It Takes a Village
Profile by Jane Ledwell
The area once known as “Clifton Corner” once was a “bustling village” with a two-storey general store where you could buy everything from beans to furniture. The village continued to bustle as, years later, the original Presbyterian manse became a new general store run by Kitty Cotton, who was also postmistress. “The store was where people would gather on Saturday night—mainly men but some women too—to talk,” says Daphne Large, who in that building has run Village Pottery for a milestone forty years in the village now known as New London.
In the spring of 1973, Daphne Large had only just graduated from the Nova Scotia College of Art when her mother noticed the empty store building. In the DIY spirit of art school graduates everywhere, Daphne called in friends to build something of it. “I had a degree in fine arts and education, but I quickly got in the studio and absolutely loved it.” Daphne says, “I was naïve enough to think I could do it all—make all those pots I wanted to make and run the business.”
There was no heat in the old general store, and she got an oil stove that once almost burned the shop down. But Daphne kept much of the old store’s history alive. What is now the “mug room” still has the postmistress’s original letter boxes. Many original fittings remain—including shelves in the main selling area that were once the Saturday night gathering point. The Village Pottery got moved down the road to its current location in 1994. Through 40 years, Daphne says, “People in New London were really great.”
It takes a village to grow a shop, and Daphne says, “I’ve always depended on really great people to work with me.” Many people Daphne hired eventually put their hands to the wheel and became “excellent potters” who now have their own studios.
“I did take education, and that really made a difference,” Daphne thinks. “I had an innate thing where I would just let information go. I think because of that, the shop flourished. It was a little incubator.” And in the winter, the help meant Daphne and her co-workers could experiment with more things and bring in more creativity. Today, there are more than 65 things they make for the shop.
Making pottery for 40 years is not only about starting things but also about follow-through. “In pottery, if you start making a pitcher that needs handles, or a teapot that needs a spout, you can’t just leave it undone,” she says.
Daphne made pots and ran the business while raising three children, and though Daphne’s love of pottery was clearly contagious, she did not expect her own children to take an interest in pottery—until two years ago. Her daughter Suzanne Scott had completed a degree in tourism and made friends around the world. “She was so enticed by places around the world,” Daphne says, “and on the Island it is always a worry people will leave and stay away… But Suzanne had a chance to go to other places, and it helped her see what is here. Sure, it’s a struggle [to live on PEI], but people tend to work it out.”
Suzanne has brought social marketing savvy to Village Pottery that has breathed new life and given “instantaneous access to people around the world.” The inspiration has kept her mom’s joy in her work kindled. Daphne is also delighted at her daughter’s development as a potter. “I bought a slab roller two years ago, as an easier way to get started in pottery,” she says.
"Suzanne is good at multi-tasking and going fast—she picked up a lot from me,” Daphne laughs, “I knew she mightn’t be patient.” Suzanne uses the slab roller for pieces that do her mother proud, but now is throwing too. “Suzanne has managed to double her output over a year and to develop skills in courses at the PEI Potters’ Studio with Ron Arvidson,” Daphne says.
The long-lived Villlage Pottery means intergenerational experiences and meeting the children of people who were children themselves when they first visited the shop. When they celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, two generations of potters will greet two—or more—generations of pottery and art lovers, and welcome them into the village.