When did you know you wanted to be a ceramic artist?
I am often asked that question and looking back I guess the signs were always there. My extended family immigrated from Germany to Peterborough, Ontario in 1957 and I was born two years later. On weekends we would congregate at my Oma and Opa’s home to visit and feast together. What stands out in our collective memory were my Oma’s amazingly delicious butter cream cakes which she served at the Sunday afternoon kaffee klatch. Oma would use the
good china. It was my job to set the table, taking great care to remember everyone’s favourite place setting. My mom’s favourite was an incredibly beautiful fine blue and white porcelain cup and saucer. If you held the cup up to the light, the etched portrait of a Japanese women was revealed inside the cup.
What was your first experience working with clay?
My earliest recollection of working with clay or “mudslinging” can be traced back to my favourite place known as Willow Beach (on Lake Ontario). As kids we spent summers by the lake and were encouraged to explore the world on our own. We would wander westward along the pebbled shore to “The Point” and there at the base of the cliffs we would dig out the wet blue-grey clay with our bare hands. Messing about we formed crude shapes that would dry and crumble. We once had a potter visit to do a clay workshop and he fired our creations in a charcoal fuelled pit we dug in the ground.
Some years later I met a potter who lived in the Bain co-op who was offering lessons in her tiny basement studio and so I decided to give pottery making a go. I worked for hours at the wheel making small pots. When I saw them magically transformed by Deborah Wilson’s beautiful deep cobalt blue and milky white glazes, I was hooked!
It was several more years before I began my formal education at The Ontario College of Art where I studied ceramics and textile design. I then went on to teach pottery as Artist-in-Residence at The Crafts Studio at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto.
I have continued to teach and really enjoy it because it allows me to share my experiences as a maker and repeatedly witness that moment when a person discovers or rediscovers clay. A few students I have taught now have their own studio practice. The money I earn teaching pottery allows me to do what I love most, which is making pottery.
When, where and how did you begin selling your work?
I began by wholesaling my pots to a dozen shops in Canada, and I also took my work on the road to craft shows all over Ontario. I used to thrive on that aspect of selling here, there and everywhere back when my husband and young son and I were a team. I would do shows during the Summer and Fall months so we could also rent a cottage and make a weekend of it.
The Toronto Outdoor Exhibition was my biggest show and for nearly a decade I, along with 499 other makers, set up our display for three days in the hot July sun at Nathan Phillips Square. I met some fabulous artists and customers, many of which have remained dear friends and have become collectors of my work.
I have also participated in Studio Tours, held in local artists homes, as a way of selling my work. This type of show is organized by a collective. Each tour has its own flavour.
All these experiences were good at the time and they helped to build my brand.
These days I prefer to do fewer shows. I have a beautiful studio in the east end of Toronto under a canopy of trees where I teach workshops and sell my work. Mostly my clients come to visit me here and buy direct. There is nothing better than selling from the studio where my inspirations surround me at my place of work.
The Aha moment!
I have thought long and hard about that “aha” moment when I knew I would be a potter and although there were many hints along the way, there is one moment that stands out. It was that one day when I had finished my three year residency in the clay studio at Harbourfront Centre (a terrific place that bridges the gap between arts school and setting up ones own studio). Four of us had moved into our own shared studio at The Wrigley Lofts building at Carlaw and Dundas. I arrived with a box of tools and a start up grant from The Ontario Crafts Council. I purchased a wheel and a second hand kiln but I really needed another wheel if I was going to teach. So for my birthday my husband presented me with a small box. Inside was a tiny battery operated potters wheel that he had hand-made for me out of Fimo. The real one he explained was too big to wrap. I cried with happiness knowing I had his full support.
Final thoughts and advice?
I consider myself very fortunate to have a tribe of family and friends who believe in me and who have allowed me to do what I do. There are rocky times, don’t get me wrong. One never knows what obstacles will get in the way but you just have to keep going, making necessary changes along the way.
I am often asked how long it takes to make a mug. The short answer is, Twenty-five years. Like most everything in life, chances are, the easier it appears the longer it takes. And the path to getting “there” is rarely a straight line.
For those of you entrepreneurs starting out and not knowing which path to follow, my advice is:
Go to that heartfelt passionate place that pulls you. Embrace the friends you meet along the way. Learn how to flow with the river. The life of a maker is a fluid one but a good one.