Arts & Design: Four County Claysmiths You Need To Know About Right Now

Endless shorelines, painterly sunsets, and pastoral vistas at every turn—it’s easy to see why Prince Edward County is the muse of so many visual artists. Ceramics is certainly visual, just look to the beauty of some of these artists’ work for proof—but it’s also textural, functional, useful even. These facets collide on the pottery wheel where artists’ hands shape works that reflect the oft-discussed County ‘sense of place’, and are as much a part of everyday life as they are at home under a gallery spotlight. We spoke with four ‘County Claysmiths’ who have discovered that PEC is the perfect setting for getting their hands dirty.

Michelle Kosoy

Photo: Kosoy & Bouchard, 2019

Kosoy + Bouchard

Does water taste better from a cup that is aesthetically beautiful? Michelle believes so. For her, even the simplest functional piece should enhance everyday life. She has been making functional art for over 25 years, from everyday bowls to tables and lamps. She’s passionate about interior design and creating objects that bring beauty to a home. Michelle’s husband Pierre (Bouchard) is a glass artist and together they develop custom pieces for designers and a small collection for the Wellington Farmers’ Market.

“Pierre and I often talk about what we want to make together and bounce ideas off each other regarding our own personal projects. Even though Pierre works in glass we have collaborated on many designs and he helps me in the studio as well.”

How did you develop your signature style?

I grew up with a mother who was a part time designer for fun. She had an obsession with dishes, so it’s pretty clear to me now why I ended up making dishes. Pure form and texture really speak to me, and I tend to be inspired by my surroundings. I love to travel and my first collection of “stampware” was created after a trip to Nepal where I found some beautiful woodblocks used for printing fabric. I started playing around with them on clay and have continued to experiment with stamped textures for twenty-five years.

Tell us about your journey as an artist.

My first degree out of high school was for Art History. After that I took a ceramics class and fell in love. Most of my second degree was in ceramics, and from there I started a studio and a family. Once our children grew up and out of the house, we decided to leave Toronto (and with it our studio and staff) and get back to living in a “makers world”—for us, that was the County.

Now we’re focused on renovating our barn into our dream studio, which will also function as a gallery space for our work and the work of others in our community. We envision it as a hub for others to interact and experience new mediums, and we’re looking forward to having international artist workshops in clay and glass. We love being part of this incredible community and want to give back and be part of it for years to come.

Website: www.kosoyandbouchard.com

Instagram: @kosoyandbouchardstudio

Twitter: @kosoybouchard

Dawn Stafrace-Middleton

Photo: The Ye11ow, 2019

The Ye11ow

Dawn is the multi-disciplined artist behind The Ye11ow Studio in Picton. Named for her favourite colour and number (two things that bring her joy) the space functions as studio, gallery, and shop. At The Ye11ow, Dawn creates functional pottery, sculpture, and site-specific art installations. She also works with individuals and restaurants to design and make custom pottery pieces.

“Both aesthetic and function have to work together to create any good design. My pottery is functional, as in it’s made for everyday use. I design the pieces to be pleasing to the eye and touch, but also consider ease of use. For me, inspiration usually happens outside of the studio. I look at nature and landscapes as well as what is needed and trending.”

What does a typical day in the studio look like for you?

I get to the studio for 8:30am and I work until 4:00pm. Every day is about finding balance between creating items and finishing them. I make everything on the potter’s wheel—a process called “throwing”. There is a constant rotation of throwing, drying, trimming, drying, bisquing, and glazing. There’s also a ton of studio and kiln maintenance and all of the ever-present paperwork that comes along with running your own business.

Tell us about your journey as an artist.

I have always wanted to be a working artist since I can remember, it just took a while to get here. I went to school for art—Sculpture and Installation Art at OCAD, clay/pottery at Sheridan College, and a Master of Fine Art from the University of Waterloo. I have always loved creating. After grad school, I had our daughter, once she was old enough we built my studio, and now I am a full time artist. I had a variety of other jobs during the decade between school and opening The Ye11ow. They all were perfect for getting me ready for my self-employed work/lifestyle.

Website: www.theye11ow.com

Facebook: The Ye11ow

Instagram: @theye11ow

Caitlin O’Reilly

Photo: Tara McMullen Photography, 2019

Cylinder Studio

Form follows function at Cylinder Studio, where Caitlin produces tableware in earthy clay and refined porcelain. Her work is also influenced by her love of textiles, seen in her jewellery and wall hangings—beautiful hybrids of clay and cotton.

“The joy of making functional ware is that it is a part of your everyday experience and I really enjoy making design choices based on how the user will interact with the object.  Most of my inspiration comes from the process of making—especially on the pottery wheel—where the clay often dictates forms you create and logic and interpretation come later on. I formulate my own glazes, so I sometimes work backwards and oftentimes I’ve tested a new glaze and then want to make a piece to put it on. For example, if a glaze looks great on a textured piece, I will play around with texture in the clay. I work in three types of clay as well, so seeing how a new glaze will react to each clay body is very inspiring.”

What is it like working out of House of Falconer?

I’m there every weekday after dropping my son at school. It’s a very creative space, so I try to dedicate all of my time there to creation. I do all of my making in the studio, and save most of the firing for home. I also leave all of the endless tasks that go along with running a business—emails, website updates, shipping, social media—as homework.

What brought you to the County?

I have been working in clay for a long time, beginning right out of high school at Sheridan College and then at Kootenay School of The Arts, but also in television production in Toronto. I worked as a puppet builder for CBC, Nickelodeon, Disney and BBCKids—and I still love to collaborate on new projects through CaitlinOReilly.com. While I enjoyed working in television, we wanted to move away from the long hours when our son was born. We moved to the County as he began kindergarten so he could grow up in a place where he had more room to run and we could have more self-directed careers that would let us spend more time with him.

What’s new for Cylinder Studio in 2019?

We are hosting wedding registries this year and also introducing ‘rentals’, handmade plates and vases in three sizes for groups of up to a hundred people, alongside a curated selection of copper cutlery, cotton napkins, napkin rings, and wheel-thrown candleholders for smaller events.

(Main article photo: Jenny Thompson Photography, for Cylinder Studio)

Website: www.cylinderceramics.com

Instagram: @cylinderstudio

Leslie Fruman

Photo: Leslie Fruman, Clayshapes, 2019

Clayshapes Pottery

Leslie’s pieces are whimsically designed works of art, meant to be used at the table every day. She creates with function in mind, while striving to make forms that never mimic something made in a factory. Her work incorporates bold colour and texture, inspired by abstract paintings and organic shapes.

“Sometimes, the shape a block of clay takes as it’s being rolled out inspires an idea for what I will make. I love the times when I have no commitments and am able to just play in the studio, explore new ideas, and create new forms.”

Did you always want to work with clay?

I was a journalist for 30 years before I started Clayshapes Pottery. First I was a reporter at the Toronto Star right out of University for eight years, and then I made a move to television, where I was a producer/director at The Fifth Estate at CBC TV for 10 years. Next I set out on a freelance career as a showrunner/producer for various television production companies and networks—a very busy, exciting, and fulfilling 30-year career.

I was taking some time off after my mom passed away—she was an artist—so I decided to take a ceramics class at the Gardiner Museum in Toronto. I wanted to see if I had a creative gene. I was immediately smitten with clay and, within a few months, I’d cleared a space in my home for a studio and bought a second hand kiln. Within a year I started selling my work, first online, and then at craft shows. Then I just stopped taking television contracts and became a full-time potter. I have a wonderful, newly renovated studio overlooking the Black River—a great perch for creative work.

What inspires your current work?

I was out of the studio for several months while it was being renovated, and I used the time to look at a lot of abstract painting, and even paint a few canvases. That inspired me to start creating very colourful abstract paintings on ceramic “canvases”, using pottery glazes. It’s a weird and unusual process. Ceramic glazes are my “paints”, but most often they don’t look the same colour when I apply them as they will once they are fired. Pale green appears orange, amber appears blood red, and several colours all appear as grey. So painting with them is challenging because I’m not seeing the true colours as I brush them on.

Once I’ve put the glaze on, there’s no taking it back. It’s there for good (or bad) and can’t be adjusted. I won’t actually see what I’ve done until after the pieces have spent nine hours in the kiln. It’s daunting, and I’m constantly recalibrating my brain to interpret the colours. It makes opening the kiln either really exciting or very disappointing! But I’m loving the process, the challenge, and the wildly colourful pieces I’m creating.

Website: www.clayshapespottery.com

Facebook: Clayshapes

Instagram: @clayshapes

Twitter: @clayshapes

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