Tag Archives: British Columbia

Bill Reid’s sculpture, “Spirit of Haida Gwaii”

(left) A map showing Haida Gwaii‘s main towns and other physical features. By TCY via Wikimedia Commons.


Last night, an earthquake of  7.7 magnitude occurred off the west coast of Canada. According to a Globe and Mail, news story, the “earthquake occurred along the Queen Charlotte Fault – west of Haida Gwaii between two major plates – in an area that has experienced many large earthquakes in the past.” The area is peopled by the First Nations Haida. They were very lucky the earthquake caused little damage.

Skidegate Indian Village of the Haida tribe. Skidegate Inlet, British Columbia, Canada. By George M. Dawson via Wikimedia Commons


Two main islands make up most of the land mass of Haida Gwaii and, small though it is, it is an area rich in beauty and wildlife. Protected areas include a UNESCO World Heritage SiteGwaii Haanas National Park Reserve and Haida Heritage Site and Naikoon Provincial Park. The many animals of the area are revered by the Haida and figure strongly in their spirituality. The Haida may best be known for their carvings of such fauna on totem poles. While I have yet to travel to this remote area of B.C., when I do, I especially want to go to Skidegate. Referring to the whole area, the UNESCO website explains “it is above all the 32 totemic and mortuary columns on the edge of the dwelling zone which contribute to the world renown of the site,” according to the entry.

A person who has also contributed to the fame of Haida Gwaii is an artist named Bill Reid whose father was Scots/German and mother was Haida. The onetime Canadian Broadcast Corporation reporter studied the art of jewelery-making and carving. “In 1951, he returned to Vancouver where he eventually established a studio on Granville Island, and became greatly interested in the works of (Charles) Edenshaw,”according to the Wikipedia entry,”working to understand the symbolism of his work, much of which had been lost along with the many Haida traditions.” The photographs which follow are of Reid’s masterpiece, “Spirit of the Haida Gwaii,” which depicts a canoe filled with animal and human figures, all chosen for their spiritual and cultural symbolism. “The sculpture was originally created in 1986 as a 1/6-scale clay model, enlarged in 1988, to full-size clay. In 1991, the model was cast in bronze,” states Wikipedia. You can find out about the animals that are portrayed and what they represent in the same Wikipedia entry.

Thank you, Mother Nature, for sparing Haida Gwaii.

Spirit of Haida Gwaii, plaster original
Spirit of Haida Gwaii,” plaster original, by Bill Reid, Canadian Museum of Civilization, Gatineau, Quebec. By D. Gordon E. Robertson via Wikimedia Commons

RK 0908 9604 Spirit of Haida Gwaii the Jade Canoe“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe,” sculpture by Bill Reid, in bronze, at the Vancouver International Airport. By Reinhard Kraasch via Wikimedia CommonsSpirit of Haida Gwaii, The Jade Canoe, port side“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Jade Canoe,” bronze sculpture by Bill Reid,  Vancouver Airport, Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. By D. Gordon E. Robertson via Wikimedia Commons.

“Spirit of Haida Gwaii, the Black Canoe,” sculpture by Bill Reid in bronze, outside the Canadian Embassy in Washington. By Bengt Oberger via Wikimedia Commons


Filed under Ancient History, Current Events, Featured Artists, Videos/Photos/Slides

Ceramic Homage to Small Brown Birds

The birds have entertained me mightily today and I’ve decided to combine a former posting about them with some current news. We have a SquirrelBuster feeder that I swear by and it is hanging from our Arts and Crafts-style arbor out front. I can see it from my kitchen window. For hours, there’s been a rumpus between the black cap chickadees, the chestnut backed chickadees and the little brown birds. Last year, the feeder hung from the eavestroughing and the brown ones couldn’t reach it. Now, though, they have an arbor to perch on between forays to the feeder. Not only that, they seemed to be camping out on the feeder… I see the poor little black caps hovering for space but these homely brown birds aren’t budging… It’s pouring down rain and they are all wet. No need to use the birdbath for a drink and I guess it’s time for me to remove the birdbath heater, as the weather’s actually quite mild now.

Our property here is covered with understory in the form of salmonberry bushes. There is a forest standing right behind our house and, because of it, a variety of birds keep us company year ’round. Usually, the small brown birds occupy the ground and I’d always thought of them of ground birds until today. They’d never used the elevated feeders before and relied on pecking the ground to find food. They have become very dear to me. Chickadees might dramatically flit and fly around the tube feeder, but these humble little brown birds always hopped over the wet or frozen ground and cocked an eye, asking me to not forget them. While they have muted tones, nondescript markings or shape, they can be very sweet and personable. One, in particular, showed itself to be no wallflower. If I hadn’t put seed on the ground for it, it’d stand on the joists of the partly built porch and peer at me through the front window. It was so fluffed out, it was almost round and is what my Mom calls an LBJ, little brown job…a generic little brown bird. I’ve tried keying out these tiny birds in my field guides, but with little success. I can’t see markings clear enough from the window and they dash off when I walk out with an eye toward watching them. Maybe their very homeliness is the reason I’ve noticed their personalities… I see the flashy chickadees all the time and can’t say I’ve been able to tell one from the other. Now the LBJs… London Clay Birds remind me of my little birds and I think these little ceramic figurines capture the essence of these little birds very well. These sweet renditions are of birds found in the area where the artisan who makes them lives, London, England. “As the clay is unpurified I get a variety of effects when they are fired,” explains Dawn Painter on her blog site.  She states that the birds are made of local clay, which “is a marine deposit from the Paleogene period – 60/50 million years ago. London was, back then, covered by a warm tropical sea.” Painter’s birds capture the charm of our LBJs. This stoneware wren is wonderful, too. There’s an honesty and directness I find appealing and its quiet coloration and stylization make it very attractive. Made by Andersen Studio, in Boothbay, Maine, it is the epitome of the little brown bird. Winter is very rainy here in British Columbia and would be dull without our birds. I am so happy they grace our presence and always look forward to their return. Our little brown birds like us and I love them.


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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.




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Open Studio Update, 8/23

Okanagan Peaches

Phew. Truth be told, I am much more tired than I thought I’d be when I came back from vacation. As it turned out, it was more of a working holiday. The scenery was gorgeous, rec activities were great, and the food  delicious, but it was all very labor intensive. I thought I could pull it all off, but. Not having the time stressed me out at first, but I soon became overwhelmed by obligations and hadn’t time to think about it. Am home, now, and I so want to write! Thus far, the highlight of my week took place today: the Open Studio. Much of my trip was spent looking at ceramics and while that was very satisfying and inspiring, I was itching to pick up a hunk of clay. Spending time with my studio buddies was so gratifying… I brought in organic peaches from the Okanagan, which we drove through two days ago. I just ate one over the sink because it was so juicy! Smelled like a peach and tasted like one, sheer heaven. I bought a flat of peaches and apricots but I don’t know how many will make it to the freezer for winter, heh heh.

Four Seasons Obelisk

Today: Placed the  chanterelle sculptures and pot risers in the bisque area, along with all the tiles from a July workshop. Glazed a low, wide bowl. Glazed another, but there were too many pin holes, so I washed it off and will redo it later. Worked on the  underglaze ‘snow’ on three “trees” tiles. The Art Centre has a number of benefits coming up and I want to finish all of my contributions now so I can concentrate on my work without interruption, i.e., Christmas presents. I found I was tired by 3 p.m., which was fine because, save lunch, I’d worked from 9 a.m. straight.

Next Tuesday: Bisquing toadstools; rolling out slabs, adding texture for an obelisk, leaving to firm up before cutting. Uncovering my experimental tubelined tile. Glazing chanterelles, workshop tiles and pot risers; reglazing bowl. Finishing three bisqued “trees” tiles, two ‘snow,’ one tba.

Following Tuesday: More layers of underglaze on toadstools, then clear glaze. Bisquing molds. (Finally!) Reassessing, patching and finishing my bird house (!!). Cutting prepped slabs for an 25″ tall garden obelisk.

I will also be working to reestablish my writing schedule, arranging to publish posts a little after midnight. It will take a few days to get back on track and I appreciate your patience… Cheers! — Jan

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