Connections: Canadian And British Studio Ceramics

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Connections: Canadianand British Studio CeramicsMAY 31, 2012 – JANUARY 6, 2013THOMAS AITKEN SCOTT BARNIM KENT BENSON JOHN CHALKE LOUIS HANSSENROBIN HOPPER TAM IRVING ROGER KERSLAKE ALEXANDRA MCCURDYMARTIN PETERS JOHN REEVE JULIANA REMPEL SAM UHLICK

THIS EXHIBITION OF THIRTY WORKS FROM THE 1960S TO THEPRESENT HIGHLIGHTS CANADIAN CERAMICISTS’ STRONG TIESWITH THE BRITISH STUDIO POTTERY MOVEMENT AND DRAWSLARGELY FROM THE GARDINER’S RAPHAEL YU COLLECTION.The classic definition of studio pottery is functional ceramics made by hand typically in the countryside.1 It is a revival movement that emerged in England after the First World War championed byBernard Leach. Initially, the techniques of choice were throwing on the wheel and the use of hightemperature, reduction-fired kilns fuelled by wood or gas. This resulted in the production of rougherstoneware bodies and neutral glazes of shino white, temmoku brown, and celadon green, reflectingthe movement’s desire to emulate early Chinese pottery from the Tang and Sung dynasties andJapanese folk pottery known as Mingei. It’s mantra, “no beauty without utility,” led to a tidal waveof handmade functional pots around the Western world. By the time of Canada’s centenary, Britishstudio pottery featuring qualities of spontaneity and vitality replaced the prevailing Scandinavian aesthetic, which was considerably more polished and hard-edged. As the jury of the exhibition CanadianCeramics ’67 proclaimed, “the ideal pot if there ever is such a creation [is] bold, vigorous, possessingan earthy quality, completely unpretentious, and showing the plastic nature of the clay.” 2THE APPRENTICESLeach wielded his considerable influence through his popular publications, his teaching at LeachPottery, which he established in St. Ives in Cornwall in 1920, and the workshops he offered abroadafter 1950. Some one hundred potters apprenticed at St. Ives (usually three at a time), while manyartists visited for inspiration. John Reeve, Louis Hanssen, and Martin Peters, who all have workpresented in this exhibition, spent time there where they learned the tenets of an anonymouscraftsman.3 They visited Michael Cardew, Leach’s “first and best student,”4 who also attracted aglobal following at Wenford Bridge Pottery in Cornwall and Abuja Pottery in Nigeria, including Sam Uhlick and Kent Benson who are represented in this show. Part of the appeal of studioIMAGES: John Reeve at Longlands, Hennock, Devon, mid-1960s. Photo credit: Collection of the Morris and HelenBelkin Art Gallery Archives, The University of British Columbia; John Reeve, Jar, 2008, stoneware, temmoku glaze,Raphael Yu Collection, G11.6.76

pottery was that it fit with the countercultural, back-to-the-land movement thatwas sweeping over the West. However, thetwo-year programme was tough, both physically and mentally, as apprentices learned toeliminate all unnecessary gestures by throwing one hundred pots a day. But it took atleast six weeks of sweeping the floor, preparing clays, and learning to throw before anapprentice’s work was accepted.John Reeve was one of the first Canadians tostudy directly with Leach in St. Ives, and tobring that tradition back to Canada. However, he was only able to secure an apprenticeship after several tries. He crossed theAtlantic in 1957 and first worked at theAylesford Pottery in Kent before trainingin porcelain with Harry Davis, a pupil ofLeach’s. He was finally accepted at St. Ives in1958, opening the door for other Canadians.According to Reeve, “you were given a bowlfull of cards, which gave the recipe for the particular piece, cup, bowl, etc. Then you would get yourpre-mixed clay stored in the cupboard at the back.” As their skill increased they were awarded moreresponsibility and complex jobs.5 They were trained by William Marshall, a brilliant thrower andlong-standing employee of the pottery. Leach worked in his studio upstairs and would come downfor tea breaks and discuss what constitutes a good pot. Apprentices were allowed to make their ownpots on their own time, which Leach would critique at an appointed hour. By all accounts, he wasrarely encouraging and expressed his disapproval with body language rather than words. He was alsodismissive of studio pottery in North America because he believed it lacked an inherent culture, or inhis own words, that it had no “tap roots.”6IMAGES: Martin Peters at the train station in St. Ives, 1974. Photo courtesy of artist; Tam Irving, Fisherman’s Cove,West Vancouver, c. 1965. Photo courtesy of artist; Tam Irving, Plate, 1980, wheel-thrown stoneware with glazes, Gift ofBrian Wilks, G07.12.5

The apprentices returned to Canada to teach andopen rural potteries of their own. According toceramicist Tam Irving, “the Leach apprentices hadthe advantage of understanding more clearly theexpressive possibilities of thrown forms This realization was slow to dawn, however, and it took awhile for me to understand the Leach aesthetic.”7But understand he did, as did Canadian pottersacross the country.THE BRITISH ÉMIGRÉSThe other side of the story is the arrival of British studio potters who immigrated to Canada with their glaze recipes and potters’ wheels. Theybecame important teachers and the country’s leading ceramicists. Robin Hopper arrived in 1968at age twenty-eight making his mark in Ontario and eventually residing in British Columbia.John Chalke, also at age twenty-eight, came over in 1967 and chose to settle in Alberta. RogerKerslake, at age thirty-two, immigrated in 1970 and settled in Ontario. While they never met inBritain and had taken up pottery in different parts of the country, they all brought with them theLeach Anglo-Asian philosophy. All three knew and admired the important vessels of Lucie Rieand Hans Coper—the two European émigrés living in London espousing ceramics as a modernart form. Their attraction to Canada was the same: the physicality of the land and its openness. “Icould not do what I do here over there, Britain was too crowded,” says Kerslake. Hopper expands:“the class system was too tight. I would have to wait twenty years to break the hierarchy.” ForChalke, there is one word that describes what moves him about the country: “space.”8In the early years they had to adapt, adjust and perfect their techniques to suit the country’s climate.9 Hopper foregrounded the practise of expressing both the physical attributes of the earthand pictorial landscape in ceramics. With his adopted Canadian eye, he was profoundly affectedby the Canadian Shield and its majestic nature when he travelled across the country.10 In order toevoke a geological aesthetic, he mastered three distinct techniques: neriage / agate ware, mochaIMAGES: Louis Hanssen, Covered casserole, c. 1960–1968, stoneware with glazes, Gift of Lois Sutherland,G08.13.1a-b; Robin Hopper at work in Kintbury, c. 1966. Photo courtesy of artist; Robin Hopper, Covered jar, 1983,marble glazed stoneware, Raphael Yu Collection, G11.6.32a-b. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella

diffusion, and painted glazes. Like Hopper, Chalkedraws deeply from his environment: “I was rebornin the foothills of southwest Alberta,” he says. 11Much of his original romantic notions of being aproduction potter of functional wares have disappeared and his work is far more conceptual. His“clay paintings,” or “Artplates,” made from localclays and minerals, feature deep ruptures evokingthe land and sky as well as painted farm imagerytypical of the region. 12 Kerslake concedes thatwhen he arrived, he was impressed by the selfreferential and expressive approaches of Americanceramicists Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner. However, of the three ex-patriots under discussion,his work is the most faithful to the tenets of the anonymous potter, making necessary pots foreveryday use. While Hopper, Chalke, and Kerslake all followed their own personal approaches toclay, they helped shape the development of ceramics in postwar Canada through their teaching, butespecially through their praxis at their countryside potteries.IMAGES: John Chalke with Bernard and Janet Leach c. 1967. Photo courtesy of artist; John Chalke, Mid-November,1984, glazed stoneware, Raphael Yu Collection, G11.6.10. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella; John Chalke, Jugs,c. 1997, glazed stoneware, Raphael Yu Collection, G11.6.15.1-2. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella; Roger Kerslake agetwenty-five in England. Photo courtesy of artist; Roger Kerslake, Vase, 1984, stoneware, temmoku glaze, Raphael YuCollection, G11.6.45. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella

THE POSTGRADUATESThe latest trajectory is that of ceramicists completing postgraduate degrees in Britain. Scott Barnim,Alexandra McCurdy, Thomas Aitken, and most recently, Juliana Rempel all studied at the CardiffCollege of Art Design (formerly Institute) in Wales. As their work on display shows, they practise agreater openness to colour and decoration, which was foregrounded in the 1980s by the New Ceramics movement in Britain.Barnim says that his lifelong connection with British ceramics “began on the side of the road insouthern Ontario, waiting for the bus, shuffling through the mail box for my Ceramics Monthly. In thespring of 1976 they ran a double issue on British ceramics.” The issue featured Alan Caiger-Smithand Michael (Mick) Casson, two powerful forces in British studio pottery who would have the mostimpact on his career. He met them at local workshops hosted by the Ontario Potters’ Associationwhen he was an eighteen-year-old apprentice in the production studio of Donn Zver (who waspresident of the association). Barnim explains the impact of Casson’s visit to his studio: “he encouraged my work with salt-glazed stoneware in the 1980s challenging me to engage completely in thetraditions of salt-glaze that I grew up around in the Brantford area It was Mick’s guidance thatdirected me to study in Cardiff for my Master’s, and it was Alan’s personal support that helped methrough the process.”13Aitken first discovered the Master’s programme after he acted as technical assistant to British ceramicartist Michael Flynn, a teacher at Cardiff, who was on the International Artist in Residence programmeat Red Deer College in Alberta. He consequently attended the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design(now University), where he was taught by Peter Castle, who came from Cardiff as a visiting professor.After meeting Castle, Aitken settled on the idea of Cardiff because he liked the school’s “open-ended”approach. For Aitken, it was also an opportunity to explore Europe and its traditions, which he feelsare his “ceramic roots.”14 He then apprenticed with ScottBarnim. Now based in Warsaw, Ontario, Aitken is knownfor the generous use of saturated colours on his functionaltableware and vessels made of porcelain, and insists on leaving his thumbprint, “a romantic but evocative associationthat transmits a powerful sense of the maker’s life,” in thewords of craft historian, Sandra Alfoldy. 15Halifax artist Alexandra McCurdy graduated in 1980 fromthe Nova Scotia College of Art and Design where she studied ceramics under John Reeve, Homer Lord, and WalterOstrom. In 1991 McCurdy chose to attend the Master’sprogramme at Cardiff on the recommendation of RichardIMAGES: Scott Barnim in Cardiff, 1986. Photo courtesy of artist; Scott Barnim, Pair of plates with triple fish design,2002, glazed stoneware, slip decoration, Promised gift from the Raphael Yu Collection. Photo credit: Ferrucio Sardella;Thomas Aitken with a kiln that he designed and built to fire his final work in Cardiff, 1996. Photo courtesy of artist

Slee, an important British ceramicist whom she met when he wasa visiting artist at the Banff School of Fine Arts.16 Inspired bythe conceptual work of her fellow students, she moved away fromfunctional pottery. Blue Butterfly Box, presented in this exhibition,was made shortly after she returned from Cardiff; it draws fromher dissertation on textiles (both she and her mother worked inthe medium), and demonstrates a move towards conceptual issuesrelated to containment andtransparency.At Cardiff, Juliana Rempelalso worked closely withPeter Castle, Ingrid Murphy,and Jeffrey Jones, enjoyingthe school’s sense of community. Currently residingin Alberta, she distilled from the school that “objects that arepart of our everyday retain memories through their use andbecome symbols for the actions of our lives.” She explores “thefamiliar for the reinterpretation of these forms as the archetypesof our lives.”17What lies ahead for ceramics and future connections between Canada and Britain is uncertain.The declining status of ceramics departments at art schools is alarming. Paul Greenhalgh, Director of the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, writes that the number of ceramicsdegree courses has fallen to three in Britain, compared to more than twenty two decades ago. 18In Toronto, Ontario College of Art and Design University offers ceramics only as a service toother departments, no longer as an independent programme. What is more, apprenticeships withproduction potters are also disappearing, as many have reached the age of retirement and are notbeing replaced. Yet, as ceramicists who have graduated from the Cardiff school reveal—particularly Barnim and Aitken—production potters still thrive though they follow a looser orthodoxythan in the past. Or as McCurdy and Rempel show, they can delve into the conceptual while stillexploring the functional.Rachel Gotlieb, Senior CuratorIMAGES: Thomas Aitken, Tulipiere, porcelain, 2009. Photo courtesy of artist; Alexandra McCurdy at her workbench inCardiff, 1991. Photo courtesy of artist; Juliana Rempel on the potter’s wheel in Cardiff, 2009. Photo courtesy of artist;Juliana Rempel, A Rediscovered Tautology, porcelain, 2012. Photo courtesy of artist

1. For more on British studio pottery, see: Jeffrey Jones, Studio Pottery in Britain 1900–2005 (London: A&C BlackPublishers, 2007); Oliver Watson, British Studio Pottery (London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1990).2. Canadian Ceramics ‘67, Montreal Museum of Fine Art/Canadian Guild of Potters cited in Scott Watson,Naomi Sawada, and Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, Thrown: British Columbia’s Apprentices of Bernard Leachand Their Contemporaries (Vancouver: Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery, University of British Columbia, 2009), 107.3. For more on Bernard Leach’s influence in Canada see: Scott Watson, et al., Thrown and Gail Crawford, “BernardLeach Uncommon Edwardian,” in On the Table 100 Years of Functional Ceramics, ed. Sandra Alfoldyand Rachel Gotlieb (Toronto: Gardiner Museum, 2007), 12–15.4. “The Michael Cardew Centenary Symposium University of Wales Aberystwyth 27 - 28 June 2001,”Interpreting Ceramics 3, 2002. Report by Jo Dahn.5. “John Reeve: An Interview with Naomi Sawada,” Scott Watson, et al., in Thrown, 171–94.6. Edmund de Wall, Bernard Leach (London: Tate Gallery Publishing, 2001), 61.7. Tam Irving, “A Personal Reminiscence,” Scott Watson, et al., in Thrown, 105–27.8. Roger Kerslake, interview with author at his studio, February 3, 2012; Robin Hopper, interview with author atGardiner Museum, October 13, 2011; John Chalke, telephone interview with author, February 15, 2012.9. John Chalke “John Chalke’s Amazing Glazes,” Ceramics Review, July/August 1995, 154.10. Patricia Bovey, Robin Hopper Ceramic Explorations (1957–87) (Victoria: The Koffler Gallery/The Art Galleryof Greater Victoria, 1987).11. John Chalke, email to author, February 7, 2012.12. Margaret Sundstrom, Bridging East & West, The Triangle, January 17 March 9, 2002.13. Scott Barnim, email to author, February 10, 2012.14. Thomas Aitken, email to author, February 2, 2012.15. Emmanuel Cooper, Contemporary Ceramics (London: Thames & Hudson, 2009), 15; “The Function of Ceramics,”Sandra Alfoldy in On the Table, 115.16. Alexandra McCurdy, email to author, January 16, 2012.17. Juliana Rempel, email to author, January 31, 2012.18. Jay Merrick, “Paul Greenhalgh Calls For Better Funding of Craft-based Art,” The Independent, April 22, 2011.111 Queen’s Park, Toronto ON, Canada M5S 2C7416.586.8080 www.gardinermuseum.comCOVER IMAGES: Alexandra McCurdy, Blue Butterfly Box c. 1992, porcelain, wire, beads, Plexiglas tubing. Photocourtesy of artist; Martin Peters, Ovoid vase, 1994, stoneware, celadon glaze, Raphael Yu Collection, G11.6.74. Photocredit: Ferruccio Sardella; Sam Uhlick, Vase with net pattern, 1989, stoneware, multiple glazes, Raphael Yu Collection,G11.6.87. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella; Kent Benson, Teapot and teabowl, late 1980s, stoneware with shino glaze,wood-fired, Promised gift from the Raphael Yu Collection. Photo credit: Ferruccio Sardella

evoke a geological aesthetic, he mastered three distinct techniques: neriage / agate ware, mocha IMAGES: Louis Hanssen, Covered casserole, c. 1960–1968, stoneware with glazes, Gift of Lois Sutherland, G08.13.1a-b; Robin Hopper at work in Kintbury, c. 1966. Photo courtesy of artist; Robin Hopper, Covered jar, 1983,

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