The Doris Shadbolt Pottery Collection

Article excerpt

COLLECTIONS TELL US AS MUCH ABOUT THE INDIViduals who assembled them as the prevailing issues, aesthetics and ethos that defined the periods in which they were made. The Gallery of BC Ceramics in Vancouver has pioneered annual exhibitions of ceramics belonging to prominent collectors in British Columbia (BC) and, this spring, it hosted selections from the Doris Shadbolt collection. Doris Shadbolt (1918-2003) was a remarkable woman and powerful influence on the arts of this region, serving for 25 years as an educator, curator and associate director of the Vancouver Art Gallery. She contributed to the arts to such a degree that she was awarded the Order of Canada in 1976 and the Governor General's Award for Volunteerism in 2001. She was also a passionate supporter and collector of ceramics made by living artists in BC. To see even a small portion of her collection exhibited is to witness a window into an especially vibrant and formative period in Canada's ceramic culture.

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Shadbolt's ceramics collection was bequeathed to the Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery at the University of British Columbia in 2005. It consists of 170 pieces, 158 of which are pots, representing the work of 21 artists. (1) This exhibition showcases nearly 40 works, a sufficient quantity to give a sense of the overall collection. Significantly, most are functional pots used daily, not 'show pieces' packed away or set on shelves. Much of the work is wheel-thrown, high-fire stoneware, demonstrating a proficiency with forming, glazing and firing present in Vancouver in the 1960s and 1970s. Several potters represented here had personal associations with Bernard Leach including Glenn Lewis, a Leach apprentice and curator of this selection, John Reeve, Michael Henry and Charmian Johnson.

The works show evidence of Leach's aesthetic and attitude towards straightforward, 'honest' pots. Henry's impressive lidded casserole (1965-1966) demonstrates this well. Robustly thrown from red stoneware, a pulled-strap handle straddles the lid, while generous side handles project from the body. Such pots were avidly sought by groups setting up communal households in the province's rural areas and Henry's conjures up the memory of shared experience and conviviality that characterized these gatherings. A greenish glaze pools on the lid and splashes the handles, while a thin pour laps boldly like a broad tongue against the unglazed exterior, reflecting Henry's training as a graphic artist and painter. Surprisingly light for its massive size, it is as much a marvel of expert throwing as design. A master of kiln-building, raw-glazing and firing, Henry was an important transmitter of technical and aesthetic innovation and a mentor to other potters at the time.

Wayne Ngan's pots are well-represented in the collection and in this exhibition. Shadbolt had a summer home near his Hornby Island studio and frequently attended openings of his kiln. In "The Transparency of Clay", a keynote address given at an international symposium in 1985, Shadbolt describes a potter who had struggled to understand hakeme from seeing illustrations in Japanese books, which he could not read. One night, returning to his island home, he was caught in a violent storm when his car broke down. Walking through torrential rain in search of help, he came to understand hakame with his heart and mind and not simply as a visual technique. (2) Ngan is the unnamed potter of her reminiscence; a set of attractive bowls from the 1970s decorated with thick white hakeme bears out his insight. A magnificent raku-fired jar from 1976 also deserves mention. The tall, oval jar with knobbed lid inset into a high collar is paddled on two sides to gently flatten and impress the form. Overall, the pot is a gold, buff and smoky grey with flashes of pink, marked with yellow ochre and copper brushwork and punctuated with scorch marks of grass. …