Bridging Art and Craft with Clay

Ceramics is one of our world’s most ancient forms of artistic expression. While many assume the origin of ceramics is rooted in functionality, the first ceramic pieces known to man were sculptural. Figurines depicting the human and animal form have been dated back to 24,000 BC with functional vessels emerging later in 9,000 BC. These first pieces of art created by our most primitive ancestors were likely a result of happenstance. Depictions of the surroundings made to pass the time and then thrown into a nearby fire were strengthened into permanence. As this discovery evolved to include functional vessels used to store water and grain, makeshift kilns were constructed in the form of domed holes in the ground with a fire in the middle, stoked continually. This practice evolved alongside generations and across continents to become the pottery we use today. 

The origins of pottery tell a tale of the melding of art and craft. While the vessels created were for functional purposes, they were often beautiful as well. Sometimes they told stories of myths and legends with creatures dancing across the rustic surface. Other times they were an expression of creativity upon something mundanely utilitarian. In some of the darkest times, African American slaves found self-expression through their depictions of faces on jugs. Countries and cultures distinguished themselves with style, finding nuance in all the ways clay, glaze, form and function can be manipulated.
Pottery has evolved a lot since then and our average ceramics studios host equipment that no longer resembles a hole in the ground. Many of these ancient traditions like pit firing, wood firing and throwing on a kick-wheel are honoured by potters who still practice them today, however, most local community and private studios have grown to favour electric kilns and wheels. Fernie’s local community studio at The Arts Station is home to over 70 potters who create their work out of the basement. It also houses the local Fernie Potters Guild. Clay arrives from the historic clay district of Medalta in Medicine Hat and is manipulated, fired and glazed to create beautiful pieces. Clay can be endlessly recycled and reused, and handmade pottery bears a much lower environmental impact than a ceramic mug found at the grocery store. 

Fernie is home to some amazing potters who sell their work at The Fernie Arts Co-op, H Squared Gallery and Mugshots. In the summer Fernie’s potters can be found selling their wares at the farmers’ market as well as various other craft fairs that pop up. Pottery courses are offered locally at The Arts Station and more information can be found on their website. 

Handmade pottery can bring a little magic to your morning routine. Drinking out of a vessel that is also a piece of art can incite joy and inspiration. The durability of pottery allows it to be cherished over a lifetime and passed on as an heirloom. The act of making pottery is so beloved by potters because it invites the maker to consider the relationship between art and craft. Something strictly functional such as a coffee cup doesn’t necessarily need to be read as such, it can be a small work of art that you enjoy daily.