Dates: Stan Clarke (1914-2010); Jean Clarke (née Reagh) (1915–c.1995)
Production Dates: Stan Clarke (c. 1948–c. 2006); Jean Clarke (c. 1947– c.1985)
Location: Vancouver and White Rock, BC
Types of Work: Stan Clarke, functional, slipcast, handbuilding and throwing; some architectural. Jean Clarke, sculptural and early, functional.
Preferred Kiln Type and Firing Process: oil; propane, electric. Reduction firing.
Preferred Clay: earthenware and stoneware
Signature/Mark/Chop: Early work signed with some version of Reagh. Later, Stan either signed his work “Stan Clarke” or “S H Clarke”; Jean usually signed hers “J Clarke”.²
This page on Stan and Jean Clarke typify some of the reasons as to why I started this website in the first place: archives, objects and other materials are lost in fires, hidden in attics, or locked in museum vaults; and witnessing the sad passing of people who could directly tell of their lives, and share stories and dreams.
Perhaps this page will help uncover other collectors who will be willing to share images of Clarke works in their collections.
This page was made possible by interviews with Stan and Jean back in the ’80s and more recently with their daughter, Chris Clarke. Also, the generosity of collectors John Lawrence and David Carlin were critical in obtaining images of Stan and Jean’s works.
The Clarkes, a Short Biography
The Clarkes’ art story begins not in BC but Alberta.
Stan and Jean Clarke are two artists who illustrate the development of modern studio ceramics in BC in the early, post-War years. Although well known and respected they never made it “rich”. ¹ Between their art and their supply business they achieved respect for their support of many early BC potters, “staking” a long line of credit for many developing artist to help them get going in their careers.¹ Stan said of their life in Vancouver:
“… the investment paid off. We didn’t lose a dime. We didn’t have many paying customers but we had a helluva lot of friends”.¹
Stan was from Fort William (now Thunder Bay), Ontario, Jean from Nanton, Alberta, south of Calgary. Stan came out west after the War¹ and met Jean while moonlighting in a flower shop in Lethbridge, Alberta.³ Stan moonlighted a lot, out of necessity. Chris Clarke, their daughter, says:
“Dad had to pay child support to an ex-wife and three kids using his TCA money. Mum supported the family with her work.” ²
Their routes to ceramics were initially quite dissimilar and reflected their personalities.
Stan was an adventurer, using his job as a flight dispatcher with Trans Canada Airlines (TCA, later Air Canada) to travel and to meet other artists across Canada, and to study trends in Europe. With the help of the British Council he even spent a week with Bernard Leach in England.6 By 1948-49 he was taking summer and evening classes.¹ Chris Clarke described her Dad as a magpie:
“As a magpie “Professor Clarke” was allowed to rummage through the Guild Hall Museum’s garbage can to look for and bring back pottery shards such as Greek amphora handles or lips from Samian ware. If they [the Guild Hall Museum] couldn’t piece the whole thing together they were just rubble to them.” ²
Jean, by contrast, was a more conservative personality ² in her approach, and more formally trained, including studies under such artists as Alexander Archipenko and Louis Archambault. Although she shared in their pottery and business ventures she was at heart a sculptor in ceramics.
“She was a straight-laced prairie girl. Dad was brought up by a father who was very much into eastern philosophy, and the ‘me, me, me’ approach went against his philosophy”.²
There was very little happening in the ceramics field in Calgary at the time: no shops were selling pottery and there were few shows. From 1934-38 Jean attended PITA (the Provincial Institute of Art and Technology, now the Alberta College of Art and Design, ACAD). Her Instructor, Doris LeCocq, was the only ceramics professional she knew at the time.¹ After graduation Jean went to the Chicago Art Institute. She studied there until 1945, initially more interested in following her PITA studies in illustration. But the clay connection and interest were already established. One of her instructors was the modernist Ukrainian expat sculptor, Alexander Archipenko. When she returned to Alberta she brought a little kiln back with her. From 1947 she more seriously started to work in clay.¹ She also introduced Stan to the medium. It was at that time Stan realized:
“I was more of a 3D man than I thought “.¹
Stan, by contrast was more eclectic and did not start his art life in pottery; rather when he met Jean he was dabbling in painting landscapes in oil. He became interested in pottery after visiting Jean in Chicago.¹ He tried more pottery around 1948-49, liked it, and was soon taking evening and summer courses. He never attended a formal art school program in the medium and thus considered himself self-taught. He used his work at TCA to his advantage visiting such places as Toronto, Regina and Calgary, and even Europe and England. Starting in in 1948-49 he also took workshops all over Canada, many with the Canadian Guild of Potters.¹ In this way he had an advantage over many of the other potters out west at the time in that he was able not only to meet the people involved in the Guild but also to see much of the pottery being produced in the rest of Canada, especially in exhibitions. Later he would become an instructor himself teaching, in UBC’s Extension Department for eleven years where he taught a course in glaze chemistry.¹ In Vancouver he eventually studied with Rex Mason; and attended further workshops with artists such as Carlton Ball. Paul Soldner and Bauhaus trained Marguerite Wildenhain.
By the mid 1950s Stan and Jean were well established in Vancouver, more as business people than full time potters. Jean was to start pottery full time by 1955, Stan by 1957.¹
Stan said of that time:
“In those early days you had to teach or do something else. It wasn’t that you couldn’t produce the pots. It’s just that they were so damned hard to sell!” ¹
”When we were growing up it was California slip ware stuff or English china. To peddle stoneware was murder! Nobody wanted it.” ¹
In those early days they were obtaining their glazes and tools from David Lambert but not their clay.¹ They had to acquire their low fire clay from California; there was no stoneware clay source at the time and Luke Lindoe had not yet set up shop with Plainsman Clay.¹ Stan fondly recalled going into the BC countryside with fellow potters and digging clay that they would then sieve and experiment with, making glazes and clay bodies according to the recipes in Leach’s A Potter’s Book.
By 1953 the Clarkes were running their own business,¹ operating a small shop, Reagh Studios, on West 4th Avenue in Vancouver at first,² then a pottery supply business at 41st and Dunbar, and later on 6th Avenue near Granville.¹ They sold the shop to Ruth Meecham in 1956.¹ All this occurred while they both continued at regular day and teaching jobs.¹
Jean started pottery full time in 1955. Stan would start full time soon after in 1957, after they moved to their Surrey location.¹ Their main problem was they could make pots but had nowhere to sell them. Stan noted the market had begun growing around 1952 but was not really going anywhere until about 1960. Meanwhile as part of the evolving market; they did manage to sell to Bessie Fitzgerald at the Quest. Jean felt Bessie had a lot to do with the development of crafts in BC.¹ Fitzgerald had shops in Vancouver and Victoria, Stan had first met her just after she had closed up Wagon Wheel and opened up Quest and was looking for potters.¹ The timing was good. Production continued. In 1960 they saw their first reduction fired ware exhibited in the Vancouver Art Gallery.¹ In 1972 they became the BC outlet for Plainsman Clay of Medicine Hat, Alberta.¹
The lack of available materials and equipment exposed another creative side of Stan. He was in effect a “jack of all trades”: he built an electric kiln at the Pottery Hut when Rex Mason was there; he also built a 12 cu. ft. kiln for Ozzie Osborne in Victoria.¹ Most of the kilns at that time were electric, although David Lambert had an oil kiln.¹ Stan encouraged potters to build kilns rather than buy them.4 The Clarkes didn’t have their own oil kiln until they moved to Surrey.¹
During most of this early period there were no “BC-born” teachers. The teachers came from the outside.¹ BC pottery was influenced by California, and Japan, with more recent influences from British artists of the “Leach“ school. ¹
Stan began to moonlight at the UBC Potter’s Hut teaching in the Extension Department while working for TCA. 4 The Pottery Hut was the place to be at the time. It was:
“… the most important learning resource. It had a workshop program but many potters such as Olea Davis used it as their studio.” ¹
The Pottery Hut was a workshop concept with some courses and instructors such as John Reeve, Santo Mignosa, and Tommy Kakinuma. But the quality of work being produced at the time left much to be desired: the visiting workshop leader, Marguerite Wildenhain from California, blasted the BC potters for the quality of their work.¹
According to Stan not much was happening at the Vancouver School of Art (VSA) until Reg Dixon came. He saw Reg as the key to future developments.¹
And during these early years the East did not have much idea as to what was going on in BC.¹
The Clarke’s and Their Work
Although they produced works individually Jean did a lot of the surface decoration while Stan did the throwing,¹ a common division of labour in joint studios (cf. the Deichmanns and Hansen-Ross). Stan would do most of the applied gouging, cutting, wax resist, and the like, while Jean did more brush decoration that appealed to her artistic side.¹
From 1948-50 Stan worked in half slip cast, and half slab building and throwing, using low fire glazes.¹ He received his first award in 1952 at the Northwest Designer Craftsmen Association exhibition at the Henry Gallery in Seattle: It was
“a little thrown pot with a surface reduction glaze. I dropped chunks of rosin into an electric kiln and smoked up the joint” ¹
He also conducted many glaze experiments at UBC when he was teaching glaze technology.¹ Around the time he was teaching glaze chemistry he also did some “architectural stuff” including three holy water stoops.”¹ These would be interesting to discover and document.
Jean, in 1948-50 was producing half slipcast and half building and throwing, much the same as Stan. When they sold their Vancouver business in 1967 and moved to Surrey. Jean began to focus more on sculpture. Using surface and applied decoration she would lay a red glaze on the clay and then draw directly on the unfired glaze. This required two firings.¹ She continued to create clay sculptures, often of family and nature groupings with the forms, sometimes heavily abstracted, true to their “clayness.”
While Stan took classes from David Lambert 6 Jean studied with Rex Mason and workshops with sculptors Alexander Archipenko, her old instructor, and the Quebec sculptor, Louis Archambault. She became more the sculptor. Stan was very much the potter, for a while.
Green Barn and White Rock
Chris Clarke, remembers that even after their move to White Rock:
“ … they didn’t promote themselves the way everyone else did” ²
“They were surrounded by mink farms so Dad bought an old mink shed, reconstructed it and turned it into Green Barn Pottery Supply. The original barn was the green barn that started Green Barn. … They bought a dilapidated old house with a chicken coop and a big barn out back. Mother’s studio was a converted garage. The barn burned down probably firing-related. … Most of Dad’s work was done in an old converted shed over 100 ft long. It was the pottery department. They had a huge oil-fired kiln and fired only at night. Bisquing was done in an electric or a gas-fired kiln” … To the very end Dad wanted to live in a fixer upper. …Initially they had a kick wheel; later an electric wheel.” ²
“Mom did a lot of handbuilding. My mother was the artist and Dad was the craftsman. They were both very different. His work was functional, very utilitarian.” … Mother’s studio was up hill. She had to delicately bring her work down for firing.” ²
Unfortunately for posterity they lost most of their records in a fire in the old Green Barn Pottery Supply barn. Probably pottery-firing related.2 The company would continue as Green Barn Potters Supply Ltd in 1979.4
However, by the early 1970s Stan, ever restless artistically, had moved on to studio glass and was exhibiting in that medium. Later he would explore woodturning too. He retired from Green Barn at the age of 92. Jean’s career unfortunately ended earlier: she quietly passed away around 1995 after a ten year long bout with Alzheimer’s.²
Always honest about his work Stan states why he stopped potting:
“I was a potter for over 40 years and the reason I stopped potting was technique. I got so hung up on technique that creativity went out the window. As a result I made pots that were perfectly thrown, perfectly formed, perfectly finished, perfectly boring and perfectly dead. So I switched to glass blowing … Bernard Leach the “Grand Poobah” of potters once said “the pot is the extension of the man” (my daughter says in that case my work should be short fat and bald””.5
A Short Slideshow on the Clarkes’ Ceramic Work
- John Lawrence, DoDa Antiques, Vancouver BC
- David Carlin, Vancouver, BC
Endnotes and Bibliography
1. Stan and Jean Clarke. Interview with Barry Morrison, May 24, 1981.
2. Chris Clarke. Interview with Barry Morrison, November 12, 2013.
3. Chris Clarke. Stanley Clarke – A Legend: A Great Man Remembered By Many. Newsletter, Greater Vancouver Woodturners Guild, Vol 12, issue 3 – March 2010, p. 5.
4. History. Greenbarn Potters Supply Ltd. – BC’s Complete Pottery Supplier.
5. Stan Clarke. Beyond Technique – A response. Greater Vancouver Woodturners Guild, vol 2 Issue 5, February 2001, pp. 5-6.
6. Rachelle Chinnery et al. A Modern Life: Art and Design in British Columbia, 1945-1960. Vancouver Art Gallery. Pulp Press. 2004.