I've never been one to pass up a good piece of pottery, and I've got the dishes in my cupboards to prove it. There's something about a piece of art that's also extremely functional that has always appealed to me, and ceramics is one of those crafts, one with very ancient roots.
Having also tried my hand at wheel-throwing, glazing and firing (during a summer workshop at the New Brunswick College of Craft & Design in Fredericton, which I highly recommend), I know how much skill it takes. At about the moment when the mug I was throwing turned itself into a bowl, I decided that buying pottery was more my speed.
With that in mind, here are six makers across Canada that I love, each with their own personal take on this popular medium.
Where: West Kootenays, B.C.
What: Nature-inspired pottery with designs and illustrations that make you feel like you’re up in the mountains, even if the view out your window is more of a concrete jungle.
Why we love ’em: Pottery has long had a bit of a “back to the earth” reputation, and Cedarwood leans into that wholeheartedly. Designs look perfectly at home next to a forest stream or a stack of firewood, and make the company’s whole Instagram feed an ode to backcountry living. And while there are plenty of mugs and bowls, there are also lots of other items like planters, teapots and citrus squeezers for those who have no more room in their mug cupboards. (Just us?)
Workshop’s favourite: We love a good drip glaze, and it seems Cedarwood does too. But what makes theirs truly special is the combination with etched trees or detailed illustrations of wildlife. Sign us up for a cardinal mug, please.
Where: Cape Breton, N.S.
What: Mi'kmaq/Wampanoag artist Nancy Oakley creates a range of both hand-shaped and wheel-thrown pieces that are stone-polished and smoke-fired and draw on her First Nations heritage, with design elements including dream catchers, turtles and braided sweetgrass.
Why we love ’em: When Oakley says that her inspiration comes from “the world around her,” she means it: her practice includes gathering and experimenting with local clay and firing in a wood-fuelled pit fire. Store-bought supplies are fine and all, but this is the woman we want on our zombie apocalypse survival squad.
Workshop’s favourite: We’re smitten with the details and the texture on this tea-stained turtle ornament pot, and especially with the light and shadows it casts when a candle is lit inside. What’s the Mi’kmaq word for hygge?
Where: St. Catharine’s, Ont.
What: Modern, earthy pottery designs with a weight that just feels real, plus occasional illustrated embellishments that lend a cozy Ontario farmhouse vibe.
Why we love ’em: Potter Johann Munro learned her art — and found her purpose — from her grandmother, who kept her kiln in a “little blue shed.” She and her husband Ryan Byng run their pottery business alongside a homestead life complete with chickens, garden and photogenic polydactyl cat, and we’re inspired by their obvious joy in what surrounds them, which translates into product with a true sense of place. (Just check out these hand-built salt and pepper shakers inspired by local farmhouses and barns.)
Workshop’s favourite: We’re big fans of the bees and the butterflies, so it’s not surprising that the vintage-look florals of the pollinator collection have captured our hearts.
What: Modern, sophisticated pieces with clean shapes and abstract details, mainly in black and white.
Why we love ’em: Potter Quin Cheung’s work has a distinctive style that leans heavily urban. We can imagine sipping whisky out of her gold-inlaid tumblers in a penthouse condo with a view of the city lights, or eating expertly arranged high-end cuisine off one of her wheel-thrown plates. And the minimalist look of Cheung’s vases make any floral arrangement shine.
Workshop’s favourite: The tall, slim water jugs Cheung is currently working on make us want to hydrate for days.
What: Stoneware pieces with personality, and we don’t mean that metaphorically. Lesley Wellington’s work incorporates stylized, snub-nosed faces and animals with vivid expressions to add an extra dimension to how you use them: do you want morning coffee in a mug with a cheerful smile, or a soothing cup of chamomile tea in a cup with sleepy eyes?
Why we love ’em: There’s nothing like a happy marriage of function and fun, and Wellington’s work delivers. Who doesn’t want pottery that makes you smile?
Workshop’s favourite: We’re not sure if this mug is grumpy because of the drip glaze or in spite of it, but either way, we can’t help but want to take it home and cheer it up.
What: In the words of the maker, Sara Kasserman, “Handmade pottery inspired by the natural world.”
Why we love ’em: These simple, solid vessels with artful embellishments are simultaneously earthy and grounded and modern and ethereal — Victoria in a nutshell, basically. The owl mugs are perfect for any bird lover, and the Frond Mugs with their wide mouths and luscious glaze make us want to go for a hike in the rainforest and come home to a cup of soup. Plus, we’re loving these minimalist cups with unglazed exteriors.
Workshop’s favourite: The heart-adorned Love Mugs are extremely giftable, which is smart from a business POV. Even your biggest fans can only buy so much of your product for themselves, but give them a way to share the love, so to speak, and you’ll build your customer base even further.
So many ceramicists, so little space... did we leave out your favourite? What other types of goods should we feature? Let us know in the comments!
Main image courtesy Cedarwood Ceramics.