THOSE of us who love pottery – and there are many of us! – should drive to Tatamagouche if at all possible to see Unified Earth, a feast of Nova Scotia ceramics past and present filling the multiple spaces of the cozy Ice House Gallery.
Curated by artist/curator Brandt Eisner (who ran Swoon Gallery in Hammonds Plains), this exhibit leaps from elegant, spiritual raku by Sally Ravindra to Teresa Bergen’s giant, joyful marionette stage with fanciful puppets, from Alexandra McCurdy’s precise, wired boxes to the free-wheeling abstract assemblages of Steven Peters.
Given the number of ceramic artists in the province it’s amazing an exhibit like this hasn’t been done before.
“I think historically fine craft is under-represented within the context of the ‘fine art world.’ I see that changing,” says Eisner, “but we still see a lack of representation. We have such a rich history of world class and influential clay artists here and most are unknown to the general public.
“It was wonderful to have a retrospective of Walter Ostrom’s work at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia but to have a survey of East Coast clay art, past to present, is long overdue. I would love to make that happen in our provincial gallery.”
For years Eisner, a fellow pottery lover, wanted to create a large, group pottery show to “include the biggest names in clay on the East Coast mixed with emerging/up-and-coming clay artists. I didn’t want a themed show as it can be so limiting. I simply wanted to include work that showed off the skills and talent of each artist.”
Established artists familiar to Nova Scotians, several of whom reference ceramic history in their patterns and imagery, include Walter Ostrom with his 1988 signature flower brick of glazed Nova Scotia Earthenware; Joan Bruneau with her glazed flower brick of Lantz clay; Jim Smith and his dreamy, patterned, pastel, architectural spaces, Neil Forrest in dense, mealy, pictorial trivets, Deb Kuyzk and Ray Mackie of Lucky Rabbit with “Evening Hummingbirds” vases in black porcelain and silver and Birdsall/Worthington Pottery’s popular work.
The art encompasses the figurative, the sculptural, the spiritual. There are Andrew Quon’s mini-installations of mystical forms with food, feathers and lichen. Functional pieces often have a meaning or a motif; Shauna MacLeod, of Black Crow Pottery, creates dark green shiny plates inspired by leaves. Judy Gordon’s Beach Grass raku vases have beach grass drawn on their sandy surfaces.
The artists working in raku produce glorious work in soft, swirling colours with mystical, nearly obscure patterns like a landscape or a cosmos (Judy Blake, Sally Ravindra) or crusty, earthy, raku-fired, meteor-like vessels In Solitude Together that are “pinched and paddled” (Mindy Moore).
Works include Louise Pentz’s striking statues and busts of women, intensely craggy and earthy, emotively strong and scarred; Gina Stick’s amazingly detailed, patterned platter of large, orange flowers amidst a green patchwork of a gazillion geometric segments. Maja Padrov’s high-fired stoneware, Grey Ewer, is very granite-like and industrial looking whereas Isako Suzuki’s clay and stain vessels of layers of black, white and blue have a 1960s feel.
Eisner also put out a call for fire-themed art with submissions going through the same jurying process as the potters. The paintings and textiles of fire imagery are a great thematic and visual fit.
Jaye Ouellette exhibits a fantastic series of paintings of flame from a beach bonfire to a blaze on the water with sparks flying up into the thick night air. She is excellent at capturing the light, intensity and energy of fire. Her ghostly purple fish skeletons in Down in Flames suggest disaster.
Also exhibiting paintings on fire are Shelley Mansel, Paul Hannon, Anthony Clementi and Lynn Johnson with hooked rugs by Terri Whetstone and Penny Lighthall with her miniature piece, B.C. Is On Fire. Visual artists also include Jen Power, Juno and Regina Marzlin.
The potters also include: Mary Jane Lundy, Judy Blake, Svilen Petrov, Vaughan Smith, Jacqueline Cohen Carolyn Bedford, Denise Lynch, Gerri Frager, Jennifer Houghtaling, Nancy Roberts, Regina Coupar, Trevor Novak, Jo Ann Shaw, Joël Brodovsky-Adams and Andrea Puszkar.
Eisner hopes to curate this show again and display it at the Chase Gallery, Nova Scotia Archives, in 2022. “The Chase is so much larger that the show can grow. I’m also hoping to gain a few more artists who couldn’t or didn’t show this time. I’ve also discussed having this show take place on a biannual basis at The Ice House.”
IF YOU GO: Unified Earth is on to Oct. 31, Wed. to Sat., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sun., 12 p.m. to 4 p.m., and by appointment. For more pottery visit Sara Bonnyman’s jam-packed studio and workshop nearby at 326 Maple Ave. https://sarabonnymanpottery.com/ She sells all types of vessels and plates in many different colours from oceanic greens and blues to oatmeal as well as her own hooked rugs; beautifully designed, handwoven baskets from Ghana and Indian scarfs made from saris. The leaves are perfect right now along the road from Truro through Earltown to Tatamagouche.
Works by Sally Ravindra; Jaye Ouellette, Louise Pentz