Meeting fabulous women artists and thinking of Graysville

Several weeks ago, the Director of the Manitoba Crafts Council, Tammy Sutherland, asked me if I would be interested in being a facilitator for The Love of Craft members exhibition.  Even though there are regular critiques that I lead in my university classes, I wondered if I was up to the job.  There was such diversity in the participants – well, it was a bit worrisome.  All of that disappeared when, to my surprise, a former student was standing in the gallery, Erika Hanneson.  I had seen her name on the list of those that wanted to be part of the afternoon discussion but, there could have been many Erika’s as Manitoba has a sizeable Icelandic community.  But, it was her.  There is something beautiful about teaching, and it is seeing the students thrive and prosper when they leave that is the most rewarding.  I am afraid that my photograph of Erika’s work does not do it justice.  At first glance, most of the visitors to the gallery thought that the large plate had been entirely wheel thrown.  But, it isn’t.  The body of the vessel is a manipulated slab over a slump mould.  On the reverse, there is a wheel thrown foot ring.  The base is heavily gouged with the lines filled in with a dark slip.  There are subtle transitions in the glaze towards the rim giving the impression of a fall prairie landscape.  She has recently moved her studio to Gimli, Manitoba and no doubt the colours of the Lake Winnipeg and the summer sky will provide more inspiration.

Like many of those that come to the School of Art, Erika was a nurse, but her passion was art.  She was enrolled in the Diploma programme, but shortly after beginning her classes, Erika discovered that she liked the academic courses and did well in them.  She went on to get her BFA degree while raising children and working.  An excellent role model.  Now she devotes most of her time to her craft.  I wish her every success in her new studio and am anxiously awaiting the end of winter to go and visit.

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I intend to write about all of the women who I met on Saturday.  Each and everyone is doing something they are passionate about, and there were so many similarities in their stories.  Each tries to give voice to their experiences, they appreciate different materials and processes while acknowledging that one must practice a craft, ‘the verb’, and do things well.  One other thing we discussed is the need for meeting new people, the sharing of ideas, and the importance of positive support.

The other talented woman I would like to introduce you to is Judith Rempel Smucker.  Judith is also a graduate of the School of Art here in Winnipeg where she studied graphic design and the Basel School of Design in Switzerland.  She lived for some years in Pennsylvania where she taught graphic design.  The featured image is a photograph of a mixed media collage, one of 28 originals, that form the pages of her book, RE-encounters.  Views from the Field.  Here she has used vintage material, repurposed letters from the newspapers, and bouncing images of sheep.  Judith took 28 words that begin with ‘RE’ and gave them to 28 individuals who are part of her daily life.  She asked them to provide her with a text.  Re-count, re-direct, re-fresh, re-new are amongst the words chosen.  It is a delightful book and is available at the Manitoba Craft Council Shop on Cumberland.

Thumbing through the pages of RE-encounters made me recall part of my life tas a rural potter.  I lived in Graysville, Manitoba.  It is roughly eleven miles west of Carman Manitoba.  There was grain storage, a church, a school, and the general store run by Ada and Howard Stephenson.  The railway line that went all the way to Snow Valley had been removed.  The young people were leaving.  Most of the farms were getting larger and larger.  Some, like my neighbours to the east, used an old tractor and didn’t spray.  None of the ‘new fangled’ technology there.  I loved Graysville and the people who lived there.  And there are times when I miss them all.  I had a marvellous friend, Walter Toews.  He lived with his family near Graysville.  Walter was a teacher, and in his spare time, he raised sheep.  It has been so long ago now that I have forgotten some of the details but..in a nutshell.  Sometimes Walter’s ewes had twins.  And sometimes the mothers didn’t want to have to contend with two sheep so they would push one aside.  At other times, ewes whose lambs had died decided to literally butt in and try and take those of another mother.  Looking at their faces and their soft woolly bodies one would never imagine such things.  They are so cute.  Walter had heard about me from someone, perhaps his daughter who used to come and babysit my children, Cris and Jaine.  At any rate, it came to pass that Walter would give me the orphan lambs.  He didn’t have the time to deal with them.   So, they went in my basement at the beginning because the barn was too cold.  Yes, you read it right – lambs in the basement.  They were fed with bottles of milk from Elsie, the cow.  We were all gleeful when they were around.  The idea was that they would become outdoor pets used for their wool,  and die of old age.  Then one summer, the vegetables in the garden were getting eaten by some kind of worm.  It was taking its toll but, looking up and down, produced no sight of caterpillars or any other insect crunch a munching on the broccoli.  Ah, but one day Jaine and Cris came to tell me that they had seen something so ‘cute’ – it was the word they used.  Little Cindy was in the garden eating up all of the green beans!  Cute I asked myself.  Cute?!  This garden had been years in the making – getting rid of all the weeds and then having it killed by the farmer’s spray the second year.  This year there would be vegetables…an electric fence had been put around the area to keep the calves out.  But apparently, that lovely wool insulated the sheep.  They could go in and out.   We did get to eat those green beans one way or another…but I must thank Judith for bringing back those memories.  Someone asked her why she chose sheep and Judith replied it was because they were innocuous.  I smiled and didn’t say anything.  Shrewd might be the word I would use!

I want to thank the Manitoba Craft Council for inviting me to be the facilitator of the discussion.  I gained more having met three talented women previously unknown to me and become re-acquainted with a former student.  It was my pleasure.

Loaded! And Ready to go…

The students in the wood fire class at the School of Art fired their first kiln load a month ago.  It was so cold that day and the wind just whipped through our coats right to the bone with a sharp chill.  It is hard to believe but it will actually be warmer in Winnipeg tomorrow when this kiln is fired.  How many times have I said that we are blessed?

The students did a great job.  Julia cleared the entire kiln courtyard of snow before Monique and Kendra started loading.  Jiawei, Kewan, and Hyounjung helped to sort all of the work and everyone pitched in wadding work if it needed it.  We loaded the kiln keeping in mind that The Laidback Wood Fire book by my friend Steve Harrison says to place the bag wall in the front.  Markus Bohm puts it at the back and in the end Steve has abandoned a bag wall altogether and gone with a tight stack in the middle.  Ours is a combination of all of those.  Pots were placed in the extended throat to slow and move the flames about.  Kewan’s arches are helping to keep the flames contained on the floor at the back and on the first shelf.  We listened and did not load the top as tight as we did before and there is room all around for the flames to travel.  Fingers crossed.  These students have worked hard and learned a lot – although I doubt if they fully comprehend all that they have learned yet.  Sara, Anastasia, and Alexandra put the finishing touches on bricking up the door.  It all starts in the wee hours of the morning when Sara does the gas pre-heat.  Stay posted…firing pictures to follow on Sunday.  We unload the kiln on Friday with high hopes.

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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!

 

 

‘She’ is just about finished…needs some tweaking for the next firing. Did we learn anything?

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.

End of Day 5: The Kiln is Finished! Matt Boyd laid the last brick in the last course of the chimney around 4:45pm. Wow.

Everyone has either brought bisque work or created objects that will be loaded tomorrow.  The kiln will be fired with dry Poplar logs on Thursday for about 14 hours so that we can reach cone 14.

Markus mixed up some amazing short bodied heavily grogged clay.  All of the participants and Markus worked on the wheels (Diane Laluk made masks) and those vessels have been drying in the kiln room or out in the sun to be loaded tomorrow raw.  Can’t wait to see how the lick of the flames changes them.

It has been a great experience.  Everyone seems to have much more confidence, realized talents and muscles they hadn’t used for awhile, and made some new friends.  You literally could feel the ‘cooperation and respect’.

Now if you are looking for some experience building a similar kiln and live near Maple Creek Saskatchewan, get in touch with Zach and Adrienne at Smiling Cow Studios.  They already have their pad ready and will start the build in about a week.  Zach is an incredibly nice guy – drive over and give them a hand.  I am certain that they would come and help you!  Pass along this information to anyone that you know.

This Bourry box kiln with the extended throat should fire beautifully using little wood.  It is time to think of the environment and to slow down.  Will post some of the images when the pieces come out of the kiln!  There are going to be some beauties!

Need a chimney built? Rebecca Wong from Vancouver can really swing a mallet. Helping out is Zach Quin, Smiling Cow Studio, Maple Creek Saskatchewan

It is Day 4.  The arch of the main chamber is up and cast.  Tomorrow there will be lots of welding and the chimney will go up while the lid to the firebox is cast…everything looks like it is a go for a firing on Thursday.  Fingers crossed!

If you are looking for a great kiln builder that knows the importance of using good materials so your kiln will last, the need to save the environment (less wood) and someone who can truly build a smokeless kiln, then look no further than Markus Boehm.