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!
Jack Sures had a strong connection with Manitoba. Born in Brandon in 1934, he started studying painting and printmaking at the University of Manitoba’s School of Art in 1954, when it was located downtown. After transferring to the University of Michigan and travelling to Europe and the Middle East, the young artist returned to Winnipeg to set up Jack Sures’s Studio on Portage Avenue in 1962. The late Charlie Scott said that ‘Sures ushered in the modern era of pottery making in the City’. This was, as far as Scott knew, the first independent ceramics studio in the City. It attracted other talents such as Tam Irving, Anne Marie Schmidt-Eisler (later to study with Harlan House under Albert Borch in Alberta), Muriel Guest, Jason Krpan and Gerry Tillapaugh. In 1965, the University of Regina attracted the talented artist and passionate teacher to lead up their ceramics programme. Sures retired from teaching in 1989.
Timothy Long in the exhibition catalogue for Fine Form, Saskatchewan Ceramics stated: ‘In the post-war period, pottery gained substantially in status, moving from a cottage industry to a subject of academic study. Leading the way in Saskatchewan was Jack Sures (Regina), who established the ceramics program at the University of Regina in 1965. Sures advocated that ceramics be considered an art form on par with painting and sculpture.’
Sures used all of his talents when he created works of sculpture, ceramic murals, vessels and tiles. He gathered up the influences of his studies abroad to add to his personal expression onto the surface of the clay and its form. Sures exhibited his work internationally and for his talents was recognized by his being awarded the Order of Canada (Companion) in 1991, the Saskatchewan Order of Merit in 2003, the Commemorative Medal of the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada for his significant achievement in the Arts, as well as the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012. More recently he was the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Excellence (2018).
For Sures clay was the most expressive artistic medium. Throughout his life, he remained fascinated with the way that the medium could reinvent itself. For this sculptor and vessel maker, throwing at the wheel was soothing for his soul. Sures often said that the richness of one’s life and spirit is reflected in their work and in turn, transferred to the viewer. Sures will be sadly missed.
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!