Joan Grisley’s pottery canisters and chai masala

Joan Grisley's "Landscape" series canisters. Photo by Joan Grisley.

The canisters are part of Joan Grisley’s “Landscape” series, inspired by the terrain in the Cariboo. Home to Joan for over twenty years, the Cariboo region of British Columbia is rugged, rural, and pristine. I imagine lighting in the Wild West of B.C.’s interior must have been an eye-opener for someone used to British climes but, looking at Joan’s work, one can see she grew to love the area. A professional-level potter when she immigrated to Canada, Joan set up a working studio at her home, which must have been heaven. She now lives in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, near Vancouver, and I am fortunate enough to work next to her on a weekly basis through the Open Studio. I remembered having seen photos of her canisters and she was generous enough to share them with us. In describing them, Joan said the basic shape for the canisters are thrown. “When leather hard, the landscapes are gradually built up,” she said, “first by incising the mountains, then adding clay for the hills.” Following with more incising, she then uses “a number of different small tools to stamp and mark details such as bull rushes, flowers, etc.” Fences, trees, and log cabins are created by adding more clay. “After the bisque firing, the scenes are sponged with thick iron oxide wash, which is then sponged off the high points,” she explains. “This area is then carefully waxed and the pot glazed.” When I asked her about the lettering, she said it is made with “metal stamps made to stamp leather.” They do remind me of a tooled leather handbag my grandfather gave me as a child, one of my favorite things. To finish the canisters, Joan glazed them and “fired to cone 9 in an electric kiln.” I drove through the Cariboo in the 1980s when I was driving up to Alaska and the area is every bit as beautiful and varied as is shown on Joan’s canisters.

Joan Grisley at work in the Open Studio.

Joan’s work is exquisite. She must have amazing eyesight, hand-eye coordination, the ability to concentrate and a deft touch because the pieces Joan creates are perfection. Whether it’s a periwinkle punch bowl with matching cups, tiny figurines of moose, sheep, or highland cows, or fanciful bowls for her grand-daughters, they are a sheer delight. I’ve seen photos of her sculptural pieces, in addition to many other hand-built and thrown works. There is nothing Joan doesn’t know about ceramic techniques and materials. The consummate professional, she is a vast repository of knowledge and it would be wonderful if she wrote a book on the subject some day, illustrating it with her work. The subject of canisters came up with one of my brain’s typically circuitous routes. A while back, I asked my friend Rukmini if she’d mind telling me which spices were used in South Asian chai. She called it chai masala, which means spiced tea. She told me she knew some Gujarati ladies who mixed the ingredients. I asked because I was tired of buying commercial concoctions in supermarkets. I wanted the real thing. She told me a number of ingredients and I looked up a few more. Last week, I went on a buying trip, bringing back fragrant packets of spices from the East Indian section of our grocery store. When I got home, I took a pinch of this and that and placed it in a cloth coffee sock. It looks like a cloth Melitta filter. After heating half water and half milk in a pot, I lowered the bag of orange pekoe tea and spices into it and let it steep. It was remarkable! Unlike any store bought “chai.” So fresh, so fragrant! Afterward, though, I worried about how I was going to store the spices. I didn’t want them to go stale or become less flavorful. I thought and thought before I arrived at the solution. Of course! Clay! Plastic or wood would absorb the scent and flavor but glazed, fired clay would be impervious. Don’t ask me why it took me so long to figure it out… But, then, I wondered what kind of clay jars… As I pondered it, I came to realized that I’ve been posting for three years, yet kept missing a very vital object: canisters. Clay containers of graduated size with tight-fitting lids. We all grew up with them and most of us have them, for flour, sugar, coffee, tea, sometimes salt. That was it! My chai masala concoction could be stored in the tea container, mixed with a lovely Assam tea.

Chai Masala Ingredients

I mixed these ingredients to my liking and enjoy a strong clove flavor. You can look up specific recipes on the internet, but I am not that exacting. What you do need to know is what to add to your mix. Here is a list of typical chai masala spices:

Even our cat Rosie is attracted to chai masala spices!

  •  cloves, whole
  • green cardamom, crushed seed pods
  •  cinnamon bark, broken into chunks
  •  peppercorn, whole
  •  ginger, fresh, sliced
  •  star anise, whole
  •  fennel, whole

After doing a little research, I learned that theses spices have medicinal qualities. Click here to read more about the ayurvedic aspects of spiced tea. While I cannot attest to the veracity of the site, I think it’s a good starting point. Apparently, the key is to choose spices that warm you. To be more particular, you’ll have to learn what dosha you are, but that’s far afield of what I’m writing about today. After you’ve tested your mix and it is to your liking, store it in your tea canister. It will be there whenever you want it, inviting and enticing….

Another view of Joan Grisley's "Landscape" series canisters. Photo by Joan Grisley.

 

 

9 Comments

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9 Responses to Joan Grisley’s pottery canisters and chai masala

  1. Pauline

    It is really great to see this work of Joans! Wow. P.

  2. BW Finley

    I remember Joan from my time at PMAC. I’m glad she’s back working there, inspiring
    others with her good work.

  3. Pauline

    Hi Jan,
    I saw that cute little picture of your cat’s nose Ahh!
    Hi BW, I miss you and am thinking of taking a train trip your way.
    I’ve so much news to tell you.

  4. Jan

    Yes, BW, I feel fortunate to not only know Joan but to work with her. Very lucky indeed. Thank you for your comment… — Jan

  5. Joan

    I thank you all for your kind comments and also thanks to Jan for so eloquently capturing the essence of my work and my inspiration.
    Jan, If you get more people logging on to your blog than usual, it’s because my son Matt has forwarded this blog to everyone he knows! Joan.

  6. Carla

    Hi Jan,
    I’ve stumbled upon your work and love it! Is there a way to order a canister set? Please let me know! Thanks so much!
    Carla

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