‘Clay Symposium’ rocks the Amelia Douglas Gallery

Image of Ron Crawford by David Borrowman.
Image of Ron Crawford by David Borrowman.

By Angela Espinoza, Arts Editor

The Amelia Douglas Gallery will induct a new exhibit, entitled Clay Symposium: Formed Earth, Earth Formed this Thursday, February 28, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. (with an Artist’s Talk at 10 a.m. the following morning). Clay Symposium will be held in partnership with the upcoming 6th Triennial Canadian Clay Ceramic Symposium taking place on March 23. This partnership not only promotes the March Symposium, but also formally introduces students and attendees to the works of Judy Weeden and Ron Crawford, artists who currently live and work on Salt Spring Island. Weeden and Crawford spoke with us last week about themselves and the Clay Symposium exhibit.

Weeden first began her career as a biologist (a seemingly far cry from pottery), focused at the time on nature, and going on to teach at the University of Alaska for a 13-year run:

“I took a sharp turn and became a potter,” Weeden said. “In my field wanderings in Alaska, I came upon a hillside of stoneware clay in the foothills of the Alaska Range. What intrigued me first was the clay from which pots could be made.

“In 1972, [I] went to the University of California, Santa Cruz, where I skipped all my neurophysiology classes and spent my time instead in a pottery class under the tutelage of Al Johnsen, a protege of Marguerite Wildenhain, a well-known potter who ran a pottery school in the hills above Santa Cruz. Later, I met Wildenhain and took a workshop from her. Alas she was already in her 80s with a pacemaker, so I was never a student at her school, but she did send me to another of her students [named] Dean Schwarz. He became my teacher and mentor for two intense summers, and continues to be a friend and mentor to me to this day.

“I feel fortunate to have had such an integrated background, all happening quite serendipitously. I have now been a full-time potter for over 40 years. At first I did strictly functional work, but gradually as people started calling me an artist (much to my embarrassment), I began to feel the need to move beyond honey jars and soap dispensers. Although my work is still mostly vessel oriented, many pieces get hung on a wall or grace a mantle or coffee table.”

Weeden went on to tell us that it was Douglas College staff who contacted her first about doing an exhibit (“I suspect in conjunction with the… Ceramic Symposium.” Weeden had been informed that this would be a two-artist event, and so after hearing a few suggestions from the staff, went on to suggest fellow artist Ron Crawford.

“We’re friends and we know each other’s work, and we’ve even shown together here locally before… at the Judy Mitchell Gallery,” says Crawford. “I used to teach until I moved to the West Coast, which was about 25 years ago now. I’m a painter and a sculptor, and I’ve also been making a living as a stonemason—but I do have eight years of post-secondary education from [such schools as] The Banff Centre, University of Oklahoma, and University of Calgary. I’ve geared everything as an artist from… my education.”

Like their previous exhibit together, Clay Symposium will feature Weeden’s pottery and paintings by Crawford. Although the two are excited to work together again, the pieces being shown aren’t necessarily tied together.

“We’re working independently,” says Crawford. “But one of the things we have in common is that the content of what we do comes out of landscapes… and we both use patterns as well.”

Crawford’s portion of the exhibit will, again, focus on his paintings. This particular selection of paintings comes from a series inspired by landscapes Crawford says he has worked on for the past four years.

“I’ve got about 30 paintings going in [to the upcoming show],” says Crawford, “including 13 new pieces which have never been shown before, and they’re a variety of sizes from small to big. They generally go together around a series called Fictional Landscapes, which I am now just finishing.”

As for Weeden:

“The upcoming show includes my most recent work with colour. “Up until now, my decoration had been achieved with natural clay materials that came to me directly from mines or fields. The underglazes that I have started using recently, although still coloured with natural oxides, have been modified and refined so that they can all be fired at the same temperature range. There are also many slip-carved and terra sigillata pieces, resulting in black silhouette designs on a terracotta-coloured background.

“I hope that people will see that there are no ‘happy accidents’ in my work. Each piece is thought out from beginning to end. For me, it’s a failure if [my work] doesn’t turn out as I envisioned.”

Crawford closed out his portion of the interview with some mental notes for students who will be viewing his work:

“I’m not interested in painting a picture of the beach, [but I am] interested in how the beach physically changes the landscape itself, how it makes forms and shapes the rocks. Ultimately what I’d like is to have people see… my work in the landscapes around them, walking on a beach or something.”

Clay Symposium will be here until April 12, but if you’re interested in seeing more of Weeden (http://judyweeden.com) and Crawford’s (http://ronaldtcrawford.com) works, check out their websites!