Celebrating Craft Year 2015 across Canada and on PEI
submitted by PEI Crafts Council
Prince Edward Island is known equally for its red soil and for the number of potters who turn clay into beautiful items of pottery. While many tourists ask why there is such a vital craft scene on the Island—the answer is not as simple as one reason, although the existence of a tourist season is a major reason that the retail side of crafts started expanding in the 1970s.
The establishment of craft training initially at Holland College and more recently at the PEI Potters Studio Co-op, in Victoria Park has allowed skills to be taught to new generations of artisans interested in exploring the creative possibilities of clay. The presence of professional potters as teachers and mentors on the Island has also helped more people learn the craft either for personal enjoyment or as a career. Art and craft colleges on the mainland continue to draw talented students and many of these return to practice their craft on the Island. Apprenticeship has also played a big role especially for second generation potters who grew up playing with clay since childhood and gradually found themselves loving the time they spent in the pottery studio as much as their parents.
Generally there are two main techniques used in studio production for potters: handbuilt, and wheel-thrown. Hand building while perhaps self explanatory includes a range of techniques depending on the studio. Anyone who has seen the almost-hypnotic magic of a piece of pottery arising from a potter’s hand as the wheel is turning will recognize the wheel-thrown method of shaping clay into finished items. While “hand turned” may have been a more descriptive name, potters have always called this method throwing pottery, a term derived from the initial act of throwing a lump of clay on the centre of the wheel to ensure it sticks well to the wheel head. All pottery is fired twice in a kiln to temperatures similar to molten glass, which gives it the glazed ceramic finish.
Pottery retail shops are a visible part of the industry locally but wholesale production is often an alternative to people who wish to produce pottery at a home location where retail sales would not be possible. Larger retail shops often carry the work of several potters which generates business for those wholesale producers. Some artisans find the Internet with sites like Etsy that focus on craft retailing, or attending craft markets provides them with enough sales to generate revenue during the off-season, and allows new entrants to get some indication of the sales potential for their work.
This summer The PEI Crafts Council recommends that you follow the Arts and Heritage Trail, visit the artisans’ studios and experience the authentic environment of potters, and learn what it’s like to create with this versatile medium. And if you’re feeling inspired, you may even want to sign up for one of the workshops offered by Island artisans.