To date, my posts have primarily centred around British Columbia pottery and the potters that made them. What I’ve been missing until now is the important role that galleries played in getting the potter’s wares to market and into the hands of collectors. Successful potters do, after all, have to turn a profit in order to make a viable living, and the galleries that carried their work were one of primary conduits for those transactions.
In the mid-1960s, the arts scene in British Columbia, experienced a vibrant and transformative period. The province's artistic landscape was characterized by a mixture of traditional influences and burgeoning countercultural movements. However, a wave of creative experimentation and cultural change began to sweep through the larger centres. The influence of the broader North American counterculture was felt as young artists and musicians sought to break away from established norms. Local artists began to experiment with new styles and mediums, incorporating elements of psychedelia, pop art, and abstract expressionism into their work. British Columbia’s natural beauty and serene coastal surroundings also played a role in shaping the arts scene. Many artists drew inspiration from the picturesque landscapes and serene seascapes that characterized the region, incorporating these elements into their work.
In Victoria, a haven of artistic expression would emerge – Pandora's Box Gallery. From its inception, PBG generated excitement and interest among artists, buyers and local critics. Time Colonist writer Robert Skelton felt “the city and the artistic community need(ed) this service” and felt from the outset that the gallery “could be an important place.”
Critics at juried shows felt they were “the most fascinating works that were “enormously clever and enormously simple and curiously moving. Her work was even shown at the National Gallery in Ottawa. Bente's deep appreciation for avant-garde and experimental art, combined with her unwavering commitment to fostering a creative community, launched what would become a brief but important hub for West Coast art.
A Catalyst For Creativity
Pandora's Box Gallery, opened on a Friday night, on March 18, 1966 in an old house at 750 Pandora Street (hence the name). The building’s owner, J. Watson Marles was initially tempted to demolish the house to add to his adjacent parking lot. He spared it from the wrecking ball though, and instead rented it to Bente. While he had no interest in art himself, he is quoted that he “thought it about time Victoria had a gallery of this kind.” It became Victoria’s first privately owned boutique art gallery.
The gallery was small and being located in an old house posed some unique problems. A lack of electrical supply to light the space after dark required Bente to rent extra lights and extension cords and run them across the parking lot to a neighbouring garage to make evening showings in the evenings possible.
And then there were the typical challenges one faces when starting a small business on their own as well as the simultaneous responsibility of a single mom raising her children. Perhaps the biggest obstacle in the gallery’s first year was a fire that occurred six weeks after it opened. A faulty furnace in a back room destroyed 27 works of art by Toni Onley, Tony Hunt, Vicky Husband, and Nita Forrest among others. While the artwork was fully insured, the loss of electricty from the fire put the gallery in a precarious situation.
This did not deter Bente and soon Pandora’s Box Gallery was well patronized by the locals. Artists featured in the first year included Maxwell Bates, Eliza Mayhew, Herbert Siebner, Flemming Jorgensen and Molly Privett.
Critics enthusiastically received and covered the gallery’s exhibits “make(ing) it crystal clear that Pandora’s Box is performing a vital public service. The artists and collectors of Vancouver Island have long needed such a gallery.” They went to implore the public that “if Victoria is to become the centre of artistic activity so many of us desire, it must support such ventures as Pandora’s Box in every way it can.” Critic Ted Lindberg wrote that without commercial outlets like PBG, “a community can jolly well wait for the tastemakers at the National Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery, Life, Time and Artscanada and other redoubtable authorities to tell us what’s happening.” Going on to say that “Pandora’s Box has provided you with that one slender excuse for claiming this city is involved in contemporary local art,” and that “the city needs Pandora’s Box more than it needs the city.”
Soon, Bente went on to secure a new location for PBG within a repurposed munitions warehouse by the harbor at 1208 Wharf Street. Taking over a rival gallery’s space – Angel’s Camp Gallery, the new Pandora’s Box reflected Rehm's inclination for marrying art with unconventional spaces. The juxtaposition of the industrial setting (complete with a walk in safe) with the cutting-edge artworks it housed created an immersive experience that engaged visitors on multiple levels. The roomier new location also allowed for small concerts, poetry readings and film viewings.
People certainly took notice and Bente’s business grew. Her exhibitions were reviewed by Canadian Art magazine twice in 1967 alone. And while the painting featured
prominently on the walls – it was the public’s new interest in the art of pottery that would help pay the bills.
Prominent artists in the field of ceramics and pottery, such as Jan and Helga Grove, as well as Tam Irving and Mick Henry, were among the notable figures featured at Pandora's Box Gallery during the 1960s. Their contributions added depth and variety to the gallery's offerings.
The Groves had just recently arrived in Canada and established their pottery around the same time the original PBG opened. The Groves were European trained potters of the highest calibre whose work would come to be recognized nationally and internationally over the next 40 years. She featured their work in a solo exhibit at the gallery from April 1-20, 1967, with an opening the night prior.
Bente remembers the Groves as “quite shy and modest” and carried their pottery for the duration of the gallery’s existence. She recalls that it sold very well and consistently, especially the smaller blue tableware pieces by Jan – mugs, plates, bowls, etc. What was most eye-catching on her gallery shelves though were the “incised hieroglyphic” pieces by Helga – lamp bases, large vases and bottles featuring the deft of hand sgraffito decorative work Helga was exceptionally skilled at and known for. One art critic said “the incised patterns appear initially to resemble the most serious of hieroglyphic messages, and are organized with grave precision, a second look reveals that they are witty, even comic passages; gaiety keeps breaking through.” If you look closely at the display photos, you can spot some of Helga’s work.
Mick Henry was another artist who featured prominently at Pandora’s Box. Bente recalls taking the ferry to Vancouver and driving down to Glenn Lewis’ studio under the Granville Street bridge to meet Mick and load up her car. Recently back in Canada after his well-documented apprenticeship at St. Ives, Bente recalls a quiet but friendly potter whose work was much in demand. He was establishing a name for his work after a solo show at the Bau Xi in Vancouver, where interest in the work of the Leach Apprentices was growing. Here, he was using Vancouver’s first gas fired kiln, built in the early 1960s by California potter Ricardo Gomez. During these visits to pick up Mick’s wares, Bente remembers meeting Wayne Ngan and Glenn Lewis but she never carried either potter’s work. Bente kept a couple of her favourite pieces by Mick Henry, shown below…
After three years of struggle to keep the PBG open, Bente listed the gallery for sale at the end of 1968 and it closed shortly after that. While it is widely agreed that Pandora’s Box was an important aspect of Victoria art and culture, the financial challenges of running a gallery proved too much. Critic Ted Lindberg stated “it is not a matter of mismanagement, and I happen to know Mrs. Rehm has subsisted on a budget so marginal that it is a wonder the gallery hasn’t folded long ago.” Sadly it did, and an iconic part of BC’s artistic story was gone.
During its brief time, Pandora's Box Gallery had a profound impact on the local Victoria art scene. The gallery's exhibitions weren't just displays of art and craft; they were catalysts for meaningful conversations. Bente Rehm's commitment to fostering a sense of community among artists and potters contributed to the gallery's enduring legacy today – people who were there fondly remember it. Emerging talents found a nurturing space to grow, collaborate, and gain exposure, while established artists were encouraged to experiment and evolve. This approach resonated far beyond the gallery's physical presence, shaping the ethos of artistic engagement on Vancouver Island for years to come.
Many thanks to Bente Rehm for her recollections, photographs, and patience while I put this together. Also a thank you to my friend Allan Collier for photos of the ephemera.
Weaving experiment crashes art world. (1965, August 7), Times Colonist, p. 4.
(1966, February 26). Times Colonist, p. 16.
Boultbee, J. (1966, March 18). Pandora's Box to show city artists' treasures. Times Colonist.
Skelton, R. (1966, March 5). Artistic vitality permeates Pandora’s Box. Times Colonist, p. 6.
Paintings lost in gallery fire. (1966a, May 3). Times Colonist, p. 8.
Fund set up to help gallery after fire. (1966, May 4). Times Colonist, p. 8.
Skelton, R. (1966, July 23). Pandora's Box feels hot breath of competition. Times Colonist, p. 14.
Skelton, R. (1966, November 19). Jars evoke essence of jardom. Times Colonist, p. 6.
Bill, D. (1966, November 26). A business woman is born - Pandora's Box moves into Angel's Camp. Times Colonist, p. 8.
Lindberg, T. (1968, June 15). When will people support a gallery? Times Colonist, p. 10.
(1968, December 5). Times Colonist, p. 36.
Amos, R. (1986, August 2). Presto!... in 1966 an art gallery was opened. Times Colonist, p. 27.
Interviews and correspondence with Bente Rehm, 2022-2023.
Images courtesy of Bente Rehm, Allan Collier, and AGGV.
If you have any “incised hieroglyophic” pieces by Helga Grove you wish to sell, please contact me. Examples of her work are shown below, along with an example of her signature which you will find underneath the piece.
I’m also interested in acquiring specific works by Mick Henry. Please contact me if you have one or more pieces to sell.
When one thinks of important early Alberta potters, the name that usually comes up is Luke Lindoe, and rightly so. Lindoe gave much to the movement in Alberta between his stays in Calgary and Medicine Hat. However, the brief and dynamic arrival of Sibyl Laubental to the north, in Edmonton, in the early 1950s, should give one pause to consider her immense and important contributions as well.
Marie Sibyl (Budde) Laubental was born in Halle, Germany in 1918 just at the end of the First World War to Martin Luther University professor Werner Budde, and his sculptor wife, Grete. Grete Budde was a gifted sculptor and portrait artist at a time when instruction at art academies was typically denied to women. She took private lessons instead and, as a result, produced a great many portraits and scultures in the 1920s and 30s. The Budde family's Jewish heritage put them in tremendous danger with the rise of National Socialism in Germany, and in 1937, Werner was one of 39 lecturers to be removed from the University due to newly instituted racial laws.
Sibyl Budde started her career in ceramics at 18. She first studied as an apprentice around Salerno, Italy from 1935 - 1938 before returning to Germany and being hired as an assistant at the prestigious studio of Danish born modernist potter Jan Bontjes van Beek in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin. As the war progressed, and things got much worse, Van Beek's daughter Cato was arrested and executed for her involvement in the "Red Orchestra" resistance. Van Beek himself was also arrested for the crime of sipperhaft - or shared responsibility. Ms. Budde, who had been married to architect Carl Laubental, was forced to spend the remainder of the war in hiding with her husband and young family in the attic of a baker. The van Beek studio was destroyed in a bombing raid in 1943.
After the war, with Sibyl spending a couple of years working in a Stuttgart tile factory, the young Laubental family emigrated to Edmonton in the spring of 1952 where her extraordinary talent was recognized almost immediately. She helped teach at the newly formed Edmonton Potter's Guild where she instructed students on the wheel, taught them how to prepare clay and glazes, and how to produce high fire stoneware. These were early days and would likely seem primitive to today's potters but the knowledge base was in its infancy and Ms. Laubental was a major factor in its growth. Her skill on the wheel even caught the attention of Luke Lindoe himself who drove hundreds of kilometres to see her demonstrate. He recalled "(she) taught me what I needed to know about throwing." (Crawford, p.201).
As Ms. Laubental's reputation grew she was invited to teach at more locations including the Banff School and the University of Alberta Extension Department. She gave a great deal of her focus to her students, distracting from her own personal production. As a result her work is now quite scarce and difficult to find. She did manage to send juried pieces off to important exhibitions where she won awards. These included Canadian Ceramics 1955 ($50 prize for a stoneware vase) and 1957 (see below) as well as the 19th Ceramic National in 1957 at Syracuse, New York. This recognition would likely have to be considered the pinnacle of her career.
She also exhibited at;
Sibyl Laubental's work reflects the Bauhaus design ethic we see in other European influenced potters like Marguerite Wildenhain, Jan Grove, and Leonard Osborne. She believed that glaze and decorative motif should not detract from the lines or designs of a piece but rather should enhance it. All the examples of her work pictured in this article illustrate this.
Sadly, Sibyl Laubental's life was cut short by a terminal illness, in 1961, at the age of only 43. She was succeeded in her teaching role by the likes of Walter Dexter and Noboru Kubo. During her brief decade in Canada she influenced and started the careers of a great many Alberta potters, contributing tremendously to the development of the Alberta ceramics movement along with Luke Lindoe.
I've been fortunate enough to find and acquire but one piece of Sibyl Laubental's work - this bowl. It is a fine example and emblematic of her Bauhaus approach. Simply glazed but with incredible depth and feel. It does not distract from the perfectly thrown form. Likely dating to the mid to late 1950s, the bowl is 8 1/4" across and 3 1/2" high.
Ms. Laubental's only solo exhibitions occured after her death in 1962 - one in Winnipeg, the other in Edmonton. Interestingly, her mother, Grete Budde recently had over 90 of her sculptural works recognized at her first solo exhibition - Grete Budde. Works for the University - in 2021 in Halle, Germany.
Sibyl Laubental signed her work simply "SIBYL" on the edge of the foot, as shown in the examples above.
Wikimedia Foundation. (2021, December 9). Jan Bontjes van beek. Wikipedia. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jan_Bontjes_van_Beek
Ausstellung zu Grete Budde: Aus der Vergessenheit Geholt. (n.d.). Retrieved March 21, 2023, from https://www.campus-halensis.de/artikel/ausstellung-zu-grete-budde-aus-der-vergessenheit-geholt/?cok
Crawford, M. G. (2005). In Studio Ceramics in Canada: 1920-2005 (pp. 201–203). Goose Lane Editions.
Collier, A. (2011). The Modern Eye: Craft and Design in Canada, 1940-1980. Art Gallery of Greater Victoria.
Canadian Guild of Potters. (1955). Canadian ceramics.
Canadian Guild of Potters. (1957). Canadian ceramics.
I correspond occasionally with a gentleman who shares my interest in the ceramic work of Wayne Ngan. We haven’t been in touch for a number of months, mainly due to the disruption of my recent move to a new town. The time vacuumed up by buying, selling, packing, moving, renovating and settling took much longer than I anticipated and left me no time for my hobbies. Now that life has returned to balance for me, I’ve been able to devote more spare time to my interests, including this site. A recent update I made to a couple of pages here prompted his latest email which I was happy to receive.
In our last series of back and forths he wondered aloud whether the pieces I have are a selection or a collection? I had to reread that line a couple of times because it was something I hadn’t ever really pondered. The question interested me enough to remain with me for a day or two and for some reason I felt compelled to work it out and answer it for myself. I’m presenting my thoughts here in case anyone else has wondered the same.
A little light digging into the question revealed that others have asked the same as it relates to their hobby – astronomy, birdwatching, etc. Folks there seem to delineate the two terms on the basis of need and want. "What tools do you need to engage in your hobby?" - as opposed to those items you want in order to fill a gap but which may or may never be used. My conclusion drawn on this basis was that my ceramics would be more of a collection then, as I really don’t need any of them. I suppose I could find a practical use for most of them (as containers for instance) but they are really only out on display for my enjoyment. So, it’s a collection then?
Moving next into the dictionary definitions led me to distill a variety of explanations for the two terms down to the following:
After thinking on all of this I decided I've experienced both and its been an evolutionary process. What began, for me, as a collection has morphed into a carefully curated selection.
Examples of great Canadian pottery including work by Kakinuma, Lindoe, Hamilton, the Schwenks, Dexter, Springer, Kujundzic and Ngan.
When I was first attracted to Canadian studio pots, and before I even acquired my first piece, I was drawn to their variety (forms, glazes, functions, etc), the various eras, and the stories behind the makers. The mystery of the chop mark as an identifying clue further appealed to me. Soon enough I began to drag home every drab little brown pot I stumbled across because of this variety and their affordability. Space eventually became a challenge and clutter naturally ensued causing a shift in paradigm. By necessity I began to become more choosy and pass on pieces that didn’t fit a set of criteria laid out in my mind. I began to keep "better" pieces and let go of "lesser" ones.
A few examples of exceptional Canadian ceramic work that I've had to let go over the years - some with considerable difficulty...
From left; a perfectly executed yunomi from Lari Robson, a fantastic vase by Toru Hasegawa, and an important lidded jar by Olea Davis.
As my knowledge and collection grew I realized there is far too much great Canadian ceramic work to have it all. The creativity in the ceramic art our nation has produced is amazing really. I came to realize that I can appreciate this vast scope through other people's collections - mine needed to be focused and I landed (almost) exclusively on Wayne Ngan’s work.
Examples of acquisitions that necessitated others to be bumped off the shelf under my "one in, one out" policy
When I look at the selections I've acquired over the years, I realize I'm interested in a few main aspects of Wayne's work that I feel tell his story, specifically; the eras, the forms, his techniques and his glazes. How do I select and curate samples that show his progression and style from student pieces at the VSA to his most recent contemporary forms? How can you see his story without raku work? Or salt glaze work? Or a selection of his tea bowls? Form becomes important, as does glaze, and on it goes.
To focus further, I've placed a numeric limit (a cap) to the number of pieces I allow myself to keep. Perhaps this is the part I enjoy most as it manages the clutter and challenges me to always "upgrade" what I keep under my "one in, one out rule."
So I've decided, for me at least, what started as a collection years ago is now my curated selection. Time will tell if I have a critical eye and have kept the right examples for what I'm trying to do...
For those familiar with the story of pottery in British Columbia much has been written about Bernard Leach and his four Vancouver apprentices who came to work with him at St Ives in the late 1950s to early 1960s. Mr. Leach was a central figure in the 20th century "mingei" (folk art) movement due to his close relationship with master potter Shoji Hamada and philosopher Yanagi Soetsu. The four Leach apprentices; John Reeve, Ian Steele, Glenn Lewis, and Mick Henry have been rightly recognized and celebrated for their work which has become sought after and collected. All four were active in Vancouver in the early 1960s after returning from their St. Ives apprenticeship before then moving on to various locales. Leach, Hamada and the four apprentices featured centrally at the landmark "Thrown" exhibit at UBC Belkin Art Gallery in 2004 – so important and foundational was their influence. In a 1975 interview Leach expressed his "hope of something in Canada" as a result of their work.
What's also interesting is how Wayne Ngan factors into this milieu. Mr. Ngan was also featured prominently at "Thrown" but he never went to St. Ives and never met Mr. Leach or Mr. Hamada. Rather, he "maintained independent study and travel, gaining reference from his exploration of collections throughout Europe." To my mind he operated somewhat outside but also alongside the trends of the Leach Hamada tradition. While Mr. Ngan forged his own path and style that is uniquely his, he also immersed himself in and soaked in the influences of the great Eastern traditions.
According to Doris Shadbolt, who knew him well, and promoted him as an artist, she wrote "He has well-thumbed books on Korean and Japanese pottery and on the great Japanese potter Hamada, to whom he frankly acknowledges his debt and whom he refers to by his first name, Shoji, as a familiar friend and colleague, even though he never met him." Mr. Ngan never met Bernard Leach either, according to his daughter Gailan, but he must've also admired his work as evidenced by the charger he made (shown below left)...
The charger is very similar to this piece by Bernard Leach (above right) on display in a Japanese museum. The similarities between the two are striking enough to lead me to believe this was some sort of tribute piece or that Mr. Ngan appreciated Mr. Leach's design enough to make his own version.
Being a central figure in the development of the culture of west coast ceramics – Mr. Ngan was enjoying inclusion in a number exhibits and winning numerous awards – he was certainly interacting with other potters and acquiring knowledge of their techniques and influences. This would align with what Doris Shadbolt wrote about him learning "everything for himself." She went on to explain that "this probably reflects not only an inadequacy in his training but also his own inclination, however long it takes, to push by himself through the grey areas of the unknown to illumination as a means of understanding his results more intimately, – from the inside out."
I imagine this time to be an exciting and burgeoning time of creativity and mutual influence in the British Columbia pottery scene. It's interesting to see such a direct example of Mr. Ngan's work that honours and makes such an obvious tie to Bernard Leach. I believe it would be a mistake to consider it a copy of his work though. According to Jan Verwoert, this type of appropriation is a common technique, which "occurs when artists adopt imagery, concepts and ways of making art that other artists have used at other times to adapt these artistic means to their own interests."
To me, this is more of an example of something autobiographical and adapted. A piece which reflects the results of his research and self education. Its more an example of something which would have "helped to shape Vancouver’s cultural and place identity in the 1960s and 1970s, specifically through… contributions to the back-to-the-land movement and early Vancouver postmodernism." This cultural shift was something Mr. Ngan was certainly a key part of and it also may have contributed to helping "Leach's 'hope' to materialize…"
Leach, B. (1975). An Interview with Marty Gross. London: British Library
Lambley, A. (n.d.). Mingei and its Transnational Reception: The Translation and Appropriation of Mingei Theory and Practice by Bernard Leach’s four Vancouver Apprentices (1958-1979) (thesis).
Verwoert, J. (2007). Living With Ghosts: From Appropriation to Invocation in Contemporary Art. Art and Research, 1(2), 1–7.
Shadboldt, Doris. (1978). Pottery by Wayne Ngan: [exhibition] Vancouver Art Gallery, December 2, 1978 to January 7, 1979.
Studio Pottery Canada
Pottery enthusiast learning about the history of this Canadian art form and curating samples from the best in the field pre-1980.