Saturday, February 19, 2011

Tony Clennell workshop

Tony making a teapot
Last week-end Tony Clennell, professor at Sheridan College in Toronto and owner, with his wife Sheila, of Sour Cherry Pottery in Beamsville, ON, came to Ottawa to present a two day workshop.  It's always a priviledge to see how other potters work, and to hear what inspires them.  Tony had lots to offer us in terms of his own insights, technical expertise and anecdotes, lots of anecdotes. 

Tony is comfortable throwing large, robust pots which are often constructed in several pieces.  He likes surface texture and at the workshop he decorated pots with impressions from wooden stamps.  He is also well known for his handles--  they seem fluid, luscious, spontaneous, and they are numerous.  There are lots of different ways to make handles but his love of the traditional "pulled" handle was evident. 

Applying texture with wooden stamp on casserole dish
Tony's many comments and observations on the state of pottery, and handcrafted items in general, have stayed with me this week.  I have recently felt, like him, that the last decade or more has seen a decline in the appreciation of well-crafted items, for a variety of reasons.  He noted that Sheridan is the only pottery degree granting institution in all of Canada!  So where do our craftspeople learn their craft?  And what kind of standards do they follow?  What sort of clay artists does this background breed?  We don't have a tradition of monitored apprenticeships as do some EU countries, nor do we have the numerous pottery schools, from teaching studios to graduate degree programs, as in the US.  We do have plenty of fine craftspeople; how do they survive and thrive? 
It's good to feel challenged in one's work and it's probably a good thing to have to struggle to do what you want to do--challenge and struggle can be good motivators.  So, too, are acceptance and recognition.  Hopefully there's a balance in there for the dedicated craftsperson.                  

One of those "juicy" handles

The workshop was inspiring.  I have been experimenting with texturing some of the pots I've been making this year, and am happy to add a few wooden stamps to my toolkit.  I had also returned to pulling handles after years of coiling them and I'm enjoying the look and feel of them.  Such workshops are a great opportunity to reflect on one's own work and I look forward to processing some of the ideas Tony's workshop presented in the weeks and months to come.