Tag Archives: Potters

Are potters and ceramists down-to-earth?

My Great-Aunt Della Kelley at a Kelley Ranch near Avon Montana. Source: Kelley Schott

Potters and ceramists are… Of course, the first thing that comes to my mind is ‘down-to-earth.’ It is a cliché, yes, but is it true? Think about the people you’ve known that you met or know because of clay…. Classmates, friends, colleagues. Can we honestly say they are down-to-earth? What does this idiom mean, anyway, aside from our long-held assumptions? I drummed up a couple of sources, answers.com, about.com, and an English language site for ESL students:

Me and my brother Dave at the remains of the Kelley Ranch in Lower Orchard Homes, Missoula, Montana.

“1. Realistic; sensible. 2 a. Not pretentious or affected; straightforward. 2 b. Not overly ornate; simple in style.” Answers.com

“Definition: Not arrogant; simple and practical. Explanation: Used when talking about people who appear to be very natural and kind.” About.com

“Means: to be balanced and reasonable; Use: to refer to people’s characters; Circumstances: It is often a compliment used when you talk about someone you know; Note: Often used with ‘very’. Can be used as an adjective – She’s a very down to earth person.” English Idioms

My brother, Steve, and I on April, my Aunt Susie's horse. Taken in 1961 at my grandma's in Missoula, Montana.

Well, judging by these definitions and descriptions, someone  down-to-earth is practical and unaffected. Do potters and ceramists have these characteristics? When I think about the people I know who are involved with ceramics, I recognize that some are wonderfully flamboyant. Broad gestures, much verbal expressiveness, joie de vivre, even theatricality, but not affectation or pretense. Likewise, I don’t think most people would describe me as someone

Standing my ground. Me, on right, with my Grandma, Aunt Susie, and doe at the National Bison Range, Montana

who puts on airs. It’s in the eye of the beholder, though, isn’t it? When I think of farmers and ranchers, I can’t imagine a group that is literally more down-to-earth. By the very nature of their cyclical lifestyles, they must be innately practical or learn to be. After all, cows and goats need milking, eggs must be gathered, and crops need tending and harvesting. Rural folk don’t have the conveniences of the city, either: mass transit, cultural diversions, or umpteen choices. (However, the Internet, online shopping, and streaming movies has changed that!) Still, they are often the salt of the earth, in addition to being down-to-earth. I see connections between them and potters and ceramists. Mud, dirt, clay. Working the soil to grow something, wedging clay to create something. Animal husbandry requires earth (unless you’re a poor battery hen).

Me at Great-Grandpa Steck's 90th birthday celebration in Clinton, Montana

A close connection to the soil and its power to ground, to keep one tied to the earth and not in the etheric realms. We glaze with ground minerals…rocks. We make glazes with various things of the earth. Painters work with minerals, too, ground up and made into paint, but the raw, earth element is more removed. (Of course, one can paint and sculpt or pot both; they are not mutually exclusive.) So, I guess I’ve talked myself into it. Yes, potters and ceramists are a down-to-earth lot. Whether one’s personality is that way is debatable, but it seems likely that some characteristics of down-to-earthedness may be found among us as a group or sub-group. In 1949, Aldo Leopold wrote, in A Sand County Almanac, “Land, then, is not merely soil; it is a fountain of energy flowing through a circuit of soils, plants, and animals.” That same circuit of energy moves from our hands to the soil and back when we work with clay.


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Canadian potteries and ceramic studios

Famous Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia. A number of potteries are found in the Maritimes. Source: Wikimedia

While I was researching something completely different, I came across Industry Canada and the NAICS code for pottery and ceramics, part of a system of categorizing industries. This led me to the Canadian Industry Statistics (CIS) site. Through it, I came across a listing of Canadian pottery studios and I am featuring them in this post, save six that didn’t list websites. (I’ll update this list later, after I’ve googled those potteries.) It was exciting to see a list of Canadian potteries and I was enchanted by the  names. Most of them are located ‘somewheres else’ and many are in the Maritimes. Of course, there are many more potteries in Canada than those represented on the list. Spread the word because CIS accepts applications to be added to the list! I’m surprised more studios aren’t on it, but who would have thought on a government website? Free advertising! Take a look and click through to their websites. A huge range of styles and techniques is represented, in addition to the purposes for which the products are made. If you live in the U.S., you may be interested in what people above the 49th parallel are making and, if you’re Canadian, you’ll enjoy seeing what’s happening. For everyone else, enjoy this lovely sampling of North American artistry.

Amaranth Stoneware LTD

Antje’s Pottery & Studio

Artifacts In Clay

Lyncharm Pottery

Ateliers Guyon & Mailhiot Inc.

Birdsall-Worthington Pottery Ltd.

Capricorn Pottery

Catfish Moon Studio Crafts

Cavendish Figurines Ltd.

Chrislan Ceramics & Glassware Decorating

Crimmins Pottery Ltd.

Greig Pottery Ltd.

J.B.K. Holdings Inc.

Kirkpatrick Pottery

Lyncharm Pottery

Nature’s Window

Poterie Monique Duclos

Sara Bonnyman Pottery

Scott Clay Products

Spectrum Glazes Inc.

Steelite International Canada Limited

Susan Robertson Pottery

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Japan: Earthquake, Tsunami, Pottery & Disaster Relief

Ceramics shop owner checks his wares. It is heartbreaking to see such beautiful pieces reduced to shards.

Natural catastrophes can strike at any time. People faced with such calamity were going about their daily business moments before. What has happened and is happening is almost unimaginable. Japan’s earthquake has been upgraded to 9-points on the Richter scale and there have been more than 300 aftershocks. Given the earthquake, the tsunami, and the dire food situation, the death toll is expected to exceed 10,000 in just one region and untold thousands are missing. Hundreds of thousands are homeless and over one million are without transportation in the downtown core, as Tokyo’s transit system was halted. As of yesterday afternoon, PST, the temperature in Tokyo was 4 C/39 F and throughout Japan millions are without electricity. In addition, more than 200,000 have been evacuated from the area near the damaged nuclear reactors. We live within the Pacific Ring of Fire and we aren’t nearly as advanced as the Japanese in earthquake preparedness. Save for the technological advancements the Japanese have made and the sea walls that were built, tens of thousands of people would have been killed. Yesterday, I posted about two new books by Japanese ceramists. In many ways, there are few things that are as mundane as ceramics. We drink from ceramic mugs, cups, bowls; eat from ceramic bowls or plates, and use porcelain spoons. It is no coincidence that many new reports about the earthquake and tsunami also touch upon ceramics. Japan and ceramics, two words that are very nearly synonymous. I started thinking of all of those anagama kilns, those vats of celadon glaze, finished and unfinished pieces. I decided to look at experiences with the quake. I was not trying to experience things vicariously or making light of a nation’s misery. Things can often be best understood when put in perspective and hearing about people’s movements, listening to them talk, makes us feel more compassion and empathy. “First the earthquake, then the disaster.” Nothing could be more true. Therefore, please consider donating to the disaster relief organizations listed after the following quotations.

“‘I have no idea how I’ll get home,’ said an 18-year-old woman waiting outside Ginza subway station. She described how ceramics shattered around her in a department store when the huge quake hit mid-afternoon.” — ABC

“Earthquakes of a large magnitude do not necessarily cause the most intense surface effects. The effect in a given region relates to the geological conditions. For example, an area of sand or clay would suffer a greater impact than an area of granite.”   — Global News

“Not yet accounted for is local ceramic artist Kelly Cox, who is backpacking on an island off the coast of Japan.” — MPR

“Tiffany Chong, a British Columbia native living in Kunitachi, Japan, said she was in a pottery class when the ground began to shake. ‘We all ran outside to get to an open space and crouched down,’ she said in an email. ‘The ground was rolling as if we were on a boat in choppy water. I kept looking up at the telephone poles with all the electrical wiring and hoping they weren’t going to fall on me.'” — National Post

“The earthquake smashed one of my wife’s nicest pieces of pottery, but that’s the worst it did to us.” — CBC

Furimono occurs when kiln materials fuse to pieces. At high temperatures when the ash deposit is molten, pieces of ceiling brick may fall onto the pieces and fuse. This may occur during an earthquake or when a kiln is old and worn.” — Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics

“The students are all art students at CSU. The group was studying ceramics in the foreign country. CSU spokesman, John Lester said the students have even been able to do a little social networking during the chaos.” — WRBL

“Inside her apartment, pottery, glasses and other items were thrown from the shelves and damaged.” — Georgia Strait

“As the earthquake and tsunami ripped through Japan, my thoughts turned immediately to my friend, Buddhist priest Shiho Kanzaki, who makes exquisite wood-fired pottery in Shigaraki. He is fine, thank goodness, but devastated by what’s happened to his country.” — Huffington Post

“A ‘beautiful fish’ his teenaged daughter, Julia, made in pottery class snapped in two.”  — Sault Star

‘I’m so sad. I hope,’ said Atsuko Nakanishi. She has tried calling her 86-year-old mother, Hide Kumaga, who lives in a senior center in Japan, but there is no phone service. ‘I didn’t talk to anybody,’ said Nakanishi, a sales clerk at Utsuwa-No-Yakata (‘House of Pottery’), in Edgewater, New Jersey, who admits she is ‘very worried about it.’ A moment later she shares a note of optimism: ‘I try to call tonight. I hope she will be safe.'” — CNN

Should you feel motivated, here are some international aid organizations that are helping with the crisis in Japan:

  • On your cell phone, text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation help earthquake and tsunami victims. Canadian, US
  • SAVE THE CHILDREN — text JAPAN to 20222 to donate $10. Canadian, US
  • GLOBAL GIVING — text JAPAN to 50555 to give $10 or donate online.
  • SALVATION ARMY: text ‘JAPAN’ or ‘QUAKE’ to 80888 to make a $10 donation. USA, Canada
  • Convoy of Hope : Donate either online or via text message by texting TSUNAMI to 50555.


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