I've read all I can find to learn about Wayne Ngan's career - various books, gallery catalogues, newspaper articles, etc. One of the things that has resonated with me was his philosophy regarding his connection to nature and the importance and pursuit of balance. Perhaps it was the difficulty he faced in his younger years (growing up poor in rural China, immigrating alone to Canada as a youth, getting kick out of his home by a disapproving grandfather, etc) that pointed him in that direction? Whatever the case, throughout his years as a potter on Hornby Island, his connection to the land and the sea was intentional – from the home he built on Downes Point from natural found materials to the components he sourced for his clays and glazes. Through all of this he felt people should "do things in balance in their daily lives."
So it was interesting to me when I met a lady with a couple of Ngan pots to sell who referred to her conversations with Mr. Ngan about that balance. In 1989 she bought these two pots (shown below) from Mr. Ngan at his second studio on Ostby Road. Likely made sometime in the mid to late 1980s, he had coined them the "Sun pot" and the "Sea pot."
The "Sun pot" is a raku mizusashi (Japanese water jar used in tea ceremonies). Standing 165 cm x 220 cm across it is an impressive piece of work very similar to the one on display in the Bronfman Collection at the Canadian Museum of History. It features a silver nitrate overglaze, very slightly concave sides, a deep chop mark and a perfectly fitting lid topped with a knot of clay he often used.
The "Sea pot" is a very different piece altogether. While also raku, this one has a more experimental glaze from what I've seen of his work. It has a fine pebbly surface and a blue and green iridescence about it which likely inspired the name he gave it. There are fine flecks of metallic sand in it, and according to Mr. Ngan, some of the sand popped during the firing leaving random little white areas of pitting on the glaze surface. The shape is also that of a classic eastern influenced vessel, with banding around the middle, a small circular opening at the top and two lugs on the sides. It stands 235 cm high x 220 cm across.
When the buyer went to purchase the pots she learned first hand how his philosophy on balance also transferred to his way of business and interacting with his customers. She had initially wanted to buy two similar versions of the "Sun pot" but Mr. Ngan dissuaded her, insisting "it was too much sunshine." He spoke to her of the need to seek balance and suggested she should offset the sun with the sand and the sea. He then handed her "Sea pot" explaining it's name due to its colour and that it had beach sand in it. He further explained it was a good match to counterbalance the Sun pot since "you can see the reflection of the sun in it…" He went on further to say that "everything has a life force and that nature strived for balance and so should we."
The pots were an expensive purchase at the time. Mr. Ngan's reputation was firmly cemented by then and he was widely celebrated and awarded for his art so the prices would have been accordingly substantial. These two pieces would have represented wares at the higher end of his pricing spectrum and rare to find today. The original buyer recalls having to borrow some extra cash from her friends (who accompanied her to the studio that day) who were aghast at how much she paid for the pots. It was a lot to spend for "something you couldn’t eat or wear."
The pots were sold as a pair and remain that way today in order to maintain the balance Mr. Ngan spoke of. They now sit together by a window, capturing the sun in one and reflecting the sea to the other.
Daniels, A. (1976, December 11). An Empathy With Clay. The Vancouver Sun, p. 40.
Roberts, R. (1977, March 17). Potter Finds His Art Becomes a Way of Life. Alberni Valley Times, p. 3.
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.