A while back I was contacted by someone who had an old lamp made by B.C. potter Hilda K. Ross. I was pleased to receive the email as I had never found a piece of Ms. Ross' work before. She was an important early contributor to the B.C. pottery scene and examples of her work are hard to find. I assume most of her pots are either in collections or have been lost to time.
Thumbing through my old exhibition catalogues I've always been impressed by how well her work showed and was profiled back in the 1950s and early 1960s but couldn’t readily find too much about her career. What follows is what I was able to summarize with a little digging…
Hilda Katherine Ross was born in Ottawa in 1902 and later began her artistic career when she studied art at the Winnipeg School of Art. There she studied under the tutelage of Group of Seven artist LL FitzGerald, who taught at the school between 1929–1947. After leaving Winnipeg she would go on to graduate from the Art Institute of Chicago.
Ms. Ross then attended the newly founded British Columbia College of Art sometime between 1933 and 1935. While there she studied with another Group of Seven artist, Frederick Varley, who had opened the short lived school with his colleague Jock Macdonald. After concluding her studies, she became one of Vancouver’s first studio potters.
Starting in September 1948, Ross began teaching pottery alongside Mollie Carter at Gordon Neighbourhood House, on Broughton Street, in Vancouver’s West End. At the same time she also served as one of the designers for the Cottage Pottery in Pennsylvania. While some potter's craft circles existed in BC prior to the war – notably in Summerland and Victoria – these were some of the first independent pottery classes taught in Vancouver and by the end of 1949 they had 200 students.
Later, until the summer of 1952, their ceramics workshop was relocated to the basement of the U.B.C. library. There they were joined by Hungarian Zoltan Kiss (by way of Knabstrup Keramik in Denmark) who, on arrival, became one of the few potters in British Columbia with training and experience.
The Ross lamp I was interested in took me on a jaunt out to the west coast of Vancouver Island. The owner told me it was part of a downsizing purge by an elderly relative who was parting with some "quality stuff." The lamp she showed me certainly fit the bill in my mind. The textured body was reminiscent of other Ross pieces I've seen, and likely something learned from or influenced by Mason or Ball. It would have been a quality piece to acquire back in the day – likely the late 50s or early 60s – as it still had the original exhibition label affixed to the bottom with its price of $35 (about $350 by today's standard).
In 1951 and 1952 Edith Heath travelled north from Sausalito California to UBC to teach an Extension Department summer workshop to Ms. Ross and others which focused on clay, glazes and wheel throwing. Around the same time her classes were re-located from the basement of the UBC library to a more permanent home - the "Pottery Hut," a retrofitted former army barrack. Here, Ms. Ross continued to teach part-time alongside her former teacher Rex Mason among others.
The UBC Pottery Hut was a hive of creative sharing and development during the next decade. Luminaries like F. Carleton Ball, Konrad Sadowski, John Reeve and Kyllikki Salmenhaara (a renowned designer at the Arabia factory Art Department in Helsinki Finland) were all guest instructors at the Pottery Hut. During these years Hilda Ross was also busy working on the formation of the BC Potters Guild with Olea Davis, Avery Huyghe and Stan Clarke.
Another notable achievement that comes up in my research is the work she did with Olea Davis, Reg Dixon, and Stan Clarke to help BC studio potters find viable sources of clay in the province. In 1958 they used a grant from the Leon and Thea Koerner Foundation to prepare a report on British Columbia clays for the UBC Extension Department. Their findings were presented using examples of fired works with different clays in a well-received exhibit in the Spring of 1958 at the UBC Fine Arts Gallery.
Hilda Ross continued teaching and working at the Pottery Hut until it was closed in 1966. She then opened and operated the Ross-Huyghe School of Pottery with her friend Avery Huyghe until retiring from potting in 1969.
During her career she actively exhibited widely in BC, Canada, and abroad - many at which she won awards. Her work was accepted to the Canadian Ceramics Biennial in 1953, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1961, 1963, 1965, and 1967. Other notable major exhibitions include the Universal and International Exhibition in Brussels in 1958, the 3rd International Exhibition of Ceramic Art in Prague 1962 (where she received a gold medal), the Department of Trade & Commerce Exhibitions in Berlin and Florence 1964, and the Canadian Pavilion at Expo 67.
M's Ross' work is notable for it treatment of surface the glazes she used. Heavy textures and rollered finishes are common as in these examples...
Hilda Ross' work is signed with her "H.K.R." initials (left) or with her full name "Hilda K. Ross" (hard to make out on the right). Pottery simply signed "Ross" is often mistakenly attributed to her.
I purchased the lamp of course. It is in perfect original condition and at 13" tall it is certainly an impressive piece of Ms. Ross' work - very representative of the time. It was missing its original shade but I soon managed to find an old Lotte Bostlund spun fiberglass shade that is a good match for it.
I'm still enjoying the lamp and glad I spent the time digging into Hilda Ross contributions to the BC pottery story. It sits prominently in my home and gets used every day, providing necessary light to a naturally dim corner. When I pause to look at it, I'm reminded of a time when the energy around ceramic culture in BC must've been electric with all the connections that were created between prominent artists – the people who's work I love. It also reminds me of a lazy drive along the ocean on a sunny day, in the company of my daughter and her dog, and yet another good memory thanks to this hobby of mine.
After searching for years for a piece of work by Hilda Ross, I was able to buy the lamp. Recently I was fortunate enough to find another, and I think, better example of her work. This chun glazed and perfectly thrown bowl was likely made in the 1950s. It features a textured back and is 11" across by 3" high.
Neighborhood Artists to Register. (Sept. 24, 1949). The Vancouver Sun.
photo, page 36. (October 5, 1949). Vancouver Sun.
Perreault, E. (July 8, 1950). School's In For The Summer. The Province.
Art of Pottery Making to Be Taught at UBC. (June 29, 1950). Surrey Leader.
Pallette. (March 22, 1958). New Exhibit Covers Wide Range of Effort. The Province.
Dollman, R. (Aug. 18, 1962). International Awards, Tours Favor City Cramics and BC Painting. The Province.
Allan, R. (July 25, 1964). Teachers and Talent Abound At Summer School Of The Arts. Vancouver Sun.
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.