Rankin Inlet. The name, the location, hardly register for many as a site for ceramic work. Yet, for over a dozen years from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s it was the focal point for Inuit experimentation and development in clay. The literature and documentation on the period and work are voluminous. But much of it is in academic theses, government archives and arctic related journals. So much there and so many gaps still to be filled in the stories of modern Canadian ceramics.
May 2022 give you good health and success. Thank you to all who connected with us in 2021, sharing thoughts and support.
For this year expect new pages on such topics as Rankin Inlet Ceramics – the Early Years, Dean Mullavey, Roseline Delisle, and Luke Lindoe; and updated pages on artists such as Ernst and Alma Lorenzen. And more.
Successful firings to artists, and success in finding that special piece for collectors.
Good things continue to come out of Atlantic Canada and Goose Lane Editions that add more professional insight, and documentation to the story of studio ceramics in the region. The latest is a heavily colour-illustrated catalogue for the retrospective exhibition, Walter Ostrom: Good Earth: The Pots and Passion of Walter Ostrom. Although the exhibition ran from October 2020 to March 2021 at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia the more recent catalogue is a solid and much needed history of Ostrom’s life, work, and philosophy.
The exhibition was curated by Shannon Parker with Judy Hollenbach and Sandra Alfody.
Although most know of Ostrom’s work through his earthenware, the catalogue gives details of his artistic development, his experimentation in clays, glazes, new forms. and even his glance into 3D software. What comes across is passion: passion for the medium; passion for never staying in one place artistically; and a passion that he communicated to his students.
The title is a play on several levels ranging from Ostrom’s love of earthenware and his love of plants and nature arising from the earth.
There are also explorations of his need to break free from limitations and conventions be they of the political or art vs craft discussion.
The catalogue consists of fourteen sections, eleven of which contain the meat of the Ostrom story, with eight contributing authors.
Walter Ostrom by Paul Greenhalgh provides a short overview of Ostrom in a broad historical context but he sets the stage with this summary”
” Artist, teacher, historian: Walter Ostrom is a force of nature, a whirlwind of energy, and a vital contributor to Canadian and international art.”
Ceramics at the Edge by Alan Elder touches on the revolutionary, almost anarchistic early leanings of Ostrom. This shifts into an overview of the development of crafts in the early ’60s looking at the changes in attitude in professional crafts the and the establishment of educational centres and schools, and the influence of regionalism in Canada. The chapter shifts into an analysis of NSCAD, its development, reorientation and reprogramming to newer theories about craft and design.
History as Content/Tradition as Idea. The Art of Walter Ostrom by Ray Cronin looks at Ostrom’s artistically disruptive changes in his art that happened at NSCAD under Garry Kennedy, and the explorations that Ostrom took in conceptual art in concert with an international array of artists and ceramists. This would lead to explorations in post modernism as he combines the shapes and motifs of widely different cultures into one piece: for example Chinese and Greek combinations.
Walter Ostrom—Master of Earnestness, Prince of Curiosity by Mary Boyd touches on the influence of other cultures and personalities on Ostrom and delves into extensive detail on Ostrom’s love of and influence on modern Chinese ceramics, with visits to China including Jingdezhen. Ostrom was also an international influencer in a tremendous cross fertilization between his Australian and many Chinese associates and fellow potters, who themselves became major leaders in ceramic production and teaching.
Walter Ostrom’s Passionate Pedagogy by Julie Hollenbach not only deals with Ostrom’s philosophy and again, his love of Chinese and Japanese art and history, but also his investigations with items such as Lantz clay, particularly from the student perspective.
His teaching style was filled often with humor and eccentricity but also felt relaxing. The studio was not a tight rigid or serious place. Ostrom’s students universally talk of the excitement of his teachings:
“Along with his championing the use of Lantz clay, Walter also pushed his students to abandon their preconceptions of clay and their assumptions regarding how to make ‘good work.'”
Especially remembered are his experiments with and without pottery wheels. At first he removed the wheels from the studio and challenged students to make the largest pots they possibly could without the use of the wheel. Later he would suspend wheels from the ceiling to challenge students to make pots using gravity and centrifugal forces. Another time he would have students make pots without using their hands and they would then use or make pots with their faces feet and elbows:
“This would reshape students expectations about the possibilities of working with clay and throwing forms, and ultimately pushed them beyond the traditional and familiar.”
What you see is not what you get: The pots of Walter Ostrom by Ursula Hargens. Hargens, a former student of Ostroms, analyses the complexities of clay, form, and subject matter that Ostrom used and developed. From stoneware he moved into and maintained a love of earthenware, upending the supremacy of stoneware and porcelain. Lantz clay was to be one of the signature foundations of his work. He involved himself in political and historical topics that might surprise many: for example his Lady Macbeth soap dish series is a protest against American and British air strikes against Iraq in the early 2000.
Although he might have started with something as basic as a flower pot his forms became complex and evolved not only through manual manipulation but also through explorations in 3D imagery of forms, and the exploration of interior and exterior surfaces, shapes and nuances.
Hargens’ essay is followed by a forty eight page catalogue of large, superbly coloured photographs indicating the range of Ostrom’s work: his shapes, his processes, his designs, his colours, and his subjects. The detail seen in each of the pictures is amazing in that each gives another indication of what Ostrom is capable of and interested in accomplishing. Many who know of Ostrom have a limited range of appreciation of the scope of his forms, and inspirations. This mid-book catalogue section is an eye opener.
Walter Ostrom: Impressions by Emily Galusha. The last part of the catalogue looks at a more personal, biographical side of Walter Ostrom. Galusha delves into not only his history, ranging from early biochemistry studies up to the present, but also the feelings and thoughts that Ostrom and his wife, Elaine, both share and how they compliment each other in their relationship and their evolution together. Galusha binds together insights into the movement and the relationships between the various influences on Ostrom and the things that he will carry forward or discard once he has resolved an issue or a process.
2014 Regis Master Lecture edited by Emily Galusha. This final major section is a presentation by Ostrom. It is deeply personal. The man speaks about his own life and art that have an intimacy seldom seen in ceramic literature.
Curriculum Vitae Walter Ostrom, C. M. This resume is extensive. The calendar of education exhibitions, awards, teachings, and publications is a potential treasure trove for further research.
The final section is a much needed list of the works to supplement the earlier pictorial catalogue.
It is obvious that Walter Ostrom had much input to the development of the exhibition and catalogue. The title says its all: Pots and Passion. One can only hope that the quality and depth of such books on ceramics will continue.
Good Earth: the pots and passions of Walter Ostrom. Hardcover, 175 pages. 23.5 x 28.7 cm cover; text 21.6 x 27.9 cm. Published by Goose Lane Editions, Fredericton, New Brunswick. March 16, 2021; $50 Canadian. ISBN: 9781773101972
I have mentioned the Studio Pottery Canada website – http://www.studiopotterycanada.ca/ – before. The site is a much needed addition to the history of Canadian Studio Ceramics.
In a new article on the BC potter, Des Loan, the author, Cliff Schwartz, in concert with Loan’s son-in-law, Peter Flanagan, has shown his skill in research, documentation, and high quality photo-documents, including marks and signatures. Cliff is a collector who truly loves the subject of his research. With a focus on British Columbia ceramics, particularly the Okanagan Valley, he has produced a well-designed website that informative and a pleasure to read.
Cliff describes his site:
Pottery enthusiast learning about the history of this Canadian art form and curating samples from the best in the field pre-1980.
A modest statement, but a powerful addition to the Canadian ceramics story.
Scroll through the home page and read further articles on Gordon Hutchens, and The Summerland Art League; or click on the tabs for extensive sections on Wayne Ngan, and a gallery of BC and Alberta artists
The internet is a marvellous tool to bring much needed information on publications on ceramists to a wide audience: books such as Sea Salt, Lizards and Clay.
Sea Salt, Lizards and Clayis not just a textual but also an extensive visual autobiography of Santo Mignosa from his earliest days in Sicily, through his studies in Florence, to his many years in Canada, especially BC. I will leave the provocative meaning of the book title to those who read the book.
A foreword by ceramist and historian Debra Sloan sets the context for Mignosa’s place in ceramic history. The meat of book is a much illustrated biography that includes My Story, an Author’s Note and Author Statement. What follows are sections on what may surprise many who know of Mignosa only through his BC pottery. There is so much more to the man with sections on Figurative Sculptures, Abstract Sculptures, Murals, Drawings, and Wheel Throwing, from his earliest years up into his latest life and activities in Aldergrove, BC.
There are recollections from his partner, Susan Gorris, and memories from artists Ken Clarke and Susan Marczak. His detailed curriculum vitae — yes he is an octogenarian artist who maintains an extensive resume of an extensive career — can only hint at the scope of Mignosa’s work in BC and internationally; and of course, of his influence on so many Canadian students and professional potters. The many illustrations of his work give a much needed display of a career that has roots in both the Italian Renaissance and 20th century Modernism.
MIgnosa’s range of ceramic work is impressive both in form and in scale. His functional wares are sturdy and colourful, with overtones of the Leach tradition; but he has also been comfortable throwing large “classical” amphora-style works, well over a metre in height. A favourite sculptural form is his abstract sculptures, frequently with Surrealistic overtones, with, for example, a face emerging from a clay matrix. Others are large vase and cylinder forms capped or enveloped by penetrated and lightly incised mantle- or cape-like extensions. Frequently with raw, unglazed surfaces these can be seen standing like sentinels or massive chess pieces lining a wall of his studio.
Then there are his figurative sculptures, especially the nude as a favoured subject. The influence of his studies in Florence, of the Italian Renaissance and Classical sculpture, are most evident here; and in works such as Springtime there is a nod to Art Deco.
Clay is in the very bone of Santo Mignosa himself. As he says:
“For me, clay is not just a medium through which I create objects. It is an inseparable part of me, a constant companion in which I find comfort, fulfillment and pleasure in its versatility and applications.”
Sea Salt, Lizards and Clay is a needed and welcome addition to the story of ceramics in Canada.
Sea Salt, Lizards and Clay. My ceramics from the Mediterranean to the Rockies. Santo Mignosa. Granville Island Publishing, Vancouver BC. 2020. 126 pages.
ISBN: 9781989467329(softcover). $25.95 CAD, $20.95 USD. Available via your local bookstore, or Amazon.ca ISBN: 9781989467275 (hardcover). $45.95 CAD, $40.95 USD. Please contact the Publisher for this version.
For over forty years they have been a mainstay of Nova Scotia pottery. Although their work displays their individual interests and talents, it is always recognizable as their distinctive brand, Birdsall-Worthington pottery. Their earthenware works reach across many genres including functional, commemorative and jewellry.
Enjoy their story and let them know how much you appreciate their art and contribution to Canadian studio ceramics.
The bilingual Peter Powning A Retrospective/ Peter Powning Une rétrospective, from the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, is a much-needed addition to the history and understanding of contemporary ceramics and sculpture in Canada. It is encouraging to see such major recognition for an artist, even in these difficult times.
Powning’s work does not fit easily into one artistic medium or category. He has created works in ceramics, glass, bronze, and paper for pottery and sculpture, both free standing and architectural. A major, multi-award winner, Powning has received among other honours, the 1991 Deichmann Award for Excellence in Craft, the 1993 Strathbutler Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the 2006 Saidye Bronfman Award for Excellence in Crafts in Canada.
This hardcover book of 192 pages is a detailed and full-colour presentation of Powning’s life and work. It is extensive, as much biography as critique.
The book is edited by John Leroux, Manager of Collections and Exhibitions at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery. He has organized insightful articles, helping the reader understand the scope and complexities of Powning’s varied artistic output and life. They dig deeply into the “who” of this multi-faceted artist as well as into the “what” and the “why”, much more so than the standard exhibition catalogue.
The articles’ authors include Rachel Gotlieb on Expanding Ceramic and Craft Practices in Canada; Peter Laroque on Exploration, Experimentation, Self-Sufficiency, and Technical Mastery in the 1970s and 1980s; John Grande on Art into Time; and Allen Bentley’s look at The Mythic Basis of Peter Powning’s Art. An afterword by Peter’s wife, Beth gives a seldom seen look at the man as artist and husband. The articles also have integrated colour illustrations that add clarity to their commentary without the reader having to flip back and forth through pages.
The articles, each with its own focus, share details that combine them into a well-structured whole.
Gotlieb brings her experience at the Gardiner Museum and Sheridan College to describe the context of the time of the Pownings’ coming to Canada: key influencing artists of the time, the Powning lifestyle choices, and an overview of Powning’s media and process explorations.
Larocque focuses more on the New Brunswick elements of Powning’s activist choices and career, including his family and studio set up, and his political and artistic networking to develop the visibility and quality of New Brunswick crafts.
Grande delves more into technical and aesthetic development, revealing Powning’s media choices and directions with particularly interesting analyses of specific works and Powning’s own reflections on the success and surprises of his explorations.
Bentley presents a more scholarly tone exploring the nature of myth and the links to Powning’s long-term interest in the subject.
But there is more. The book is blessed with an abundance of high-quality illustrations, all in full colour, of Powning’s works. The one hundred and fourteen plates, arranged chronologically from 1971 to 2019, give a sense of his shifts and explorations in media, scope and purpose. All are listed with title, date and media, a blessing for any researcher. At the very back is a more traditional catalogue-type listing of one hundred thirty-two coloured thumbnails of works. The scope of the collection, is impressive for one artist.
The book would be a meaningful addition to a library, be it of a collector, museum, art dealer, or school. It is also an excellent example of “what could be”, a possible norm for displaying and documenting ceramics and ceramists in Canada. One can dream.
Good things are afoot when pottery collectors and connoisseurs come online to share their information and collections. Less than a year ago Cliff Schwartz and his page on the Schwenks. Cliff has an interest in BC ceramics. particularly the Okanagan. You can see the Schwenk page at www.schwenkpottery.ca . But the surprise is there is more: more artist information on such contemporaries as Axel Ebring, Walter Dexter, Zeljko Kujundzic, Des and Peggy Loan, Frank Poll, and Frances Hatfield.
And still more. Cliff has another site studiopotterycanada.ca . that he started in 2018. He modestly describes the site:
This purpose of this site is to tell and preserve some of the stories of Canadian potters and thus serve as a source of information to collectors, researchers and enthusiasts.
Studio Pottery Canada primarily focuses on pottery thrown before 1980 and is intended to supplement (not compete with) other on-line sources of information about the potters of Canada.
Cliff’s images and information are marvellous. Enjoy his sites
I have added a page on Ontario potter, entrepreneur and animateur Donn Zver.
A key figure in developing and sustaining pottery in Ontario, Donn Zver has created a workplace and body of work that has earned him the wide respect not only of fellow potters but also the admiration and friendship of customers .
Valerie Metcalfe at 1000 Miles Apart conference, University of Manitoba. October, 2015.
Valerie Metcalfe.. 2017. Skyscape/Landscape plate. Porcelain, solder, glass. 40.6 cm w.
I have added a page on Winnipeg ceramist Valerie Metcalfe to Studio Ceramics Canada. Valerie has been a key ceramic artist in Winnipeg for over forty years. Her work varies from the elegantly functional to the eye-stopping artistic. The sample of works presented will give only a hint of her production but what a hint!
Enjoy the story of Valerie Metcalfe. Let her know how much you enjoy her work.