- Dates: Born March 18, 1947, Vegreville, Alberta
- Production Dates: started 1971; full time 1978 – present
- Location: currently High River, Alberta
- Types of Work: primarily functional; decorative plates, boxes and vases
- Preferred Kiln Type and Firing Process: now using cone 10 reduction fired gas kiln, 40 or 25 cu ft.
- Preferred Clay: initially red Alberta stoneware; now using porcelaneous clay (Laguna B mix) and Plainsman porcelain and some Plainsman Low Fire Clay
- Website: http://www.pikestudios.com/Pike_Studios/Home.html
- Signature/Mark/Chop: Connie has used several signatures and marks over the years
Connie Pike, A Short Biography:
Connie Pike typifies the strength of the Alberta ceramic tradition. Her life also covers teaching, workshops and exhibitions. Her career touches many places and people: firstly, the small but powerful Alberta ceramic community of the 1970s and ‘80s, and more recently, the energy of contemporary Alberta ceramics.
Her early career reflects the dynamic quality of Alberta ceramic culture, including the impact of Beaver House in Edmonton, and her early teaching career in ceramics. Highly mobile within Alberta she studied and worked with some of the great names of Alberta ceramics, and though widely travelled, has stayed true to her Alberta roots. Yet she is modest about her initial success:
““There were not a lot of galleries at the time…I think I was pretty lucky. I sold to a plant store in the Hub Mall at the University of Alberta and another gallery in Edmonton. Working with Bob presented new gallery opportunities in Calgary, the Croft.”Ever since visiting Banff and going to the Quest Gallery, the finest craft gallery in Alberta at that time, I wanted to show my work there and eventually I did.” 1
Her career has moved her from Peace River to Edmonton, Bragg Creek, Vermillion, Lavoy, and most recently, High River. Although she has studied widely, including Australia and conferences in the United States, she has remained in Alberta. Her current studio is in High River, Alberta.
Connie came from a hands-on family in Vegreville.Her father had his own electrical business.1
“Art and creativity has had a big part in molding my life. I work every day at making beautiful things out of clay to enrich people’s lives.” 4
She started in Peace River as a Coordinator of Arts and Crafts for Further Education, organizing classes and occasionally taking some of the classes herself.1 Soon she was making clay-work herself but it was a 1970s workshop by Pierre Guy, an Alberta College of Art graduate, that opened her eyes to the potential of studio ceramics:
“Pierre Guy came to Peace River Potters Guild and constructed a slab platter out of two colors of clay built in a frame that he dropped to give the platter its form, that blew me away. I was so impressed.” 1
At that time Alberta Culture had an office and studio in Edmonton, Beaver House, and offered it to people in northern areas to come, to take a week long course, and to return to their community and pottery guilds to teach.1 Connie took seven one-week courses, returning each time to teach in Peace River.1 Her talent was recognized in 1976 with scholarships from the Alberta government to study at the Banff Centre with Carlton Ball and the following year, 1977, another scholarship for a six week course to study under Les Manning, Liz Mould and Gordon Adaskin. 1
From Peace River she moved to Vermillion and taught at Lakeland College. She continued making her own pottery, out of her basement. But her primary income at the time was from teaching :1
“I was a mother and housewife and I was not expected to make a living from my craft.” 1
Connie then moved to Edmonton, after a divorce. She rented a house with a gas kiln and studio and also taught YWCA pottery classes and did custom firings. While in Edmonton she also took a course from Jack Forbes.1
The next several years were a period of transient studio locations and an increasing professional approach.
Soon after Banff she met Bob Pike and together they set up a ceramic studio. Bob helped kick-start Connie into a more professional approach. Bob, who had been renting a space with a gas kiln from Harlan House in the Eau Claire Market area of Calgary, had just moved and built a studio in Bragg Creek.1
Bob and Connie established their first studio together in Lavoy, East of Edmonton. Their studio was in the old Bricker General Store, with attached house. Now she had the benefit of easy access to Edmonton. Bob built a 60 cu ft, downdraft gas kiln.1
“The Lavoy studio is where I learned to be a production potter. Bob had been a production potter for 6 years and instructed me how to work more efficiently. Before that I had just been making things and having fun.” 1
The studio title, Dertwerks, underwent some modifications over the years:
“When we moved to Lavoy we were calling it DERTWERKS, it had a good design on paper but we felt it sounded European so changed it to DirtWorks but we didn’t like the sound of “Dirt” as clay is not dirt, it is very special! so when we moved to Bragg Creek we called it Bragg Creek Studios and in High River, Pike Studios.” ¹
After much success in Lavoy, they moved back to Bragg Creek in 1981 and puchased a property from Ron Benstead a potter friend of Bob’s. Bob built a 150 cubic foot downdraft gas kiln and they hired 6 employees. Shortly there after, Bob became very ill with environmental health problems and Connie had to manage the business. These problems effectively changed Bob’s career in ceramics. Due to these circumstances, he started to design and develop production items that could be made with the help of employees, specifically a line of extruded items and then a line of jiggered items but it was hard to find people with the necessary skills. He built an extruding pug mill (featured in ‘The Extruder Book by Daryl Baird) and they made a line of decorative tile that they each decorated with their own designs as well as candleholders that they sold at the Edmonton Wholesale Gift Show.¹
Bob presently is working in metal and doing more sculpture. That’s what he studied, under Ole Holmsten when he went to Alberta College of Art in Calgary. Bob worked for Ole on some of the sculptures at the Royal Alberta Museum in Edmonton.
In these early years Connie was showing her interest in the two dimensional side of her work. This interest was complemented by private studies in design with Alberta artist Stan Perrott. Stan Perrott suggested she attend the Alberta College of Art. Armed with a portfolio of work she had made, she was accepted into a second year drawing course.1
“While living in Bragg Creek with Bob, I worked through many design projects with Stan Perrott, he inspired me to use these designs on my ceramics and I started making large hanging decorative plates.” 1
Connie further explains the later studio moves on a personal as well as professional basis:
“Because of [Bob’s] environmental illness…we kept trying to find a place where he would feel better. We moved to Bragg Creek from Lavoy because we wanted to be closer to Calgary and we were able to purchase a property from Ron Benstead, a potter friend of Bob’s for many years, and Bob had always loved Bragg Creek and there was a group of Artists there, including Stan Perrott, but he did not feel well there and we thought Sherwood Park air might be better so we tried that, but our property there was built on a swamp so the mould was prevalent. So down to High River…and found a house that was built by another person who had environmental sensitivities and thought it might help Bob … and his health has been a bit better in High River.” 1
Thus in 1988 they moved and built a studio on an acreage in Sherwood Park and lived and worked there from 1988 to 1994 connecting with potter friends. 1
In 1994 there was a final move to High River. She and Bob have separate studios because of his environmental sensitivity. Connie has been making a steady living from their gallery and work ever since.1
Connie has never stopped learning. Her production and one-of-a -kind work has been accompanied by a program of studies with the Australian National University Diploma Course in Ceramics through Red Deer College, including a month in Canberra, Australia.1 Also, with further support from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts she has participated in National Council On Education For The Ceramic Arts (NCECA) events in Florida, Arizona, Washington and Oregon.1
Connie has also worked closely with the Alberta Potters’ Association, serving on the Board of Directors working with Bob on the newsletter from 1979-80 and more recently as website director, and now as a board director. 5
Connie Pike’s success owes much not only to her own creativity and tenacity but also to the strength of Alberta’s ceramic history and tradition, yet she says modestly:
“We’re lucky in that with functional pottery you can still make a living.” 1
Inevitably her focus in more recent years has expanded.
“I’m going back to what I really am in my clay, playing more, researching and trying things with not so much a production focus.” 1
Gallery and Analysis
Sessions at the Banff Centre in the new program designed by Les Manning, gave her access to more key players in the Alberta and to the international ceramics world.
These image shows the extent of the production output of Connie and Bob even in their early years. The work is almost exclusively functional. Neatly organized, the shelves show the consistency, quantity and quality of the production. Already work is being created in white stoneware in addition to the brown Alberta clay of early years. The focus on dinner and kitchen sets is evident in the variety of lidded jars and casserole dishes.
Cork-stoppered Jar, Lavoy, 1978; 15 cm high by 12 cm wide. The early pots were sturdy functional ware in red Alberta clay. It is a simple shape with a speckled white glaze and washes of brushwork design on the body. The shoulder and neck are defined with clean thin lines that carry the design to the flare of the lip. A flat, conical cork stopper carries and terminates this movement.
“When I first started used a rich red clay with bamboo glazes; “That’s what potters were using in those days.” 1
Bragg Creek 1981-87
Design Plate, 1988, 35.6 x 35.6 cm, Porcelain Cone 10. Bragg Creek. The surface is satin matt with cobalt blue and iron oxide overgrazes, the centres of the flowers are iron.
By this time Connie’s studies in design are evident. From 1986-89 she studied art and design privately with Stan Perrott, the retired head of Alberta College of Art, Calgary (ACA).3 He suggested she also take a course at the college. 1 This early plate has an overall monochromatic floral design in blues and white. The effect is modernistic with its geometric floral abstraction filling the centre to the lip contour.
Sherwood Park 1988-93
Around this time Connie switched from red Alberta clay to her well known white porcelaneous clay:
“ … the lighter clay allows more colour to show in the glazes and decorating. The dark brown clay is so rich and mottled, it hardly needs decorating.” 1
Connie and Bob Pike with their dinnerware production, Sherwood Park 1989. Connie’s dinnerware sets can be extensive to say the least. Due to the long length of the production side of her career her work has come into the secondary market. A recent advertisement on Kijiji of an eight-piece set with over ninety pieces shows the scale of her complete dinnerware sets. It includes: dinner plates, salad plates, side plates, soup bowls, condiment bowls, casserole dishes and lids, serving platters and serving bowls, canister sets, kitchen utensil holder, pitchers, tea set with creamer, sugar bowl and honey dispenser, wine glasses, coffee cups, hot chocolate mugs, stove top spoon holder, salt and pepper shakers, toothpick holder, garlic pot, covered butter dish, and candy dish.
The size of such sets reflects the discipline and focus she has adopted. Today most sales are directly out of the studio gallery, four times a year. She follows a quarterly regimen of six to eight weeks making work, and four to six weeks glazing and firing at cone 10. 1
In addition to the scheduling of her production work Connie has followed through on her design studies to make one-of-a-kind works. By 1988, after her private studies with Stan Perrott and ACA, the complexity and number of her decorative plates increased.
High River 1994-present
Decorative Bowl, 1999. 23.9 x 6.4 cm, High River. Spokes radiating from the well of the bowl are a favoured motif. Here the bowl is fully covered by wedges of a spectrum of colour in a soft, watercolour-wash effect. Such bowls and plates have so strong a design component they step from the functional to the artistic realm.
Decorative Bowl, 1994. 23.9 x 6.4 cm, High River. This work is a more tightly controlled design with clean almost shard-like slivers of blue , white and brown around the rim. Here the colour wedges of the rim are separated from the well by a pure white glaze band.
Decorative Bowl, Red Flowers. 1994. 50.8 x 50.8 x 8.9 cm, High River. A plate similar to this one was in a show in the Glenbow Art Gallery in Calgary and was purchased by the Alberta Foundation for the Arts. The plate is in an Oriental tradition. Connie, ever the student, explored traditional as well as contemporary art historical traditions. From 1989-97 Connie took extensive courses in watercolour and Chinese and Japanese watercolour painting 3 including a course on Japanese brushwork with Noburo Kubo. 1 Here the design is an asymmetrical play of flowers against a pure white background and a clean, almost black central well.
Free Spirit Design Water Jug. 25.4 cm tall x 12.7 cm wide, porcelain, cone 10, High River. Works such as this show Connie’s move into thinner, lighter works, both in material and design. The curves are almost baroque in their fluidity. The jug has an opaque white surface with the body design limited to a small rectangular brightly coloured, abstract design. The neck and rim are defined by a thick dark line that strongly contrasts with the whiteness of the body.
Decorative Plates. 45.7 x 45.7 x 7.6 cm, 1994-96, High River. As Connie pursued her interest in decorative plates she expanded her repertoire of designs. These two plates show a strong contrast in colouring, and design. The left hand plate has an artfully arranged play of stamp motifs in flat blue and grey stars and squares with a decidedly fabric-like design reminiscent of Japanese kimonos. The plate on the right by contrast is a melange of comma-like curls and planes, subtly modulated in pastel-hued colours
Decorative Boxes ,1995. 8.9 x 8.9 cm. Connie also produces a line of smaller, more intimate lidded boxes that are part functional, part ornamental. The left work is topped with an abstract multi-coloured lid of red, blue, green and white rectangles tightly packed together within the circular shape. The effect is reminiscent of an intaglio brooch with the applied colour shapes defined by recessed black lines. The work on the right uses similar colours but is a mountain landscape scene. The design surface scale is much smaller than her decorative plates and convex rather than concave but the inspiration comes from similar artistic needs.
Pearl Line Vase, 2010. porcelaneous stoneware cone 10, 25 x 13.3 x 10.6 cm. Collection: Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Special Curatorial Juried Purchase, Fine Craft Clay. This is a sculptural, asymmetrical vase form she was to repeat several times for exhibitions. Connie now feels comfortable playing with the basic shapes of traditional forms. The work is also marked by a strongly divided shape and colour form with a sharp colour and surface division between the body and the shoulder and neck. Connie was to play with this motif in several experiments.
Flourish Discovery, Pitcher and Glass Set, 2011. Here Connie literally and graphically demonstrates her interest in surface design, where she carves a lino block and using its impressions for her texture effects.Many of these works show a further inspiration by a fellow Alberta ceramist, Ed Drahanchuk. 1 The image on the right displays a complexity of intertwining knots that are almost Celtic in design. With such works Connie admits to moving beyond production to creating “art pieces.” Simplicity of form and complexity of surface design are typical of her later works.
“A love of detail and drawing are the major influences on my new work, which focuses on using texture and line. For texture impressions on clay, stamps and rollers can be made from bisqued clay or by carving a lino block tile. I create my designs on paper, transfer it and carve the tile. The stamp can be used many times and in different ways. Drawings can also be developed further on the computer, such as reversing and duplicating the image. The tile is laid on the soft clay and rolled with a rolling pin, with firm pressure, to make the impression. I first used this process on small bowls and continued developing it for use on larger vases and art pieces.” 2
Alberta Gold Design . High fired porcelaneous stoneware, semi-gloss black and amber glazes. Yet Connie remains true to her functional roots. These are, of course, also an economic necessity. Her more recent dinnerware sets have moved beyond the white dinnerware stoneware of earlier years. Such dinnerware sets are the type of ware Connie is now particularly noted for. They still form the basis of her annual production cycle of quarterly sales. The scope of the size of her dinner ware sets can be appreciated as for example in her website page for the Alberta Gold Design.
Connie has also extended her explorations into other forms and surfaces in recent years.
Azure Tray, 2012. 30.5 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm, with acombination of a blue celadon, and a red iron glaze. In spite of a tight and rigourous production schedule Connie finds time to explore the artistic side of her potential. The tray design, part of her Azure line, is a landscape in both surface decoration and shape, reflecting prairie fields, skies and mountains. The flat platter surface is framed by a raised undulating lip of sky and mountains.
Bowl, Flourish Series, 2013. 33 x 10.8 cm. Here Connie has designed a deliberately asymmetrical overall bowl. The design is three point: a deep blue, encircled well contrasts with a regular, almost mechanical checkerboard interior of stamped squares. The little squares not only carry the design around the the interior but also lead the eye upwards to the contrasting, rough, non-fettled lip of irregular light blue. Such a bowl contrasts with the more pictorial, painterly designs of her earlier decorative bowls and plates both in colour range and surface manipulation.
Crows and Ravens Hanging Pillows, 2012. 17.8 x 17.8 x 3.8 cm, rolled texture slab formed over a plaster hump mould. A further exploration of form is the hanging pillow. Loops and birds-and stamp-shapes curve over the surface like draped embroidered material in a monochromatic relief. A combination of lino carvings and stamps ,the surface is dense and dynamic, reminiscent of Japanese kimono fabric designs. The whole effect is a strong contrast to the Flourish Bowl, above: monochromatic; deep, irregular, asymmetrical patterning, with a recognizable subject and a compact, convex form. In both such works she continues to explore form, surface and colour beyond the discipline of production work.
There is another, little known side to Connie also. She has produced an encyclopaedic text “A Celebration of Artists From Western Canada With Biographies.” This is an extensive work, available online, and deals mostly with ceramic artists.
Connie and Bob have continued their extensive exhibition schedule :The Okotoks Station had a retrospective show of Bob and Connie’s work in April 2012, called 80+ years of Thoughtful Making. In 2014 The Leighton Centre asked both Bob and Connie to be in their show at the Nickel Gallery at the University of Calgary. Connie has had pieces accepted into the Alberta Crafts Council Furnish Show, Roberto Ostberg Connections Show in Calgary, and the Alberta Craft Council Potworks Show at Medalta, in Medicine Hat.
Connie is teaching a few short courses in her studio in High River and she is planning on teaching a workshop in Kingston, Ontario in October, 2014.
Youtube Site on Connie Pike:
Connie and Bob Pike interview video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cw1rmcPvLRQ
- Stan Perrott Estate
- Alberta Foundation for the Arts
- International and North American private collections
Endnotes & Bibliography:
- Connie Pike: Interview and email correspondence with Barry Morrison.
- Connie Pike Website : http://www.pikestudios.com/Pike_Studios/Home.html
- Connie Pike resume http://www.pikestudios.com/Pike_Studios/Connies_Resume.html
- Pike Shaw page: http://members.shaw.ca/pikeconnie/ArticlesInfo/creativity.html
- Alberta Potters Association Website. Our History: http://albertapottersassociation.org/1-our-history/
- Alberta Clay Comes of Age Alberta: Studio Ceramics in Alberta III 1964-1984. Alberta Art Foundation and Alberta Potters Association 1986.