Sara Berg will light the gas burner to pre-heat the kiln and chimney at 3am Saturday and hopefully the rest of us will have a ‘laid back’ wood firing and be finished by 11pm. This time we will not run out of wood and those darn cones will bend and the pyrometer will work!  Since there is so much salt build up we may just toss a little extra in!  Stay posted for action shots beginning Friday night!

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!