Wei Cheng at the Peters Valley School of Craft

Wei Cheng and John Neely at Peters Valley Craft School

In June, the North-West Ceramics Foundation was pleased to support Vancouver potter Wei Cheng through the Maureen Wright Bursary to attend the workshop Teapots and More: Vessels that Pour.  The workshop was held at the Peters Valley School of Craft in Layton, New Jersey, from June 7 to June 11, 2024. It was led by John Neely, Professor of Ceramics at Utah State University in Logan, Utah, where he has taught since 1984.

We congratulate Wei on her exciting work and thank her for her fascinating report. We wish her all the best on her next adventure. What follows is an edited version of Wei’s account, in which she discusses not only her experiences at the workshop, but, also, what initiated her interest in tea and tea pots to begin with.

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In 2014, shortly after graduating from Emily Carr, I pursued a residency in Jingdezhen, the ceramic capital of China, to further my practice. During a craft market visit with a tea master, I helped him find a suitable teapot for an upcoming tea ceremony. I suggested a teapot I thought was perfect, but he replied, “The person who made this teapot probably does not drink tea.” His comment puzzled me, so I asked for an explanation. He said, “You have to drink tea to understand what a teapot is.” Little did I know, this marked the beginning of my journey to merge my ceramic practice with tea culture.

John Neely discussing kilns and firing

Four years later, in 2018, I started my apprenticeship in Yixing, famous for its Zisha teapot. In Yixing, drinking tea is not just a cultural practice but an everyday routine. We drank tea while waiting for the clay to dry, during with visits and friends, and even while receiving critiques on our teapot homework. During this time, I slowly began to understand what my tea master friend had meant. There is a ratio of loose tea leaves to water that a maker must consider for the teapot’s volume. Different forms of tea leaves—some rolled small, some tiny, and long—dictate the size of the rim. For Chinese Kungfu tea, which uses boiling water, the placement of the hole on the lid and the thickness of the wall must ensure safe and comfortable use. The length and curve of the spouts influence the flow rate and volume of the pour. These thoughtful design considerations are hidden behind a teapot, a philosophy that guides me even before the creation process begins.

Upon returning to Vancouver, I noticed that this philosophy had deeply influenced my practice. Whether making tea wares or anything else, I now consider the end-use and user experience. For example, when making vases, I think about the style of flower arrangements, how to ensure stability, and how to treat the bottom to prevent table scratches. These seemingly small but significant details have become integral to my creative process.

John Neely demonstrating on the wheel

In recent years, I have developed a keen interest in atmospheric firing, especially wood firing. Beyond functionality, I started to focus on the natural characteristics of different clay bodies and the firing process itself. The unpredictable results create unique aesthetic qualities and highlight the subtle elements around us daily. Such as the type of wood in different firing stage, air pressure and different weather, and the arrangement of pots in the kiln. I’m fascinated by those factors that shape both the outcome of the work and the artists’ creativity process.

I recently discovered the opportunity to attend a teapot workshop with John Neely at Peters Valley School of Craft. I have admired his work since my art school days. Specializing in tableware, particularly drinking and pouring vessels, and known for his development of the wood-firing train kiln, John’s expertise aligns perfectly with my interests.

[The workshop] was an incredible experience that significantly expanded my skills and knowledge. John’s detailed and hands-on demonstrations provided firsthand insight into his innovative techniques. The skills and philosophy I gained regarding functional wares and wood firing will undoubtedly enhance my practice and help me grow as a ceramic artist. I am excited to apply the new skills and insights I gained to my work. Beyond the workshop, the dedication and passion of fellow artists were truly inspiring. The environment fostered collaboration and creativity, allowing me to exchange ideas and techniques with other participants. Engaging with like-minded individuals who share the same passion for ceramics was a highlight of the experience. I made several new friends, each bringing unique perspectives and skills, which enriched my own understanding and approach to ceramics. These connections are invaluable, providing a network of support and inspiration that I will carry forward in my artistic journey.

Richard Younker

Richard and Helmy Louwe Younker

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Richard Younker, a long-time supporter of ceramics and the North-West Ceramics Foundation. Richard was an enthusiastic participant in our various fundraising auctions and at local studio sales, where he would scour the pieces on view and inevitably select a beauty. In December, 2022, he made a major donation of securities to the NWCF in honour of his wife to establish the Helmy Louwe Younker Memorial Endowment, with an additional donation  the following year. Funds from this endowment support student scholarships and other important initiatives that allow us to go forward with our work. We are intensely grateful for this donation and for the support he lent to our endeavours over the years. We mourn his passing and extend our greatest condolences to his family and friends.

His daughter, Marika Younker, provided us with the following biography of her father:

Richard Younker was born in Toronto but moved to Vancouver in 1969 to complete an MBA at the University of British Columbia. He worked as a chartered accountant and certified management consultant in the private sector before starting his own independent financial consulting practice in 1985. He met his wife Helmy in 1975, and the couple lived initially in South Granville near Granville Island, where they developed a love of fine art. Over the years, the couple became increasingly passionate about ceramics, and, during their 43 years together, they travelled throughout BC’s interior, the southern Gulf Islands, Vancouver Island, and Hornby and Denman islands, collecting ceramics. Richard particularly enjoyed larger, more sculptural/decorative ceramic works, and, amongst the many works he collected he particularly appreciated those of Tam Irving and Vincent Massey. After the death of his wife, Richard continued to collect ceramics and to support the NWCF and was a constant presence at the foundation’s fund-raising activities. Unfortunately he was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2024 and passed away in April, 2024.

Special Sale of John Reeve’s Last Pots

Installation of John Reeve pots, Thrown, Belkin Art Gallery, UBC, 2004. Photo Owen Sopotiuk.

We are pleased to inform our community about an important upcoming sale organized by two of our Board members, Ron Vallis and Martin Peters, who operate Dunbar Pottery, of the last pots made by the important BC potter John Reeve (1929 – 2012). The sale will take place at:

VisualSpace Gallery
3352 Dunbar Street
May 3-4, 2024
10am until 4pm.

Ron and Martin have kindly provided the following additional information:

From 2006 to 2010, John Reeve worked intermittently at Dunbar Pottery.  After a health scare in 2010, John returned to New Mexico where he passed in 2012.  John is survived by his children Solly and Hannah and his widow Phylis Blair.  After a recent trip to New Mexico, Chris Brayshaw reported that Phylis is in poor health both physically and economically.  When John left the Dunbar Pottery, he left behind a studio filled with pots.  These were stored away awaiting instructions from Phylis, which were never forthcoming.  She was and remains devastated by John’s death.  In order to raise funds to assist Phylis, we have glazed and fired the bisque pots John left behind.  Chris Brayshaw, who is researching a book on John, reports that these pots were no doubt the last ones he made.  We aim to sell John’s last work and to send all of the proceeds to Phylis.  In that regard Yukiko Onley has very generously offered her VisionSpace gallery at 3352 Dunbar Street for the sale.  Ron and I will also have some pots for sale, the proceeds of which will go to assist Yukiko with expenses.

Robots and the Human Hand: From Automation to Improvisation in Digital Fabrication

Bryan Cera (left), Tom Lauerman (right)

On January 28, 2024, Bryan Cera and Tom Lauerman in conversation with Board member and moderator Jennifer Woodin presented their work in a panel discussion Robots and the Human Hand: from Automation to Improvisation in Digital Fabrication. The panel discussed work, research explorations, and experiences utilizing ever-evolving emerging technologies as a methodology in the practice of working with clay. The artists explored a range of topics including 3D printing, animation, hand-building with robots, DIY culture, and emerging communities of social exchange. Presented over Zoom, the panel had over 50 people in attendance, and the formal presentation was followed by a lively discussion. To see the recording of the presentation, please see here.

The NWCF Remembers Gail Rogers

Craft advocate Gail Rogers

Long-time advocate for craft Margaret “Gail” Rogers passed away in November, 2023, at the age of 85. What follows in a personal account by NWCF President Debra Sloan, who remembers Gail’s contributions to craft and her work with the Craft Council of BC, of which the NWCF is a member.

Gail Rogers, her contributions to crafts people and the status of craft in British Columbia

Word of Gail Roger’s passing has been moving regretfully through the craft world. Gail’s knowledge of craft came through the influence of her mother, Grace Cameron Rogers, who is honored by the CCBC’s Grace Cameron Rogers Scholarship.  An expert on BC craft, Grace scouted with Doris Shadbolt for BC Crafts to sell at the Vancouver Art Gallery shop throughout the 1960s and 70s. She also promoted exhibitions, as, during that time, craft in the form of ceramics and textiles were given solo exhibitions at the VAG.

In 1973, Gail became the first Executive Director of what was then known as the Craftsmen’s Association of BC.  The name was later changed to Crafts Association of BC (CABC) to reflect greater inclusivity. In 2009, the organization officially became the Crafts Council of BC.  The CABC emerged from the Community Arts Councils and was formally registered as a society in 1973. Jean Marie Weakland was the first president; Deidre Spencer, the first editor of Crafts Contacts; and Gail, the first Executive Director. Their first office, library and tiny exhibition space was located in downtown Vancouver in the Dominion Building at the corner of Hastings and Cambie Street. It was here that I first met Gail, and where she started to lay the foundation for a provincial umbrella organization dedicated to craft.

By the late 1970s, everyone wanted to be on Granville Island, the new hot arts location in Vancouver. In December, 1979, CABC moved to 1411 Cartwright Street, Granville Island. It shared its location with the Cartwright Street Gallery, a separate entity and gallery managed by Diane Carr. The establishment was assisted by the federal government through the CMHC.

In 1985, after extensive fundraising and the efforts of a dedicated board, the CABC moved across the street to its present location at 1386 Cartwright Avenue.  Architect Wolfgang Gerson, the husband of weaver, board member, and loyal volunteer Hilde Gerson, designed the layout of the building. Like Grace Cameron Rogers, Hilde Gerson is honoured with a CCBC award named after her. For the first time, the CABC had a gallery, shop, meeting room, and offices, and Crafthouse was established. In 1992, the Cartwright Street Gallery morphed into the Canadian Craft Museum, moved to Howe Street, but survived only until 2002.

In contrast, the CABC/CCBC has grown and evolved through 50 years, in no small part thanks to the foundation created by Gail and her volunteers.  She oversaw the development of the shop and gallery, produced six-years-worth of Crafts Contacts newsletters, which were published bi-monthly and distributed across Canada and the US, and spearheaded the popular annual craft exhibition Made by Hand. She helped co-sponsor the Craft Market, a precursor of the East Side Crawl, at the Vancouver East Cultural Center. Most importantly, Gail made sure BC craft was showcased at Expo ’86.

Gail worked hard to promote crafts within the broader community. She was a pragmatic dynamo, radiating positive energy. During her 17-year tenure as the Executive Director of the CABC, she vastly enhanced the profile and status of crafts in BC. The crafts community, of which I am a member, owes Gail an enormous debt of gratitude for her vison and dedication.

Gail relinquished her position as ED in 1990, and many years passed before the crafts community could once again rely on an equally dedicated director. That position is now filled by Raine McKay, who has worked steadfastly at CCBC for 15 years, overseeing many ambitious projects and advocating for craft across Canada. Raine is another person to whom we owe an enormous debt of gratitude.

Debra Sloan, November 2023


The North West Ceramics Foundation Celebrates 30 years!

Guests enjoy the spread from Noble Egg catering.

Founded April 23, 1993, to assist the Potters Guild of BC, The NWCF subsequently developed to become an independent agency with the mandate to foster public education in and appreciation of the ceramic arts. Dr. Carol E. Mayer was our first president, joined by Tam Irving and Sally Michener, both professors of ceramics at The Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr University of Art and Design).

Carol Mayer describes the new NWCF Sally Michener Emerging Artist Award; By Donation table at right.

Though out our history, we have provided awards, scholarships and bursaries; supported publications; presented a public Speakers Series; supported a BC Ceramics Mark Registry, and generally worked to connect the many wonderful ceramic artists, supporters, and collectors throughout the province. These and other activities are detailed here on our website.
On November 2, 2023, we had a party to celebrate our success and thank our donors and supporters who have made our work possible. Held at the Mayer Studio at 1000 Parker St, the event featured marvellous food by fellow ceramic enthusiast and chef extraordinaire Nicole Guillemin of Noble Egg Catering. A silent auction of historical BC pots donated by the estate of Sally Michener and others, and a “By Donation” table of objects in use in Sally’s own home and kitchen generated  enthusiasm and interest. Proceeds from the auction will go to a new initiative, the NWCF Sally Michener Emerging Artist Award.

Collectors tyler Fritz and John Lawrence chat about an Axel Ebring candle holder.

Collectors Tyler Fritz and John Lawrence examine an Axel Ebring candle holder.

All in all, the evening was a great deal of fun and a wonderful way to celebrate our spectacular ceramics community. Thank you one and all!!!

Thank you to Board member Gillian McMillan for her great photographs of the event!

Kristine Aguilar at the Cerdeira Home for Creativity

The North-West Ceramics Foundation was recently able to support Kristine Aguilar’s workshop opportunity at the Cedeira Home for Creativity in Serra de Lousã, Portugal, through the Maureen Wright Bursary. Below please find an excerpt from the fascinating report  she wrote for us. We would like to take this opportunity to thank Kristine for her account and to wish her all the best on her future projects, which will undoubtedly be all the more exciting given her remarkable experience.

About an hour’s drive east of Coimbra, [Portugal] Cerdeira Home for Creativity is situated in the mountains of Serra de Lousã, in an old schist village by the same name. The oldest record of the village’s existence is from the late 1600s, though it is suspected to be much older. . . . Driving into Cerdeira for the first time one wonders, how did humans ever get to this place before automobiles? As you drove on, the feeling of remoteness starts to set in with each hairpin turn up the steep mountainous road. At the end of the road is a small cobblestone parking lot with a chapel on one side of a valley that’s divided by a stream. Stepping out of the car, you are immediately struck with an incredible view of the schist village enveloped by trees. This storybook landscape seems so surreal that it is hard to imagine a place like this still exists in 2023. It appears to be untouched by modern society, yet at the same time, reminders of the present can be seen with the wind turbines that top the mountain ridges. To enter the village, one needs to walk from the parking lot and cross a small wooden bridge above a stream. Like in Zen Buddhist gardens, a bridge is symbolic of a gateway- once crossed you are transported into another world. With each step towards the village, time starts to slow down and as you get absorbed within the history and nature of place that you find yourself now in unity with the environment.

I am here for a 9.5 day workshop called, “Making Glazes from Rocks,” taught by Matthew Blakely. Matthew is a highly accomplished and internationally renowned potter from the UK who fires with wood and gas. Unhappy with the commercially available clay bodies in the UK, Matthew began to develop his own clay bodies, as well as glazes, from local materials he collects. In addition to our glaze experiments and lectures, we also had 3.5 days to make as much work as we can to fill the Sasukenei Smokeless wood kiln for a firing.

We started off the workshop by conducting various glaze tests with materials that some of the participants brought. We had German river clay, dirt from Stockholm, wood ash from New York, Mount St. Helens volcanic ash, just to name a few. The participants who didn’t bring any materials were given some from the Azores to test, which were collected by the amazing artist couple who run the ceramic studio at Cerdeira, Renato Costa e Silva and Kerstin Thomas.

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After 2 days, we had a chance to see how our glaze tests turned out. We fired them in an electric kiln at cone 10 just to get a sense for what the materials would do at temperature. Those that had interesting results, made bigger batches of glaze for the woodfire. Others were driven to research their materials further and made more tests.

On day 5, we had to glaze, wad and load the wood kiln all in the same day as the firing was to start the following morning. . . .  After glazing, we assisted Renato load the kiln. September is deer rutting season in these mountains. Every night, we heard the grunts and groans of male deer trying to call a mate. I don’t know if one could ever get used to these bewildering sounds- sometimes they sounded like cows, sometimes donkeys- which came at random intervals that occasionally caught you off guard. On this particular evening, the calls were so much louder than other nights since we were up until dawn bricking up the kiln door. Nevertheless, we got a chance to see some deer close by.

Kerstin and Renato had first heard about the Sasukenei smokeless kiln concept through another Portuguese potter who used one while he was working in China. After learning who designed the kiln, Kerstin and Renato invited Masakazu Kusakabe to build one at Cerdeira in 2015. If the name sounds familiar, it is because he is the same person who had also built the Umbu kiln that was previously at the Shadbolt Centre. The Sasukenei is not a new design for it is described in detail in Masakazu’s book that he co-wrote with Marc Lancet, called Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics, published in 2005. . . .  Another design feature worth mentioning is the two oven ports on top of the firebox for cooking. Although it is too hot for pizza, Kerstin had roasted some apples with cinnamon during the firing and while the kiln was cooling, she baked us apple loaves.

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After firing the Sasukenei for 33 hours, we finally had some recovery time the next morning. Later in the day, Matthew gave more lectures on glazes, wild clay and about his own work. Matthew revealed that he originally went to school for medicine but then later changed majors and found himself in ceramics instead. This illustrates Matthew’s ability to explain the scientific workings of a glaze in such an approachable manner that’s easy to comprehend. I highly recommend taking a class with him if you can.

The following day, we unloaded the kiln. The results were quite varied as one would expect from a wood kiln. Some pieces got a good amount of ash while other pieces were dry or underfired due to the air that was unintentionally let in from the side stoke ports. For the remainder of the day, we knocked wads off our pieces, sanded, wrapped them up with newspaper and stuffed our work into our suitcases. In the evening, we had a little commemorative toast to end the course and say our goodbyes. The next morning, we all had to check out by 11am. Rolling my suitcase on the uneven shale path, I slowly made my way back to the little wooden bridge and crossed over to the other side of the stream anew.

For more information on the kiln, please see Masakazu Kusakabe and Marc Lancet, Japanese Wood-Fired Ceramics (Kraus Pub. 2005).

Kristine Aguilar

September 2023




Kate Metten Presented with Judson Beaumont Emerging Artist Award

Kate Metten

We are pleased and proud to announce that Kate Metten, who previously received our Maureen Wright Bursary to attend a residency in Denmark, is the 2023 recipient of the BC Achievement Award of Applied Art + Design Judson Beaumont Emerging Artist Award, presented by the BC Achievement Foundation, an independent foundation that honours excellence and inspires achievement throughout the province. The award program celebrates British Columbians who excel at creating functional art and design, while advancing the collective conversation around its importance. With the support of the NWCF, Kate was nominated by our founding president and long-term board member, Dr. Carol E. Mayer, who received the Craft Council of BC “Citizen of Craft” award earlier this year.

As stated by the committee, Kate Metten’s pottery is a “testament to intuition and muscle memory found within each unique piece. An exceptional commitment and dedication to her craft have made her an emerging artistic force in the world of ceramics.” Kate’s contributions to the cultural economy are similarly noteworthy. She runs an atelier in Mount Pleasant, where she conducts workshops, mentors students, and curates exhibitions, providing emerging potters and craftspeople with exposure and opportunities.

Quoting from Dr. Mayer’s nomination letter, Kate is “. . . passionate about clay, and she works tirelessly in opposition to mass production by creating vessels that have spirit and soul, no two alike yet all consistently finely thrown and caringly glazed. . . . Her vessels are a combination of well-thrown forms and jewel like glazes that are sought after by a growing clientele.”

Congratulations Kate! We look forward to many more achievements from you.
For more on Kate Metten, please see her website.

Dr. Carol E. Mayer receives the Citizen of Craft 2023 Award

The North-West Ceramics Foundation is thrilled to announce that one of their founding Board members, Dr. Carol E. Mayer, was recently presented the Citizen of Craft 2023 Award by the Craft Council of BC. For over 35 years, Carol has been a staunch advocate for ceramics, beginning with research and support leading to the establishment of the Koener Gallery of Ceramics at UBC’s Museum of Anthropology, through her helping to found the North-West Ceramics Foundation in 1993, and her extensive work in promoting the cultural, community, and aesthetic value of BC ceramics. Carol has curated and published widely about ceramics including A Discerning Eye: The Walter C Koerner Collection of European Ceramics; Don Hutchinson: The Artful Potter; Transitions of a Still Life; The Space In Between: The Contemporary Works of Sally Michener and Tam Irving; Pleased to Meet You- Introductions by Gwyn Hanssen-Pigott; and the recent blockbuster exhibition Playing with Fire – Ceramics of the Extraordinary.

In addition to her support for BC ceramics, Carol is vice-president of the Pacific Arts Association (North America) and a board member of the Pacific Peoples Partnership (the only Canadian NGO working in the Pacific.)  She has received fellowships from the Smithsonian Institution and the Sainsbury Research Unit, and has been granted numerous awards, including from the Canadian Museums Association (where she is an appointed Fellow), the International Council of Museums, the BC Museums Association, and life membership in the Potters Guild of BC. She has also received the President’s Medal of Excellence at UBC, the Independence Medal from the Republic of Vanuatu for her cultural contributions, and the Pacific Arts Association Manu Dala (Frigate Bird) Award for outstanding achievements in the study of the arts of the Pacific.

Congratulations Carol!!!

Honours for BC Potters Robin DuPont and Amy Duval

Robin DuPont, wood-fired plates

The North-West Ceramics Foundation is thrilled to announce honours for two members of the BC Ceramics Community, Robin DuPont and Amy Duval.

Robin DuPont, who was awarded the 2021 NWCF Mayer Wosk Award of Excellence and who was one of our most popular presenters for our Speakers Series, was recently honoured by the town of Nelson BC, which named him the 2023 Cultural Ambassador. He joins other distinguished ambassadors from that culturally vibrant city. To read more about Robin, please see here.

Amy Duval, Mechanics of Growth (Part V), 2017, ceramic, coloured slips, 17’ x 9’

Amy Duval earned her BFA from Kwantlen Polytechnic University in 2017, where she studied with Board member Ying-Yueh Chuang. In 2017, she received a Maureen Wright bursary from the NWCF and was accepted as a Ceramic Artist in Residence at Harbourfront, in Toronto. She currently serves as the Residency Coordinator at the International Artist-in-Residence Program at the Shaw Centre for Contemporary Ceramics (Medalta) in Medicine Hat, Alberta. In 2023, Amy was awarded the Winifred Shantz Award for Ceramicsan extremely prestigious acknowledgement of her achievements and the only national award for emerging ceramic artists in Canada. The award supports career development, and we are all excited to see what this young artist does next!!

Congratulations Robin and Amy! Your achievements contribute to the ongoing story of ceramics in BC!