Ann Mortimer RCA

Ann Mortimer, A Capsule Introduction

Ann Mortimer with a Woven Bowl. 1980

Ann Mortimer with a Woven Bowl. 1980

Ann Mortimer in Fuping, China. 2007

Ann Mortimer in Fuping, China. 2007


Dates: 1934 – present
Production Dates: 1970 – retired 2014
Location: Newmarket, Ontario.
Types of Work: early, functional and some production; currently, mostly sculptural.
Preferred Kiln Type: primarily and currently electric; some gas in earlier work.
Preferred Clay: some stoneware but mostly porcelain.

Ann Mortimer's Mark

Ann Mortimer’s Mark



Ann Mortimer, A Short Biography

Ann Mortimer is, and has been, not only an internationally recognized ceramist but also the “goto person” for organizing many major Canadian and international ceramic events. She is one of the key influencers in our ceramic world. She is not only a well-travelled artist but also has the knack for connecting with other key players in ceramics. Ann has two widely recognized qualities that have helped her: organization and persistence. But she also has two that are less commented on, a sense of humour and humility. Ann is a self-confessed, organized person and laughs at being called organized by her colleagues. She believes her discipline came from her teacher-father and from her nursing training, and credits this for much of her success.1

There were no obvious early indications of her later ceramic career. Ann had no art training in high school and in her early years she was more involved with music, playing the French horn, flute and piccolo.1 She had three earlier careers: as a nurse, a flight attendant, and later as mother of two sons. While two sons kept her busy Ann wanted something else and began to explore crafts. Initially she did not work with clay. She started “crafts” at Kingcrafts, King City, Ontario, in the 1960s as a mature student via fibre, in smocking.

“I was smocking nighties and dresses in anticipation of having a daughter.” 1

And of course she had instead two sons.

At Kingcrafts she made her first vase. Her new ceramics development started with a ½ day, twice a month schedule.1 However, she soon realized that working only two days a month was impractical. There was too much time between forming, drying and firing. What eventually opened the door for her was her taking a ceramics course at the Hockley Valley School of Fine Arts with Merton Chambers in 1963. Soon she was also working with other Ontario notables such as Jack and Lorraine Herman, Ron Roy and Roman Bartkiw. It was Merton Chambers who “turned her on” to clay. He was an artist who was also a model for her own later teaching style. Ann admits she could have easily gone into fibre but Merton helped her set her direction.1

“He was a fine teacher, encouraging, helpful on an individual basis. There was a quietness and calmness about the man.” 1


Gordon Barnes, a colleague and teacher at Central Technical School in Toronto, built her an electric kiln in the basement of her home. Now she could become more serious. Thus, like many potential artists of the time, she came to pottery part-time. Unlike most, however, she never stayed at the part-time, amateur level. But it was still slow-going in the beginning.

“It was great, but I needed an above-ground studio…I was always having to work around hockey socks and dripping nylons when working in the basement.” 1


Ann soon felt the need for more formal training. After Hockley Valley there was an initial short-term attempt at studies at Sheridan College but the critical event was her decision to enroll in the new ceramics program at the much closer Georgian College in Barrie with Robin Hopper. Surprisingly her start was shaky, nervous. Ann’s career could just as easily have taken another direction. She had to steel her nerve to register for the courses. Her ceramic career almost never happened. Of her supposedly forty minute car drive to register she says:

“I only intended to take two courses, glaze chemistry and the history of ceramics…I started from Newmarket at 8:30 in the morning and arrived at Georgian College at 3:30 pm. A mere distance of 30 miles. I was full of self doubt about my abilities” 1

She started Georgian college in 1970 and completed the three year program in two years, graduating in 1972. Ann then undertook an extra year of study. Unlike Kingcrafts where everyone was mature, a mature student at Georgian in the early ’70s was a rarity.¹ Her potential as an artist and teacher was quickly identified:

“The summer following my extra year of study my teaching career was launched. English potter Roger Kerslake was hired with Robin remaining responsible for the history of ceramics and glaze chemistry courses. Then Robin decided that he wished to only work in his own studio. He contacted me and asked if I wanted to teach those two courses. I said, ‘No.’” 1

However, Robin, would not take “no” for a final answer and had students personally call Ann to say that they would be pleased to have her teach them. Ann laughs:

“He got me… I did 12 hours of teaching each week on two days. Full time was 18 hours. The problem became obvious. If you were not there more frequently, the work you had assigned to your students never got into the kilns so next week’s assessment of what they had obtained was not possible. I said that I wanted to be full time or not there at all. I was given full time.” ¹

Ann soon appreciated that she could share her own excitement and experience. She had accumulated so much information she had to share it. On top of this she enjoyed being able to travel and meet people. Her teaching career was fully confirmed after the departure of Hopper. Roger Kerslake, did not want to teach history or chemistry and was happy to let Ann do those courses.

Her teaching experience in her early years took her to the Banff Centre, and then around the world.

The years 1978 to 1981, however, were critical years in Ann’s life. Life and death and a quest for meaning and identity emerge.

Ann Mortimer's Studio

Ann Mortimer’s Studio

Soon after the death of her husband in 1978, she hired an architect and built a house and an above ground studio high on a hill on the outskirts of Newmarket.

During this time she met and impressed two key players in the North American ceramic world, Margie Hughto and Garth Clark.

”I met American ceramist Margie Hughto while attending a two week ceramic history course given by Garth Clark in Bennington, Vermont. Following my husband’s death in 1978, Garth and Margie decided to offer me the position of international co-ordinator of a conference which was to be held in Syracuse, New York, in conjunction with the “100 years of American Ceramics” exhibition which was to be held at the Everson Museum. It was their way to help me get back on my feet after Norm’s sudden death. Margie was a curator at the Everson and ran a series of residencies which were titled “New Works in Clay Series”. There were several, and exhibited work by “visitors” to Clay like Helen Frankenthaler, Mary Frank , Anthony Caro, etc. They were painters, sculptors etc. and each group exhibited their work at the Everson. I was invited by Margie to be in “New Works in Clay 111.” The deal was that you decided in advance what you wanted to do, let Margie know and then she and her assistants would prepare, in advance, the materials that you needed. There were no wheels in the studio. I said that I would like to work with slabs and to my amazement, when I arrived, I was met with about 15 large tables covered in all ready pounded out slabs of clay. I was told just to go ahead and if I needed any help lifting up or turning over these slabs just to let one of the assistants know and they would help.” 1

The door to future residencies had now been opened. The triad of artist, influencer and teacher was now complete.

Her teaching and work soon had her involved with other organizations. A partial list includes: President of the Canadian Guild of Potters; President of the Canadian Crafts Council; President of the Ontario Crafts Council; founding member of Ceramic Masters Canada; involvement with the World Crafts Council; coordinator for the first (and later series) International Ceramics Symposium in Syracuse, New York, with Garth Clark; and in the late 1970s with Clark, was one of three founders of the Institute for Ceramic History, now the Ceramic Arts Foundation. The fourth of the symposia series, ‘Edges: In Thought, In History, In Clay’ was in Toronto in 1983. She was also a Saidye Bronfman Award nominee and juror. In 1988, she was elected to the International Academy of Ceramics. In 2000 she received the Order of Canada. In 2001 she was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts. Her support of her fellow ceramists has brought her invitations to lead workshops, lecture and exhibit all over the world, including China, Japan, Australia, England, France and Scotland.

Residencies and Honours

Ann and John delivering their audio visual presentation of Canadian Connections in Syracuse. 1980

Ann and John Chalke delivering their audio visual presentation of Canadian Connections in Syracuse. 1980

Over the years, Ann has also accepted invitations to travel and work at locations in Logan, Utah, and in Foshan, Fuping Pottery Village and San Bao/Jingdezhen, China. She has always taken opportunities to work alongside other international artists, to work on a larger scale and to have access to assistance, processes and equipment that are not available in her Newmarket studio.7

Ann has not only exhibited widely she has also shared her extensive collection of ceramic works – hers and other artists – to museums, including the Gardiner Museum and the Burlington Art Centre, and to several international museums.

Meanwhile in spite of all of this activity Ann was always able to create new ceramic pieces and explore new areas of form and design; an obvious benefit to being organized.

Ann Mortimer in China

Ann Mortimer in China

Gallery and Analysis

General Thoughts

For such a prolific creator and exhibitor Ann candidly admits she is not a drawer and does not see herself as a thrower.1 Her professional work follows a familiar arc from functional to artistic, but since her student days she has always shown a creative maturity that is frequently playful, occasionally intensely reflective.

Of her market she says:

“I am aware of the market. People prefer the matte glaze, raku and spheres. They ignore the bowls with the glossy glazes. …I just want some time to do what I really want to do. When I first started to work in my new studio I intended to produce a line of functional work. It did not take me long to realize that I was only producing work for my annual studio sale and then not having the needed time to explore the many ideas that were percolating. I stopped this annual event. 1

From her more monochromatic early years it seems that foreign travel, China and Hawaii for example, opened her eyes to new shapes, new colours, new scale, and often new production challenges. The core slip-casting, press-moulding and hand-building are there but in multi-coloured, functional shapes and sculptures.

The constant in her creativity is her object-forming and experimental approach: how do I cast this, press this, hand-build this? There is a continual revisiting, opening up and then returning to more closed forms. Most of her work is based on the cast or pressed curve whether circular or ovoid, open or closed. Striking exceptions are her wall plates and Syracuse sculptural works. Sometimes she also opened up her spheres, inserted faces, and later, ladders to the sandblasted rim.

Generally, apart from some of her spheres, Ann does not much use subtractive surface techniques such as carving, piercing or sgraffito. Her preference is to explore the overall form itself, matching the glaze and clay, their colour and texture, to surfaces and contours. Occasionally, as in the Quillions, she will add other media.

Early Works and Functional Ware

Ann Mortimer. From the Office of the President, 1972. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre. Donated by the Artist, 1997. 20.0 x 90.0 x 60.0, Porcelain, slip cast, altered, air brushed glazes, oxidation fired.

Ann Mortimer. From the Office of the President, 1972. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre.Donated by the Artist, 1997. 20.0 x 90.0 x 60.0, Porcelain, slip cast, altered, air brushed glazes, oxidation fired.

Ann’s sense of humour is evident in her years at Georgian College. From the Office of the President, 1972, is a ceramic play on her love of organization. The work is technically and compositionally sophisticated for so early a time in her career. It does show her creative potential and her skill with technical processes. Although she would later explore illusion in such items as her wall plaques and play with common forms in her cups and saucers, the hyper-realism of this work is unusual. Later her groupings and themes would be based on sculptural arrangements of similar objects such as birds and Quillions.

Ann Mortimer. First Juried Exhibition Sculpture. nd.

Ann Mortimer. Untitled. First Juried Exhibition Sculpture. n.d.

Ann, ever organized, perhaps sentimental, has a personal collection of her own work from her student and early years, including her first work accepted into a juried exhibition. It is quite different from her later work in its rough, almost raw appreciation of the nature of clay and glaze. Is it topographical, the confluence of river valleys between stoney, mountain plateaus; or is it domestic, a baked loaf of bread ready to be broken into its parts? Like many of her early and student works this seems to be an exploration, an essay into her potential. She was not to repeat this ruggedness of form. But it did open up the world of exhibitions and galleries to her.

Ann Mortimer Salt fired plate, n.d.

Ann Mortimer Salt fired plate, n.d.

Although she is less known for them today, Ann has always enjoyed making bowls and plates.1 Like many artists the early part of her career was occupied with making functional ware. Most of her early plates, bowls, mugs and dinner-ware were made utilizing a potter’s wheel. Many are quite colourful, Some are monochromatic, in black, white and greys. These latter contrast with the intense colour of much of her later works. The clay surface itself is smooth, the glaze glossy. Their scale is usually larger than her current production ware. Some of such early work was actually made for use by her own family.

“These pieces were made during my initial attempts in the early 80′s to produce a line of functional ware. It did not take me too long to realize that this was not to be the correct path for me to follow. That is when I became even more involved in volunteer work such as the Canadian Crafts Council. I was living alone on the hill and needed the companionship of others.” ¹

Ann Mortimer. Woven Bowl. n.d. Collection of Brian Cooke

Ann Mortimer. Woven Bowl. n.d. Collection of Brian Cooke

Ann also produced woven or lattice-work forms in this period. She says she loves weaving with the clay, “It’s comfortably loose.” 1 Compare this with the organic, fibrous quality of her later noodle cups, not woven but still in a loose form. These woven bowls are an echo of her earlier craft explorations in fibre.


Ann Mortimer. Functional Bowl and Plate Set

Ann Mortimer. Functional Bowl and Plate Set

In Ann’s current line of functional ware the forms are simple, controlled and precise, both in form and design elements.1 With a white base and simple multi-coloured lines of geometric or organic shapes  and borders they reflect sometimes a southwest-Indian inspiration or a Zen-like simplicity of painted form. Inspiration comes to her continually from many sources.


Ann Mortimer. Blasted Sphere. n.d.

Ann Mortimer. Blasted Sphere. n.d.

Ann started her spheres, a well known theme, while creating works at Georgian because she did not have a sandblaster at home. They are slip cast in two pieces. Sometimes circular holes are drilled to help define the surface as elements, dark counterpoints to a honeycomb ridge of hexagons and perfect, globular smoothness. The elements are a tight play of basic geometric shapes against a spherical plane. With these purer, white porcelain forms there was invariably a frustration with galleries to get them displayed properly. Her desire was to have them mounted and lit from below to highlight the subtle translucence of the porcelain surfaces, whether smooth, pierced or raised.

Ann Mortimer. Pierced World, 1983

Ann Mortimer. Pierced World, 1983

Other spheres are multi-coloured, planetary or geological in look, with names like Neptune, or Pierced World. They display the smooth surface of a gaseous, Jovian planet, or portray a satellite view of oceans and continents ripped open by an apocalyptic, tectonic cracking of global fault lines. Many of these spheres are quite large, prefiguring her later explorations and challenges in producing her umbrella series.

Bird/Bud/Fish, Teacocks and Planters: 1970 – present

Ann Mortimer. Bird/Bud/Fish Form. n.d.

Ann Mortimer. Bird/Bud/Fish Form. n.d.

This series includes some of her best known signature works. They are organic shapes, again made using a two-piece plaster mould. Initially they were displayed as abstract birds but Ann discovered that if she re-positioned them they would also have a bud or fish appearance. Thus the “bird-bud-fish” title.


Ann Mortimer. Birds 1970's. Porcelain, slip cast, slips and glazes, oxidation fired

Ann Mortimer. Birds 1970’s. Porcelain, slip cast, slips and glazes, oxidation fired.

“I have long investigated a single shape and have discovered that it can be suggestive of a bird, a fish or an organic form. When penetrated and altered, it has become a planter, a vase or a teapot. Sections may be joined to present new interpretations. The form may be altered when soft or sandblasted at different stages. They have been exhibited singly, in pairs or in larger groupings. Surfaces have been unglazed, smoothly glazed, highly textured or covered with hand-made papers or lustres. Wood, salt, electric, gas and garbage firings have all added to the variations.” 7

The form started as an assignment at Georgian College to produce a two-part moulded work that could be easily reproduced. 8  The slip-moulded shapes are sensuous, a delight to hold as the hands cup and move around the surface, almost remodelling it, squeezing the clay at the tips to finish the tactile experience.

Ann Mortimer. Encrustation Series 2000. Purchased by Helen Gardiner.

Ann Mortimer. Encrustation Series 2000. Purchased by Helen Gardiner.

The Quillions are at the same time an exploration of a new effect for a proven form but also a stabilization of the “bud nature” of the shape. The technical aspects of creation in the moulding, glazing and firing are the same but the opening up of one squeezed end produces new possibilities for multi-media and group arrangements. Single porcupine quills or multiple nylon filaments break up the surrounding space, catching and scattering light in opposition to the often matte coloured surfaces of the buds’ glaze and texture. Some of this series are arranged on a round table-like base with parts of the bud drooping over the edge. Often in “family-like” triads they explore areas of negative space that are not possible in the individual forms.


Ann Mortimer. Revelation Series 1992.

Ann Mortimer. Revelation Series, 1992

Occasionally Ann will cut openings to penetrate her work. Revelation, one of her classic bud forms, has a piece of the surface cracked open to reveal a hidden world inside the form. The opening now gives the work a defined, frontal surface or viewpoint. Such works display her interest in attaching filament-media to these forms. In this case the filaments do not extend from the interior into the surrounding environment but rather invite the eye into an enclosed, internal, almost secret world. Filaments, strands, fibres, weaving are devices that Ann frequently uses throughout her career in a variety of series and media.

Ann Mortimer. Teacocks. n.d.

Ann Mortimer. Teacocks. n.d.

Teacocks are a further variation in the bird forms of the series. The form suggests a function. By adding a comb near the “beak,” a lid and a cavity-handle near the tail they now became a teapot. Thus the name Teacocks. Initially the lids were loose, and there was a penetration just beneath the beaks for a liquid to exit. However, so many lids were broken by viewers handling them in exhibitions she eventually ended up permanently sealing the lid  thereby removing its true function as a teapot. The works are not only typical of Ann’s exploring the possibilities of a form but also of her sense of humour.

Residency Outliers and Syracuse 1980-81

After the death of her husband in 1978, the following years, 1978 to 1981, were particularly hard, emotional years for Ann. Her work and formal style show a decidedly different, though temporary, direction in Syracuse. There is an emotional power not seen before or since. In style, form and title these works show a personal and artistic vision questioning the meaning of life, often with much pain. And yes there is even an ironic humour, as seen in her two “tombstone” works. Residencies have provided Ann with the opportunity to produce works with larger scale ideas by having the material, firing and physical assistance needed. The American ceramist Margie Hughto and the historian Garth Clark also provided much needed emotional support.

Ann Mortimer. Organized To the Very End. Collection of Rob and Mim O'Dowda

Ann Mortimer. Organized To the Very End. Collection of Rob and Mim O’Dowda

Ann’s initial work in Syracuse was an exploration of personal mortality, but with a personal, typically ‘Mortimer’ whimsy as she grappled with her feelings.

“Much to Margie’s initial consternation, the first things that I made were two tombstones. One was titled ” The Bird Lady” and it was decorated with reproductions of the bird shape that I have made for so many years. The other said “Organized to the Very End.” 1

One  of the full scale “tombstones” is in the collection of Rob and Mim O’Dowda, the other still stands in her garden next to her house and studio. Ann delights in showing visitors such works and joking about the epitaphs on each. Over the past thirty-plus years they have weathered well.

However, the works that soon followed are much different in look and emotion. They have a strong architectural element to them. There is a multi-part, installation effect, although the works are generally only around 50 to 70 cm high by 60 cm wide. They open up like doors of an Egyptian temple, to a mystery beyond. The elements and their edges are like welded or cut steel beams of some collapsing building. The works from 1980 are the most severe. Significantly, unlike the usual, more generic naming of works in her various series, these works are individually titled. This practice was to be more common from this time on.

Beyond Human Knowledge, 1981. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre. Purchased through a grant from the Walter and Duncan Gordon Charitable Foundation and the Canada Council Art Back Special Purchase Assistance Program, 1986. 45.0 x 110.0 x 57.0 , Clay with slip, oxides, residual salt firing, Raku

Beyond Human Knowledge, 1981. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre. Purchased through a grant from the Walter and Duncan Gordon Charitable Foundation and the Canada Council Art Back Special Purchase Assistance Program, 1986. 45.0 x 110.0 x 57.0 , Clay with slip, oxides, residual salt firing, Raku.

Beyond Human Knowledge is a funerary monument. An angled, almost collapsing structure, its edges and surfaces cut and scarred. The colour is of the clay itself, unadorned. The view is into a desolate space with a jaggedly fenestrated backdrop. The space itself would later contain two raku boxes containing the ashes of Ruth Gowdy McKinley. As Ann dealt with her pain she had also made a memorial for a fellow ceramist.

” … I then branched out and started to make 3 dimensional forms and each had some mysterious element or component. …When I completed the making stage, I returned to Newmarket. Margie’s  crew looked after the drying stage and bisque firing and then I returned to Syracuse for the decorating and final firing in a salt kiln on the campus of the university. … I had retained the ashes of Ruth Gowdy McKinley and put them in two small raku fired boxes which were placed between the front and back walls.” 1


Ann Mortimer. Lying Beyond the Limits of Ordinary Experience.1981. The Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY.

Ann Mortimer. Lying Beyond the Limits of Ordinary Experience.1981. The Everson Museum, Syracuse, NY.

Lying Beyond the Limits of Ordinary Experience is one of two works with a rare figurative focus. A face emerges from the ground wrapped in a gauze-like shroud, mysteriously sepulchral. The work is bleak, like a vision of some nuclear-blasted landscape. The face is viewed through a door with a collapsing lintel; the door is framed by rough adobe-like bricks that hint of ages long past. In the background rests one of Ann’s spheres, viewing the scene like a sentinel of some galactic tragedy. The collective power of such works is powerful: a similarly-themed work shown at the Koffler Gallery in Toronto elicited the comment, It could only have been made by a survivor of the holocaust” 1

Perhaps the creation of these works was cathartic, perhaps too overpowering. Ann never repeated the style or format again.

However, residencies such as this opened up the opportunity to delve more fully into the conceptual phase of her work where Ann could now rely on others for the practical items such as drying and firing. She exploited this approach later in her China experiences and Umbrella series discussed below.

Wall Plates: c.1986-c.1991

Ann Mortimer. Skyscape Wall Plate, 1990. Clay, slip cast, altered, airbrushed with oxides and glazes, oxidation fired. Approx. 30.0 x 30.0 x 1.5 cm.

Ann Mortimer. Skyscape Wall Plate, 1990. Clay, slip cast, altered, airbrushed with oxides and glazes, oxidation fired. Approx. 30.0 x 30.0 x 1.5 cm.

Other striking exceptions to Ann’s rounded ceramic forms are her wall plates. They too are visual outliers in the “look” of her work but are typical of her not staying with the obvious. Ann received an invitation to take part in a “Plate” exhibition:

”[A] long held desire to create pieces that could be hung on a wall, was the stimulus for this series of plates. I had been making three dimensional, walled structures and suddenly had the idea to flatten or collapse the exterior walls. By using an airbrush to spray glazes and stains, I was able to create the illusion of depth. In reality, the plates are only 1.5 cm. thick. It was fun to watch the visual contradiction that confronted those who saw the plates in exhibitions.” 7


Watching and listening to the viewers reactions to her works is quite typical of Ann. An acute observer of human behaviour she looks beyond accolades at exhibition openings.


Ann Mortimer, St. Andreas Fault 1990 Clay, slip cast, altered, airbrushed with oxides and glazes, oxidation fired. Approx. 30.0 x 30.0 x 1.5 cm.

Ann Mortimer, St. Andreas Fault 1990 Clay, slip cast, altered, airbrushed with oxides and glazes, oxidation fired. Approx. 30.0 x 30.0 x 1.5 cm.

The plates, painterly trompe l’oeils, contrast with her other works. They are brightly coloured vistas of gardens, skies and landscapes. The surrounding “wall frame” is distorted, a skewed quadrilateral, angular compared to her usual softly curved forms. Originally the “walls” physically projected from the surface; later she flattened the entire surface. The effect is almost surreal, Magritte-like in effect. Unlike the rounded, tactile sensuousness of her bird/bud/fish and sphere forms these are flat, planar, visual, to be viewed but not touched, to tease the mind and eye. They are a play on openness and containment, space and flatness at the same time. The work, San Andreas Fault, is a double, visual play, not only with its atmospheric, spatial illusion but also because she uses one of her global sphere motifs within the image.

Interestingly the garden frames are walls, not picket fences or hedge or flower rows. The sense of containment is complete on all four sides except for the single entry gate or window; sometimes there is no gate at all. The plates are thus at the same time enclosure and openness, tightly controlled, viewed from above, with a suggestion of another “beyond.”

Cups and saucers: c. 1992 – c.1999

With the completion of the wall plate series Ann keeps the colour in her work and returns to three dimensional forms. The cups and saucers are made using mainly a hump mould for the cups and a mixture of slump and hump for the saucers.1 Typically in her humorous fashion Ann comments on the sometimes tedious side of creating:

“The cups and saucers are made from tooooooo many small hand rolled coils!” 1


Ann Mortimer. Spring Tea. 1992. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre. Purchased through a donation from Lillian Forester, 1995. 6.0 x 14.5 x 14.5, Porcelain, coil built, glazed, low fire oxidation.

Ann Mortimer. Spring Tea. 1992. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre. Purchased through a donation from Lillian Forester, 1995. 6.0 x 14.5 x 14.5, Porcelain, coil built, glazed, low fire oxidation.

Ann sometimes felt she had a tendency to be too tight, too controlled and needed to move to a looser form.1 The resulting cups have an energy, a vitality and colour not seen before. They are more open, with a looseness in all their parts. The elements are hand rolled and shaped. Unlike her earlier works that are contained, often enclosed and geometric, these are vital, organic, with a quivering life force that reaches out into the surrounding space.

“When is a cup not a cup? While we traditionally associate a cup, particularly one to appear on a table, with a vessel to hold liquid, there are many other familiar objects that embrace a more liberal interpretation of a cup which do not involve the holding of any liquid. A buttercup for instance, is so called because of its shape and colour. My work has always sought to extend that category of visual experience, unfettered by the demand of strict function. Thus my inspiration for these pieces stemmed from having lived on a protean plantation on the island of Maui.” 7


Ann Mortimer. Velvet Invitation. n.d. Porcelain, coil built, glazed, low fire oxidation.

Ann Mortimer. Velvet Invitation. n.d. Porcelain, coil built, glazed, low fire oxidation.

The cups at the  same time invite us to touch – because of their subject and scale – but also make us hesitate because of their visual fragility. The colour is frequently almost neon-like, glowing in the light. Other artists such as the Surrealist Meret Oppenheim have played with a cup-and-saucer’s tactile, sensory contradictions, while today artists such as Barbara Tipton explore the visual and spatial paradox of two dimensional form and rough surfaces in the cup form.

The cups are not only ‘protean’ but also have a ragged loose-endedness, like fraying cloth. They display a colour and freedom that belie her jokingly ‘organized to the very end’ persona. The textural surfaces are different from her other work. Their visual paradox has the concurrent effect of familiarity and unfamiliarity. They not only suggest enclosing but also opening at the same time. They are delicate and delightfully non-functional. The saucer and handle establish their ‘functional’ image while simultaneously heightening the botanical-functional contradiction. Besides the original “protea” form the cups can also blossom like fiddlehead ferns or sea anemones.

Umbrellas: 1975 and then c. 2007 – 2011

Ann Mortimer. Umbrella Moulds in China

Ann Mortimer. Umbrella Moulds in China

The umbrella theme actually started in 1975 with one small umbrella but was developed more fully in 2005 on a visit to an umbrella factory in Jingdezhen, China. Ann saw it as another series opportunity. She has made at least eight trips to China in twenty one years.4 The umbrellas have been an exhibition success. One could say they have become her new signature pieces. She returned to China in 2007, 2008 and 2009 for further research and work, looking at moulds, glazes, decals and transfers, and shipping issues. Initially it was the riot of umbrella-colours that impressed Ann:


Ann Mortimer. Blossom and Dots. n.d. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre.

Ann Mortimer. Blossom and Dots. n.d. Collection of the Burlington Art Centre.

“…China. It was there that I developed a fascination with umbrellas. I went on a tour of a factory that made paper umbrellas, you know the kind you would hang on your walls. I walked into a large room full of finished umbrellas and it was an explosion of pure colour and pattern unlike anything I’d ever seen before. I guess it made a lasting impression on me.”3

To make them she uses her familiar slip casting production process:

“Liquid casting slip is poured into a one piece mold. When the wall is thick enough, the residual slip drained out via a penny sized drilled hole. This hole area becomes the point where the steel shaft penetrates. The threaded steel shaft is then “bolted” into place by using a washer and a nut on the interior and exterior surfaces. Finials are then glued over the metal anchors on the interior and exterior surfaces.” 1


Ann Mortimer. Umbrellas Heading for the the Canadian Museum, Fuping, China. 2008.

Ann Mortimer. Umbrellas Heading for the the Canadian Museum, Fuping, China. 2008.

Ann expands on the process and results:

”Some were made from low fire clays and decorated with lead based glazes in a brick and tile factory in Fuping, China. They are now installed in the Canadian Museum in Fuping….In the fall of 2008, I worked in Jingdezhen, China, the blue and white porcelain capital of the world. These pieces are made of high fired porcelain and have been decorated in a variety of ways, including the use of decals and overglaze lustres. Especially difficult was discovering a way to attach suitable shafts and handles that could be separated for purposes of transport. I returned to Sanbao/Jingdezhen in 2009 and produced several translucent porcelain umbrellas.” 7

Ann would also experiment with underglaze transfers and sometimes overglaze enamel in gold, platinum or red. The outer surfaces are decorated with both decals and relief. The inner surface is simpler, a concave, recessed space punctured by the hole for the arrow-straight tube that extends through a hole to the ferrule.

Ann Mortimer at her

Ann Mortimer at her “Umbrella Escapade” Exhibition, Aurora Cultural Centre. 2010.

The umbrellas exist in two worlds: as three dimensional sculptures on a base or as essentially two dimensional forms on a wall. Either way they play on the concept of functionality. As three dimensional forms they are sculpture, too heavy and fragile to carry as rain or sun protection. They balance on their rib tips and handle, an inherently unstable position. On the wall they project like convex lenses, octagonal discs, or shields, neatly lined up in vertical sequence on coloured panels. Initially from a distance object recognition is not as obvious for the wall mounted works. They collectively take on the quality of ordered, multi-media reliefs. Gallery exhibition titling and marketing prepare the viewer for the “umbrella” recognition. They have been exhibited widely including the Burlington Art Centre, Aurora Cultural Centre, the Gardiner Museum and at Jonathons in London, ON.

These later works continue a constant theme in Ann’s many cycles of works, a theme that plays or shifts between a familiar object and a new, visual experience: are they birds, or buds or fish; are they flat plates or garden landscape reliefs; are they umbrellas or elegant pedestal sculptures and wall reliefs? Although “organized to the very end” Ann Mortimer challenges the viewer to reorganize their visual and tactile experiences with each new theme.

Links to Sites for More Information on Ann Mortimer and her Works

  • Ann Mortimer’s Website
  • You Tube video: Jonathon Clayspots Featuring Ceramicist  Ann Mortimer. Produced by PA Productions. Uploaded on Nov 2, 2010. This is a short (just over two minutes) interview with Ann as she gives a brief history of her career with some nice video shots of her work.
  • 2007. A page on the Canadian Ceramic Museum in Fuping China with permanent works by 10 Canadian ceramic artists created during one month residency. October 2007

Representative Canadian Galleries and Major Collections:

Ann Mortimer’s work has been collected internationally. The following is a selection of some of the major collections:

The Burlington Arts Centre; Hanhyanglim Onggi Museum, Korea; Mr. Ronald and Dr. Helen Frye, Personal collection, Ontario; Ateliers D’Art de France, Paris, France; The Art Gallery of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Canadian Museum,, FLICAM, Fuping, China; The Museum of Decorative Arts and Design, Riga, Latvia; The George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto; Keramion Museum, Frechen, Germany; Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineaul, Quebec; • Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, N.S.; Burlington Art Centre, ON; Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute, Jingdezhen, China; Decorative Arts Museum, Prague, Czech Republic; Fusion Collection, Burlington Art Museum, ON; N. China University of Technology, Central Academy of Art & Design, Beijing; Kunstindustrimuseet, Oslo, Norway; Charles Bronfman Corporate Collection, Montreal, Quebec; Permanent World Exhibition, Novi Dori, Yugoslavia; Ontario Potters Association; State University of Utah, Logan, Utah, USA; Everson Museum of Art, Syracuse, NY, USA; Indusmin Collection (now at Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery).

Endnotes & Bibliography

1.  Ann Mortimer. Personal interviews with and emails to Barry Morrison.

2. Crawford, Sharon. Ceramist enters clay desk set in international show. Marigold, November 12, 1980 pp. 1,3.)

3. Solodiuk, Wendy. The Great Umbrella Caper. Tapestry, Spring 2010. P.10.

4. Smith, Johnathan. Ann Mortimer: In Series. Burlington Art Centre.  Exhibition Catalogue.  June 23 – August 26, 2012

5. McElroy. Fusion. Gil McElroy. Ann Mortimer: The Opening of the Field. Fusion v. No 2, summer 2010, pp. 14-15, 24-27.

6. Iaboni, Sue. I Wonder What would Happen If…” King Mosaic. Summer 2013, pp.4-5

7. Ann Mortimer’s Website.

8. Heidi McKenzie. Ann Mortimer: What Would Happen If…? Ceramics: Art & Perception #91 pg 107-109.


© 2014

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