I always look forward to spring break. Even more so this year. After spending 30 years as an educator I’ve grown accustomed to the rhythm of the school year, and spring break always signals a renewal in my own energy reserves. The longer daylight is welcomed and a chance to get out of town as the winter roads open up is certainly inviting.
With the restrictions lifting it felt like a good opportunity to get out of town to spend some time with my daughter. It was also a chance to get out and connect with people, travel outside my region and look for some good B.C. pottery in my spare time...
Things started off great when I was able to purchase a matching pair of impressive Schwenk table lamps (one of two pictured above). The lamps are large at 21" tall and were made as a custom order in 1959. I enjoyed a nice visit with the gentleman who told me the story of how he bought them new from Adolph Schwenk who had purchased a brand new VW bus from his car dealership in Penticton that year. The bus must’ve been a good one as it had to be imported as a specialty order from Germany. They apparently hit it off and became quite friendly. As a thank you, Louise threw the pair of lamps and Adolph glazed them in a green glaze (by request) to match the green shag carpet in this gentleman’s new Penticton home. He's had them ever since and agreed to part with them if I gave them a good home. They now sit amongst other significant works I have by the Schwenks.
The next two finds were just as historic - a beautiful chun glazed Hilda Ross bowl that likely dates to the 1950s, and a Tam Irving sculptural vase from around 1966. Both were significant to me as the Ross bowl is similar to a piece exhibited at Ceramics 63 and the Irving vase has his early signature and denotes an experimental phase of his career before he opened a studio and moved towards more functional ware.
Fast forward a couple of days to a visit at a friend’s house for coffee. My daughter had stuff to do and I had a couple of hours to fill. My friend is a great guy who I met a few years ago. He has a passionate interest in a variety of fields related to factory ceramic art and has a keen eye for good studio pieces as well. He has always been a generous with his knowledge, happy to share what he knows, and is kind enough to pick up stuff for me in his travels that he knows I’ll like. This time around he had a couple of Wayne Ngan pieces for me as well as the strangest Des Loan I’ve seen to date.
I’ve written about Des in prior posts and I really like his work for its sheer variety. I also feel Des is an important potter in the history of BC pottery but frequently overlooked as he spent his career outside of the Lower Mainland. Des took course from John Reeve and I can always see a hint of that Leach-Hamada vibe in much of work. This one though, is decidedly not… This one has odd looking clay additions to the exterior including a partial disc sticking out. I laughed when I saw it but appreciated it too. This is Des at his most whimsical.
A day later I was able to acquire a nice salt glaze Ngan vase from a local dealer on my way out to meet a lovely elderly lady and her son who had an early Wayne Ngan bowl for me to view. She has collected many interesting and beautiful pieces of art over her lifetime including this bowl, which she bought on a trip to Hornby Island in the 1960s. She is in the process of downsizing and parting with a few things her family didn’t want. The bowl is spectacular in its size at 15" across, the largest Ngan bowl I’ve seen or found. The photos here don't do it justice - there is a depth and richness to the glaze that the camera (or my lack of photography abilities) can't capture. It shows Wayne’s extensive skill at a time early in his career. We agreed on a fair price for the bowl and it was mine to take home.
Towards the end of my time away I enjoyed a visit over coffee with another good friend and a passionate collector. This gentleman has the definitive collection of pottery by Jan and Helga Grove, something that is beyond the scope of any museum. If you have a significant piece of Grove pottery (such as a yard sculpture or any of Helga's fable animals), that you would like to sell (and see them go to the right place), please contact me and I will help make that happen.
My friend also has a keen eye and broad knowledge of good B.C. art and design. He's another great guy who is also very generous – giving me a great little shino vase by Wayne Ngan which I absolutely love. Small and simple but expertly done.
The next pair of finds fell into my lap right before I was due to return home. A couple of exceptional Wayne Ngan pieces I dearly wanted (see pics below). These were certainly no bargain but I felt I had to grab them when I had the chance or they would’ve ended up at auction. The gal who had them was kind enough to give me first chance at them which was nice. Pieces of this quality are hard to find, let alone acquire, so all in all I was grateful.
Finally, the last piece I found this trip is a great little Mick Henry bottle. It was a thrift store find I nabbed at the end of the day, likely passed over by scores of pickers who didn't realize what it was. What to some might seem to be a dour little piece to some is in fact an important example of early Leach Hamada influenced BC pottery. Henry is one of the four Leach apprentices who travelled to St. Ives in the early 1960s to apprentice with Bernard Leach. It has an early version of Mick's chop mark and finger trails through the glaze. It's got the heaviness I see in John Reeve's work - a solid example by a sought after potter.
Driving home I enjoyed sunny weather and good roads. It felt great to get out of town again but I find I always look forward to returning home. During the drive I had several hours of time to quietly think and reflect on my good fortune. The pottery was certainly nice to find but my take away was that the best part of this trip - as usual was the people. The friendly and gracious strangers who kindly invited me to their homes to share their stories of how they acquired their items and their impressions of the artists who made them. My friends, who I look forward to seeing each time I travel out that way - spending time together, sharing stories about our common interest, exchanging knowledge and leads on good pots, etc. And my daughter of course. She's the primary reason I wanted to get out of town and who I spent most of my time with. If I came home empty handed, only to spend time with her, I would be no less fortunate…
Mayer, C. E. (2007). Transitions of a still life: Ceramic work of Tam Irving. Anvil Press.
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.