A Ceramic History of Me

Briefly, I grew up in a Ceramic Studio. I'm a fourth generation painter and creating has always been an essential part of my life. If fact my mother remembers a phone call I made shortly after starting university. "Bring me craft supplies please. I'm going nuts out here!"

My ceramic story starts before I was born. In 1972 my grandmother took an introductory course through the county of Vulcan Outreach Education Program hosted at the Carmangay School. She went on to take all the courses they offered and started teaching classes in her basement. At the time she mixed the slip in an old washing machine and would pour greenware after her shift at the hospital as a Ward Clerk. My grandfather worked hard to give my grandmother anything she wanted. After working all day at the service station down town he would help with the pouring. My grandfather and uncle built tables the students could sit at on one side and the paints could be stored/displayed on the other side. My mother and father would help with the pouring as well. She went on the get every certification in the industry. She had so many plaques from her Duncan courses they did not all fit on the wall under her Duncan shield. Her business was called J and R Ceramics and over the years they grew and grew. In 1980 they built a large studio and production shop on the plot of land beside their house. She taught classes in the evening and ran the business at all hours since as we know pouring is just not a 9 to 5 job. Over time she had to stop offering classes and focus on the busiest aspect of the business and became the largest supplier of greenware in southern Alberta. Classes were no longer held at the studio. They became so busy they had to start turning away customers to keep up with the demand from the store front studios. One Friday the deliveries would go North to 7 studios in Calgary, the next Friday they would go South to 5 studios in the Lethbridge area. I have advertising from those days that say ‘the drive is worth the difference’. For 12 years my father was employed full time at the shop in addition to my grandmother and grandfather. My mother would help during the busiest season (Christmas) and even I would pour ornaments after school to help fill the orders. My mother became a Duncan teacher as well and the 2 ladies went to a lot of trade shops and craft fairs together. When my grandfather retired he traded the black oily hands of a mechanic for dry white hands of a ceramicist and continued to work in the shop until my grandmother’s unexpected and sudden death in 2002. The industry slowed dramatically at the end of last century with most home studios closing as well as many of the store front studios. Only 2 of my grandmother’s main clients remain in business today.

I learned ceramics literally at my grandmother’s knee. And don’t think for a second she was easy on me because I was her granddaughter, no, if anything I was held to a higher standard because I am her granddaughter. In Grade 2 I spent 2 days painting and re-painting the eyes on a 6 inch doll figurine for the local Ag Fair. It was just a couple lines and a dot but I did it over and over again until my grandmother was okay with it. Honestly I think she took pity on me after the second day and told me it was okay just so I would stop asking her. I remember giving an oral presentation on Ceramics in Grade 6. I talked all about the chemical reactions in the slip, the change it makes heating the pieces to different temperatures and the vast array of different ways a piece can be finished for function and beauty. I even had several small ceramic bunny tails to hand around the class and smashed one of the floor for dramatic effect. I loved ceramics. Every aspect of it. From the pouring and cleaning to giving the finished piece to the new owner. I even loved spending all day delivering the greenware pieces to the studios and cleaning up the shredded paper we always left behind. Of course it would take almost 2 days to pack all those pieces in the boxes in a way that everything would get to the studio without breaking. That is one change in the industry I like, most studios now pour, clean and fire the pieces before attempting transport, so much less breakage.

The shop had been my second home, I was there almost every day and when my grandmother passed I definitely felt like I had lost a parent. For several years I could not look at a ceramic piece without fighting back tears. Recently my life situation changed and I found myself with a large building and no one interested in renting it. The old ceramic shop had started to become very run down and I thought, ‘why not? If I keep my overhead down I could put all those years of experience to work and have some fun too.’ So I made a deal with my aunt to purchase the old equipment and molds from my grandfather on the condition I was able to put all the capital together before taking anything off the property. I wanted to see what kind of interest was out there and turned to social media. I got such a great response I started looking to see what other people were selling. I found 2 really great local buys for a tenth of my offer to my grandfather and jumped on them. I have been working since to create a studio everyone will not only feel welcome in but also enjoy creating new art. I have space to pour the molds and enjoy cleaning the pieces during studio hours. Ceramics will never be just a 9 to 5, the nature of the material prevents that but I am working on creating a good life balance by having reliable studio hours for people of all ages to come and create with me.

If you want to learn more about my ceramic history please come by the studio. I always creating so you never know what you will find! I would be happy to share stories with you over your next great creation.