ShprixieLand Studios: Partners in Pottery and Play

ShprixieLand Studios: Partners in Pottery and Play

If you have seen the colourful pottery works of ShprixieLand Studios from Boswell, B.C. and thought, “How fun! How Playful! How Unique”, and wondered what the artists were like, well those same descriptors will ring true once you have met Heath Carra and Victoria Henriksen, also known as Shpriken and Pixie. Our first glimpse of these fine folks was when they contacted us wishing to contribute some pottery to our now defunct crowdfunding campaign. We loved their work and wanted to interview them, and despite not living far apart from one another it took awhile to meet up. So here we are, after tooth extraction appointments and date changes we have finally arrived at the base of their driveway, this last obstacle almost requiring four wheel drive for our over-weight and under-powered van Arty.

Heath (Shpriken) Carra and Victoria (Pixie) Henriksen

Like many people living in the Kootenays of B.C. (including us), Pixie and Shpriken relocated from a bigger city to forge a different way of life for themselves. After checking out fourteen homes through a Creston realtor, they found their scenic oasis overlooking the pristine waters of Kootenay Lake in Boswell. Pixie having come from art and design school and Shpriken a background in sheet metal layout, they discovered new opportunities for growth and a new learning curve for all that living in a rural area entailed, such as chopping wood for heating, raising chickens and pigs, and being the head fixer-upper for anything and everything. It also meant finding a way to earn an income, and although they acted on a whim to move, with no plans for work once they got there, it is, ironically, these urges of let’s give it a try that has lent itself well to their creative process and now successful pottery business.

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We learned from these two artists that their art work, like their lives together, are a weave of collaboration, friendship, fun, and propping each other up when needed. It was Pixie who was the ceramic artist arriving in Boswell with the design and wheel-throwing skills, and Shpriken, the mathematics minded handy guy who built her a pottery studio and fixed stuff up where needed. What he found through hanging around Pixie in the studio though is that his knowledge of sheet metal layout crossed over to hand-building clay pieces from slab layout design. From these beginnings their pottery lines have expanded with their imaginations, in many cases incorporating decals that they have made of images and phrases to be imprinted on their mugs, tumblers and rice bowls. You will see fun pieces ranging from adorable animal caricatures with happy sayings, to the risqué humour of their Educational Wildlife Mugs, a light-hearted series for the less prudish. And if you thought that doilies had gone out of style for your table-top accoutrements then wait until you see these designs pressed into a mug or teapot, creating an eye-popping effect. (At the risk of sounding less dudeish Shpriken proudly acknowledges his huge collection of doilies).

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The ShprixieLand Studio

The Shprixies note that although the merit of the artistry and decoration of a piece is important, the shape of the clay vessel must still be fully functional for day to day use. A visually appealing mug will be pleasing to the eye, but one that can be held in the hands with a steaming cup of tea or coffee will also engage the tactile senses, and some may argue even elevating the enjoyment of the beverage. Likewise, a piece hand-made by an artist, where their creative energies have lovingly transformed a piece of clay into a “friend” that speaks to you through the colour and texture of its glazes, the shape of the handle perfectly within your grasp, or the image of a cute owl bringing a smile to your face, will stir the soul unlike anything that a mass produced machine molded mug could ever do.

Enjoy our interview with these high-energy partners in pottery and please help to spread the word about them through social media, with nice comments submitted below for those so inclined.

Potter Valerie Metcalfe Turns the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

Potter Valerie Metcalfe Turns the Ordinary into the Extraordinary

If you haven’t figured it out by now then I will just come right out and say it. I love art! I love everything about it. It constantly amazes me how human beings can take something we may perceive as having little importance and turn it into a wonder of my world. It makes me laugh, smile, ponder, sigh… and be in a constant state of awe. It is because of these feelings and emotions that studies have shown that art (not unlike nature), when we have it in our lives can actually boost our immune systems and make us healthier. But don’t take my word for it, check with Google. Luckily for us there is an endless supply of very talented, emerging and veteran artists right here in Canada for Gary and I to interview and get an immune booster at the same time. It is no wonder then that neither of us have been sick since ArtsQuest began. One such veteran artist we had the pleasure of visiting was potter Valerie Metcalfe of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

arts-quest-valerie-metcalfe

Once a week or so you can find Valerie down on Corydon Avenue at The Stoneware Gallery and The Stoneware Studio where she may be firing some of her work, teaching some students or helping out in the gallery. This isn’t just any gallery. It has been in existence for 38 years in its current form and is one of the longest operating co-operative’s in Canada. And Valerie, only 4 years out of university with a fine arts degree, became one of the studio members who purchased the business from the original owner and turned it into a pottery paradise for both makers and appreciators of pots. She has been there ever since. This opportunity gave Valerie something that most people only dream of; to do something she loves for her entire working career.

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It is because of people like Valerie and what their art does for me that I can easily sing the praises for why you should ditch the Corelle and start collecting pieces of art to drink, eat and cook from. When you choose to drink from a vessel that was made of clay, a gift from the earth, by an artist such as Valerie you will have a different experience. It is not hard to go and spend a few bucks on something that will hold your coffee, but when you spend your hard earned dollars on handmade pottery your decision to purchase becomes more mindful. As it happens, there is an honest to goodness connection with something that is so beautiful you can’t take your eyes or your hands off of it. I can tell you, it is the difference between just getting the job done and bliss. Sound kooky? Give it a try.

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When I first spotted Valerie’s work it was really a matter of happenstance. I was on Instagram and was admiring the work of another artist who, unfortunately for ArtsQuest, lives in the UK. I had noticed that Valerie had commented on some of Woodbug1’s work and so I went to see what she was up to. What I found were some pieces that took my breath away and I had to know more. Luckily for ArtsQuest, Valerie Metcalfe is an artist living in Winnipeg which happened to be one of our artist interview tour destinations.

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Valerie has years of experience in the art of making fine pottery. She is highly skilled in technique and form, which her work and her students can attest to. Her clay of choice is porcelain because it is more pure than any of the other clay bodies which gives it its signature white colour. It has a delicate and graceful appearance once fired and finished, but at the same time it is one of the strongest materials used for making pots. Valerie loves the pure and rich colours that come from glazing and painting porcelain and she finds the result to be very similar to what one would find in nature. While we were there she demonstrated for us how she throws a large plate or platter. This is some tricky business, let me tell you. There are so many stages involved with getting it right and this is all before it makes it into the kiln. Valerie makes the process look like a well choreographed ballet. My immune system was fully boosted by this time. The forms, the colours, the decorations, the embellishments and every other little detail that goes into each beautiful piece Valerie makes comes from within her, and is her contribution to a beautiful world.

We invite you to watch Valerie’s video interview and encourage you to help spread the word about her and her work through social media and email. Thank you! PS: We love comments.

Judi Dyelle and Robin Hopper – Purveyors of Fine Pottery

Judi Dyelle and Robin Hopper – Purveyors of Fine Pottery

Elegant and refined; bold and colourful! Are these the descriptions of Judi Dyelle and Robin Hopper’s pottery, or their respective personalities? Perhaps they are a bit of both! We had the pleasure of meeting up with these two experienced, award winning artists and teachers at their home in Metchosin, B.C.; also home to their studios and gallery at ‘Chosin Pottery. Our approach along their horseshoe shaped driveway wending through the forested front yard gave us a glimpse into the natural setting that they not only call their home, but their inspiration! The incredible gardens and architecture throughout their property were created by Robin and inspired from a Japanese design; the feat quite aptly named the “Anglojapanadian” garden.

Judi Dyelle

Judi Dyelle


Robin Hopper

Robin Hopper

Before we started the formal part of our interview, we sat with Judi and Robin at their dining room table to get acquainted. We were surrounded by a world of handmade furnishings, both functional and decorative, including the mugs we sipped our green tea from. Robin was talking about how much research, trial and error went into actualizing the perfect mug. Considerations to examine were: Is it too heavy or too light? Does it cause me to dribble? Are my fingers comfortable? Do they get squished or are they too loose causing slippage? Is it top heavy and tippy? These questions and more were carefully scrutinized before arriving at an aesthetic form with the proper function; and sure enough, there was something so much more gratifying about the “feeling” of my mug of green tea and knowing what went into making it and who made it. We didn’t realize then that this topic was a preamble to Robin and Judi’s interview and their thoughts about not only the historical cultural importance of pottery, but why it should be of present day cultural importance.

Judi Dyelle

Judi Dyelle


Robin Hopper

Robin Hopper

Judi is a potter with a passion for Oriental ceramics! Her extensive studies in art school combined with studying for a year and a half in Japan had not only added to her collective experience for teaching pottery across Canada and the U.S., but also her love for it! She enjoys working mainly in porcelain, preferring to use it as a very fine and delicate clay body incorporating piercing, cutting and textures into her work. She notes that porcelain is an amazing substance; fragile while working with it but once fired in the kiln is stronger than ceramic and does not chip easily. She also demonstrated the rich “bell” sound one of her bowls made, revealing another sense that reaps the artistic rewards (Play ‘Porcelain Song’ below). Judy notes that the form of her vessels are unequivocally first priority, with the finishing process such as glazes secondary and used to accentuate the piece. She does not paint her work and for that reason the glazes she develops are very important in order to embellish the form of the vessel appropriately.

‘Porcelain Song’:

Judi Dyelle

Judi Dyelle

Make sure to click on Judi’s images below for a closer look:

Robin’s foray into pottery was more like a trial by fire when we was three years old! His introduction to clay happened during the bombing of London in World War II when the shells would crater the land and displace the sub-surface clay upwards, giving him an endless supply to play and work with. Well after those beginnings and his ensuing art school training in his late twenties, Robin traveled and taught pottery around the world on most of the continents and has had his creative hands in many mediums and endeavours ever since. Authoring six books, creating educational DVDs based on those books and designing a world class garden are but a few of his comprehensive pursuits outside of the many hours of “pushing clay around.” His initial art training was in painting and drawing and it has always been at the core of his ceramic work. His latest interest draws on those skills and involves glaze paintings on a porcelain-like substrate and then firing it in the kiln giving it a wonderfully vivid and textured effect, as seen below.

Robin Hopper

Robin Hopper

Make sure to click on Robin’s images below for a closer look:

Both Robin and Judi commented on their fascination with ancient cultures that used pottery for their everyday needs, with various cultures still utilizing their pottery-ware today as an integral part of their lives, be it for practical or ceremonial purposes; usually both. Judi relates how in Japan and Korea these simple ceramic dishes bring on a beauty of their own through the ceremony of eating and gathering of family and friends. This fundamental appreciation for food and family does not harmonize with our fast-food and throw-away culture in North America. Robin notes that he has followed the history of pottery which has followed the history of humans; clay being a necessary part of ancient cultures as they produced items for eating out of or for cooking with, many times the vessel being created for a specific food or dish. These were not mass produced factory items with no personal connection, they were cherished pieces tied irrevocably to the family’s social structure just from the act of making them with their hands, or knowing who did. It is Judi and Robin’s hope that North American society can adopt such heartfelt customs once again, bringing back to the family table not only the family, but a less instant way of life and one closer to the the earth, and clay!

Join Robin and Judi in their gallery as they “turn” us on to pottery! Please share with social media and feel free to leave a comment below!

Pat Jackson Reveals Small is Beautiful

Pat Jackson Reveals Small is Beautiful

Hartney, Manitoba was the first place we decided to try out our new artist finding strategy. This entailed asking the local folks if there are any fine artists or crafts people in town. In Hartney I went into the town office and inquired with a lady behind the front desk and also with Dawn the librarian. At first they had trouble coming up with anyone but soon names were rolling off their tongues and Dawn even volunteered to help by calling a few on my behalf. I should have clarified that we couldn’t interview all of them but we managed to arrange two interviews and one of them being Pat Jackson.

Pat is an artist who creates miniature porcelain dolls. She began working with standard sized dolls, but due to an unfortunate accident left her unable to manage the larger size and so she began working in miniature and as she says, became hooked. She pours her own porcelain into premade molds and she also does her own original castings which usually are one of a kind. The faces are hand painted and each layer of porcelain paint requires eight hours of time in the kiln. Upon completion, Pat then looks for the ideal fabric to make the dolls clothing, even the underwear is authentic to that period of time. As Pat was explaining to us what she does, I continued to be amazed at the patience this woman must have. She says this is one of the benefits of living in a small town where there are less distractions and in her case her dolls are a great way to occupy her time.

Pat designs and makes her own settings and accessories as well. Her Victorian and Edwardian dolls have the furniture appropriate for the period and accompanied by adornments of flowers. I was astounded to learn that a vase (which was a miniature brass candle holder) of paper iris’s were all painted and assembled by hand. Each bloom was the size of a lady bug. She even needed some camouflage material for a male doll she made to represent the soldiers coming home for Christmas. There is no fabic with the tiny camouflage pattern she required so it was hand painted on. It seems there is no limitation to Pat’s imagination when it comes to finding materials to suit her particular needs and she is constantly utilizing found things. One day while grooming her dog, she saw the need to create a miniature dog that resembled her pet and she used scraps of her pooches hair to get the job done. She also asked her daughter Niquie if she would donate a snippet of her hair to authenticate the original miniature Niquie baby doll. I must say that the resemblance of the dolls to their living counterparts is uncanny.

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The research, care and detail that Pat puts into these very tiny dolls is nothing less than astounding and from what I can see there isn’t anything she has left out. Some of the details are so small you would need a magnifying glass in order not to miss anything.

Watch Pat’s interview and see for yourself what I mean. We welcome you to leave a comment for Pat as well.