Saturday, July 31, 2010

Potters' Paradise

In June I had the good fortune to be an artist in residence at 
It was one of the best experiences of my life.  These are images of the soda kiln I fired (my new addiction) and some drums I made.

Here's an article I wrote for Sediments, Sask Terra 's newsletter.

Fourteen ceramic artists from across North America took part in the Medalta International Artists in Residence program (MIAIR) at the Shaw Centre in the Historic Clay District in Medicine Hat during June 2010.
The calendar was full of events.  Presentations by residents, staff, and local artists and discussions and sharing of information were an important part of the residency.  We were treated to true western hospitality which included a trip to Red Rock Coulee, a unique geological formation. Tours of the Medalta Museum, Hycroft, and the IXL brick making plant.  Six ceramics exhibitions, including Clay Diversions, a show of residents’ previous work, took place in Medicine Hat during the month.  A gallery walk introduced us to the local art scene.  An open house was held the last evening.  Displays of work were well received by numerous visitors.
Each person worked on their own projects.  For example, onjji, traditional Korean storage vessels, were made on a kick-wheel, using coil and paddling technique by Sukjin Choi, an assistant art professor living in Virginia.  Gillian McMillian focused on salt firing functional vessels that celebrates her fondness for birds while Leigh Merritt from New Brunswick focused on cone six crystalline glazes.  Robin DuPont, the invited artist in residence, slow cooled porcelain wares in soda firings.  The results are spectacular: carbon trapping, crystal growth, dripping glass-like soda deposits and “frosty” glazes.  These are only of few examples of the rich stimulating environment and bodies of work produced.
Sculptural pieces were explored in various ways. One person created a number of fun but with a shadow side birds.  Another resident sculpted tall forms influenced by the landscape and the resident bull snake.  Historic saggars were used as slump molds by Luann Johnson, an ACAD student,  She also employed found objects on site as inspiration to inform her exuberant work.   

The facility is well equipped with electronic kilns, a gas car kiln, soda and salt kilns, as well as a bourrey box wood fired kiln. There is a well equipped glaze room with a state-of-the-art spray booth and ventilation system.  Sand blaster, slab rollers, and extruder were also available for use.  Aaron Nelson's (Artistic Director) vision and organizational capabilities, ensured a positive experience for all.  (  Studio manager, Jenn Demke-Lange, patiently and pleasantly accommodated our requests.  

A record number of firings took place over the month.  Heavy, light and residual salt firings yielded spectacular results.  The soda kiln was also fired successfully to cones 6 and 10, residually, as well as with a mixture of soda ash, whiting and baking soda and cooled in a variety of ways.  

Two Sask Terra members participated in this opportunity.  Claude Morin made playful sculpture creatures as well as functional wares, much of which was fired in the salt kiln.  His enthusiasm and positive outlook were appreciated, as was the large thermos of coffee he brought every morning.  Drums and rattles were wheel-thrown byTeresa Gagne.  Her passion for vapour firings continued as she tested surfaces in soda, salt and wood kilns.  

It was rare for someone not to be at the studio at any hour of the day.  Weekend parties, games, laughter and barbecues provided balance and fuel for creative juices.  This rich learning experience and creative hiatus from everyday life has been a highlight of the participants’ art practice.  

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