|The Potters Guild of BC
The First Fifty Years – 1955-2005
Origins of a Ceramic Culture
Fusion Magazine Volume #29 #3 2005
Written and submitted by Heather Cairns and Debra Sloan
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Potters Guild of BC. The Guild is a non-profit society with a membership of over 400 and links thirteen associated provincial guilds. Its mandate is to support awareness and appreciation of the ceramic arts, both to its membership and the public at large.
To put the last fifty years of British Columbian ceramics into context, is to understand that all of our ceramic knowledge had to be imported. There has never been an indigenous ceramic culture in BC.
Before World War Two Vancouver was a mill town ex-pat British colony; with one foot in Asia. After the war, immigrants from all over the world arrived. Among them were trained artists, architects, and even some potters. We did have one remarkable potter who arrived before World War Two. Axel Ehbring had travelled the world, working in many potteries, before settling in British Columbia in the 1920’s. Being a fully independent potter, Ehbring located himself near natural clay seams in the interior of BC. Supporting himself as a potter all his working life, Ehbring died in 1967 of silicosis.
In the post-war boom the skills our new immigrants brought with them combined with the post-modernism aesthetic, and the resurgence of the arts and crafts movement, creating a dynamic that ignited the arts community in Vancouver.
David Lambert, a trained potter, arrived from England immediately after World War Two. He is fondly known as the ‘Father of pottery in BC’. Lambert designed small kilns, sought out materials, taught classes, and encouraged the Vancouver School Board to include pottery in their curriculum. In the early 1950’s, he teamed up with Reg Dixon, an Argentinean, who had also trained in London, and they established successful throwing classes at the Vancouver School of Art (later becoming ECIAD). Stan Clarke, a local, took classes from Lambert, and Dixon. He went on to establish Greenbarn Potters Supply, a ceramic supply business still operating today. Lambert’s kilns and Clarke’s supplies made it possible for the growing number of potters to establish their own studio.
In the late 1940’s, Hilda Ross and Mollie Carter, both from Vancouver, held pottery classes in the basement of the University of British Columbia Library. They taught with Zoltan Kiss, a Hungarian, who had trained as a potter in Denmark. Olea Davis had immigrated to Vancouver with art degrees from the Ontario College of Art, Toronto, and L’Ecole des Beaux Arts in Montreal. She was active as a painter, sculptor, and designer, but her main interest was ceramics. In 1952, Davis persuaded Gordon Shrum, the then president of UBC, to move the pottery classes to a reconditioned army hut at UBC.
Avery Huyghe emigrated from London after World War Two, and had taken her first classes at UBC. Later, in 1966, Hilda Ross and Avery Huyghe would establish their own school after the demise of the Pottery Hut at UBC.
Olea Davis recognized that an organized clay community would facilitate inclusion into the larger art scene in Vancouver. By 1955, Davis, assisted by Ross, Huyghe, and Clarke, founded the British Columbian Potters’ Guild (now, the Potters Guild of BC). During the first decades, dozens of internationally renowned ceramists from around the world were invited to teach in Vancouver. In true Canadian fashion, the span of influences being delivered was, and remains today, multicultural.
Davis’ vision went beyond promoting ceramics in Vancouver and BC. She affiliated our Guild with the Canadian Federation of Artists, the Canadian Guild of Potters, and the American Craftsman Council. In 1964, Davis was one of three Canadians to represent Canada at the World Craft Council.
Olea Davis encouraged Guild members to enter exhibitions at every opportunity, and many were accorded national and international recognition. This trend continues today. We have three Bronfman Award winners, Robin Hopper, Wayne Ngan, and Walter Dexter. Paul Mathieu, a Chalmers Award winner, and author of “Sexpots: Eroticism in Ceramics”, * is presently an Associate Professor of Ceramics at the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. Tam Irving, who was associated with the ceramics program at ECIAD for over 25 years, is represented in the ceramic collection at the Victoria and Albert Museum .
Since 1985, the Guild has operated the Gallery of BC Ceramics, located at 1359 Cartwright Street, Vancouver, on Granville Island. Representing the work of over 100 of its members, this venue offers the broadest selection of functional pottery and ceramic sculpture in the province. It also features rotating solo and small group exhibits.
‘BC in a Box’, is a travelling exhibition of 150 exquisite pottery miniatures. This show challenged our members to create on a small scale while remaining true to their aesthetic. It allows the PGBC to celebrate its members’ work in a variety of communities throughout the province.
From August 9 – September 11, ‘TransFormations’ will be exhibited at the Burnaby Art Gallery. This show will feature a juried exhibition of contemporary work as well as an historical component documenting our history and the evolution of BC Ceramics.
Another 50th anniversary initiative is a collaborative venture with potters from Tajimi, Japan. In August, our members exhibited fifty juried works alongside 50 works by Tajimi potters during the prestigious 7th Mino International Exhibition. In 2006, the BC-Tajimi exhibition will travel to Vancouver.
The Potters Guild of BC was not founded on the European model, where an association fixed standards and prices, and protected and controlled its members. Olea Davis had very particular reasons for founding the Guild – to learn, to make, to participate, and to use the strength of a collective for ceramics to be seen and noticed. Adhering to this historical practice, we remain a diverse, supportive, interactive and unconstrained community - a reflection of our cultural makeup and of our physical setting.
* “SEXPOTS: Eroticism in Ceramics”, 2003, A&C Black, London (UK), Rutgers University Press (USA), Haupt (Germany].
Copyright Heather Cairns and Debra Sloan 2005. All Rights Reserved.