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.

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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.

Free-Spirited Art Works of Jan Jenkins

Free-Spirited Art Works of Jan Jenkins

Zendoodle titled Unity in Diversity

When Gary and I first contemplated interviewing artists all across Canada in 2011, we had decided one thing for sure, our travel home was not going to be a tent. Was it to be a truck and trailer, a truck and camper or some kind of van? Marli, our cat, made the decision in the end. A van was the best choice for her needs and really ours as well. But we decided it couldn’t be just any old van. It needed to be unique and attention grabbing. So it came to pass that we all agreed on Arty, our VW Westfalia Vanagon.

A couple of great businesses got their start in a Vanagon; Mountain Equipment Co-op and Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. Perhaps ArtsQuest will join them one day. In the mean time owning Arty is like having a membership to an exclusive club with benefits, including offers of places to stay by a couple of the artists we intended on interviewing. One of those artists is Jan Jenkins of Dauphin, Manitoba.

Jan Jenkins at the Dauphin Art Group

Jan Jenkins at the Dauphin Art Group

Now, a Westfalia is not the only thing Jan and her husband Brian Erickson and Gary and I have in common. In fact we have a very similar later-in-life story as well. It turns out that Jan and Brian also used to live in Calgary up until eight years ago when suddenly they found themselves buying a house in Dauphin and taking early retirement there. As serendipity would have it, on a visit to see Brian’s family one year, Brian decided he wanted to show Jan the house he grew up in and as they drove past they saw that it was for sale.

Although they were seriously contemplating a move and change of lifestyle, Jan wanted to be sure there was a thriving art community so that she could resume her life long passion of creativity on a full time basis. It turns out Dauphin has the Watson Art Centre which is housed in a beautiful building that was once the old town hall built in 1905. Now it is bursting with artistic life in the visual, literary and performing arts. Dauphin is a town of approximately 8500 people and the Centre is supported and appreciated by the community and visitors alike. Inside the building are restored remnants of the town hall itself; the council chamber’s long wood table and the gorgeous wood banisters and fixtures. There is a stage with heavy, red velvet drapes and a spiral staircase leading to a balcony, and even an old jail cell in the basement (currently being used only for storage). Also in the basement is a large space which is home to the Dauphin Art Group and was the other factor that clinched the decision for Jan and Brian to move. Jan has a home studio but she also loves spending time in her space at the Dauphin Art Group. She gets to be with other artists to share ideas and have that creative connection.

Sgraffito titled Windfall

Sgraffito titled Windfall


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Upon arriving at the little home on River Avenue West we were welcomed by Jan and her pooch Tramp and his pal from next door, Barley. Tramp and Barley, however, were in a dog run which Jan refers to as Guantrampamo. This segregation was a temporary measure just in case the four legged greeters were a little too happy to see us. Brian was away in Brandon for the day so the three of us had decided we would do Jan’s interview first and then later the four of us could relax and socialize.

Zendoodle titled Sea Urchin

Zendoodle titled Sea Urchin


Lino Cut Print titled Gardener of the Forest

Lino Cut Print titled Gardener of the Forest



As I asked Jan my questions I discovered that she and I had a couple of similar character traits. Jan considers herself a jack-of-all-trades and has many interests (so do I). Focusing on specializing on just one doesn’t seem to be Jan’s thing (me too). This could be one of the reasons why Jan likes to work in several different media. She works with pen and ink to create intricate and fascinating patterns in the Zendoodle style. And often she will incorporate poetry within her pieces or a story to accompany a particular piece which adds a thoughtful dimension to them. She also enjoys print making and working in oil pastels with a technique known as Sgraffito in Italy. Sgraffito is such an interesting art form. In its simplest explanation, Jan pencils out her drawing on paper, fills in the colours she wants for her subjects with stiff pastels and then eventually covers the whole piece in a buttery black pastel. Upon doing that she takes tracing paper with her original image on it, lays it over top and then traces over it with a pencil which then lifts just enough of the black off the paper so she can see where her drawing is located underneath. At this point she starts scraping away with a tool at the black pastel to reveal the colour and her original drawing. Some of Jan’s other creative activities include making jewellery, rock painting, tie dying, writing poetry and volunteering several hours a month at the Watson Art Centre. Whew! And if that’s not enough she made a fabulous beef stew for dinner for some weary travelers.

We invite you to watch and listen to Jan’s interview with us and we thank you in advance for helping to spread the word about Jan and her art on social media and email. And we love comments so please feel free to leave one below. Thanks.