Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Merchant Vessels: Studio Pottery in Newfoundland and Labrador

Magazine article Ceramics Art & Perception

Merchant Vessels: Studio Pottery in Newfoundland and Labrador

Article excerpt

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THE DECISION TO BE A STUDIO POTTER--TO MAKE ONE'S living making and selling handmade pottery--bristles with challenges. Some are technical; others are economic, while the most troubling are often aesthetic. Ray Mackie of Lucky Rabbit Pottery observes that "Dealing with a retail shop, craft fairs, bookkeeping, designing, making ... can be overwhelming; being a studio potter is like five trades rolled into one." Despite the pots that crack, unpredictable sales, long hours and the struggle to balance the potter's artistic goals with a buying public's tastes, the profession has its rewards. David Hayashida, of King's Point Pottery, describes the satisfaction, "I am not on an assembly line making just a good button; I get to design and make a whole clothing collection." Or as Ray's partner Deb Kuzyk likes to point out to their daughter, Lily, "We are not rich, but we have a rich life." This exhibition sets out to understand the priorities and product of the studio potter in Newfoundland and Labrador through the work of six practicing potters: Deb Kuzyk and Ray Mackie, Isabella St. John, Alexis Templeton, Linda Yates and David Hayashida.

For anyone who doubts the appropriateness of the title Merchant Vessels for a show about studio pottery in the province, they need look no further than the name adopted by the trio of crafts people who founded the first craft fair at the St. John's Arts & Culture Centre in 1975. Potters Isabella St. John, Albert Ripperger and goldsmith Donna Clouston formed the Peter Easton Merchant Marine.

Aside from invoking pirate Peter Easton, Isabella St. John was a graduate (1972) of the first organized pottery program in Newfoundland, the applied arts diploma course at Corner Brook District Vocational School, taught by Bavarian born Margo Meyer. (1) Since then St. John has balanced a mix of production and exhibition work in clay. The production work explores her external world, which is evident in the popular Battery brooches that capture the scenic Battery cliffs and dwellings, where St. John's home and studio are located. The exhibition work focuses on her internal world with shows like Sanctuary spurred by her father's death or Towers, a meditation which considered our need for comfort and protection in an uncertain world. (2)

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The production work is repetitive, involving the efforts of an assistant while the exhibition work is intuitive, expressive and unpredictable; a solo act. St. John observes and sketches one thing and then her hands and clay take over and transform the reference into something other. Cormorant Woman began as bird and then sprouted a woman's torso and legs. Isabella St. John's process and choice of materials is both livelihood and way of living, informing both functional and non-functional objects.

Lucky Rabbit Pottery is made up of, at first glance, the unlikely collaborative team of Ray Mackie and Deb Kuzyk. Mackie describes himself as a minimalist while Kuzyk admits to suffering from the Ukrainian Easter egg syndrome--she is compelled to decorate. Mackie throws the clay vessels: simple, strong and clean and then Kuzyk decorates them in an elaborate and energetic manner. They are complementary opposites joined by trust and an understanding of each other's skills. Each does what the other cannot. (3)

Instead of trying to innovate in a field with several thousand years of precedence, Kuzyk and Mackie find inspiration in the rich history of ceramics. The Jin Dynasty (1115-1234) from Cizhou, China is a favourite, with Iznik ware from 14th century Turkey coming a close second. Recently, pottery from ancient Crete has made an appearance in Lucky Rabbit vases. Both Kuzyk and Mackie feel a kinship with the potters of the past. Mackie points to their traditional division of labour: throwing and decorating, while Kuzyk affectionately and liberally quotes decorative motifs from historical pots. …

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