The Art of the Organic
Profile by Jane Ledwell
The first time Ron Arvidson saw a potter transforming an unformed lump of clay, the young art student knew it was a “magical” art he wanted to master. After creating pottery professionally more than 40 years, the soft-spoken potter makes modest claims for his magic. “I try to grow from one piece to another,” he says. “One [piece] has to be better than the last… There’s no fun doing it the same again and again.” Ron says, “I like the whole thing to be brought together—colour and texture matched to the organic form of the clay.”
Ron says that to support this evolution, he tends to “work in series, evolved from a particular image.” An avid birder, he says, “Bird images come up again and again and again. Landscape is involved in a lot of them too.” Though the landscape used to be “really literal,” more recent pots subtly build from earth imagery at the foot, through lines of overlapping glaze, towards sky at the top.
His current work is a series of plates in black-and-white based on drawings of birds—crows, heron, osprey. “They are more realistic,” he says, and yet, “drawing with white is not just lines developing: it’s removing the black. It’s like a wood cut—a process of taking away.” His hope is each piece will be “a drawing you don’t have to frame.”
The plates capture Ron’s love of birds. “Birding is a great occupation,” Ron says. “People can bring birds into their life… Even a backyard birdfeeder can develop into something beyond that; it can lead to an understanding and appreciation beyond that. You can develop a sensitivity to nature.”
Such sensitivity takes effort to value in a mass-produced consumer world. Examining the serviceable mug and cutlery before him at the café where we meet, Ron comments practically, “It’s getting to a point you don’t really need the item that is handmade, that has a design component or decoration.” The mass-produced stuff, though, is “pretty sterile, pretty much the same.”
He muses, “Now that you can go to a computer and create a design on the computer and have a 3D image printed, it’s hard to justify making something that starts with a ball of clay. But,” he says hopefully, “I think there’s a growing movement to appreciate nature”—and along with it, the organic, handmade, and artisanal.
“Plan B” protests against highway development and habitat destruction underscore this for Ron. “Plan B shows it has gotten to a point things have gone a little too far. Making products has gone too far.
“People are not happy with things being imposed on them and want to take control of their environment and what they have in their homes. They want not just mass-produced [stuff], but more and more people appreciate the hand-crafted item, the homemade loaf of bread, the homemade meal. They appreciate [things that are] locally made from local products.” He feels sure “this is going to become more central.”
The work of a potter is often solitary, so connecting to others through teaching is “essential” to Ron. He says, “It comes back to the fact that working in the studio, I didn’t like working alone all the time. I like the idea of working with other people and talking to people on a regular basis. I like working with others solving problems, and getting others’ input.”
Beginning a career in the handmade, Ron says, “is like a young farmer—it is not an easy pathway… You’re going to have to grasp a path and take it on yourself to explore.” He speaks admiringly of the new generation of Island artisans doing exactly that.
Ron now reflects on one of his biggest early influences, Saskatchewan potter Jack Sures, and realizes his hallmark was “he approached it as an artistic endeavour.” Pressed to suggest how he wants his own work remembered, Ron Arvidson says, “I want people to appreciate it for the quality of workmanship, and for real growth and development and change over time.” Clay doesn’t change or grow without the potter’s hand, the artist endeavouring.