by Dave Yanko
They're at opposite ends of the technology time-line. But potters'
wheels and computers are becoming companion tools for many people
who work in clay.
"The Internet is vital to me," says Saskatchewan potter Michelle
Harris. "(The Net) gives you a wider sense there are people all over the world pursuing the same lifestyle. It's validating."
Harris feels no dearth of support from her fellow potters in Saskatchewan.
Quite the contrary.
"I'm proud to be a Saskatchewan potter," says Harris. "The pottery
community here is very much more in contact with each other than
some of the other groups."
However, pottery is a solitary pursuit. Harris lives in the country
about 80 kms (50 miles) northwest of Saskatoon and the Internet
allows her to keep in touch - on a daily basis, if she wishes -
with potters from around the world.
"This way, I have potter friends in West Virginia, Manitoba, Prince
Rupert, Australia, Florida, California, Arizona. . . ."
all art images courtesy A K Photography
Through Web sites like "ClayNet", as well as in chat groups devoted
to pottery discussions, Harris finds support and suggestions on
everything from glazing techniques to ethical questions "like whether
you should patch with epoxy". Moreover, the relative anonymity of
the Internet allows potters to bridge generation and stylistic gaps,
as well as the more obvious ones involving distance.
"In our chat group, there's a 16-year-old boy and a grandmother
who are both interested in pottery.
"Where else would these two people talk to each other about pottery?
It's not likely they'd be drawn to each other if they attended the
same (crafts) show."
Some artisans are reluctant to have their work featured on the
Web. They fear their ideas may be stolen by an unscrupulous craftsperson
or, worse yet, mass produced in some "knock-off" factory in a far-away
Harris harbors no such anxieties. She's planning to get a homepage
and a scanner that will allow her to electronically display and
transmit photographs of her work. And even if someone were to steal
an idea or two, it would have little effect on Harris. By the time
the items were copied, she'd be on to something else.
"I could do "bunnies" my whole life if I wanted to," she says of
her very popular line featuring a rabbit theme. "I can't make them
Instead, Harris is moving ahead. She's turned her focus to traditional
"blue and white" porcelain and a process called "sgraffito", in
which she uses a delicate wire hook to etch designs into her work.
The result is a sophisticated line of gold-trimmed dinnerware and
At 35, Harris suspects her willingness to change comes, at least
in part, from her "Generation-X" circumstances.
"Generally, people my age are more open to shifting. They've had
to do that all their lives."
She spent her first 15 years in Lloydminster, on the Saskatchewan-Alberta
boundary, and moved to central Alberta, Manitoba, Norway, Saskatchewan,
British Columbia and then back to Saskatchewan in following years.
Quilting was one of her first creative endeavors. She started at
a young age and continues to stitch colorful and elaborate designs
between stints on the potter's wheel. Harris says that as a child,
she was never pushed towards artistic expression. She arrived there
by choice and inclination.
"Being the youngest of six, a friend tells me, you've got the least
to prove. I was left to do my own thing. I wasn't spoiled, I just
did my own thing."
Harris ended her formal schooling with an education degree. After
almost five years of teaching Grade 4 students in Prince Rupert,
BC, she was in need of a little diversion.
"Another teacher and I took a recreational pottery class," she
recalls. "That's when I really got interested.
"I thought it was very therapeutic, although, I don't know what
I was treating myself for. I guess teaching was stressful."
The opportunity to pursue her pottery on a full-time basis came
after she married Richard Harris and moved to her home on a hill
overlooking the North Saskatchewan River, near Waldheim, SK. Her
success came quickly. She's been a full-time potter for only four
Yet, true to form and in spite of her success, Harris has no difficulty
imagining herself pursuing a different creative path in the future.
"I'm lucky that what I've done has been received so well. I love
to work in clay. But that's not to say I wouldn't get into wood,
or something else, at another time."
It's fitting the only tool this Saskatchewan potter seems unlikely
to part with is her computer, a modern-day symbol of change. No
tool in history has had such an impact on human endeavor. Except
for the wheel.
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