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...
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.