Wednesday, March 19, 2014

June Barber: A 40-Year Journey With Clay

Now through March 23, Textures Craftworks presents a retrospective show of pottery by one of our original members, June Barber.

It was a surprise and delight to be asked to show a retrospective of my work.  Some pieces were made 40 years ago ...

...and some as recent as three years ago.

Fire and earth have been lifelong attractions for me.  As a child I discovered searching out mud puddles after a warm summer rain in bare feet - it was wonderful.  Later in life when I had the satisfaction of getting my hands into the fragrant clay it was reminiscent of the earthy mud between my toes; I can’t think my mother was too pleased.

One winter’s day as a child I rearranged a firewood pile to my liking.  With the sticks of wood I built a fort at the top of the pile then packed the snow down and built a fire in the middle.  I shudder to think if that woodpile had caught fire;  it and our home nearby would have gone up in flames.

As children we had incredible freedom for our imagination to reinvent itself, and although there was hard work, there was lots of time to play too. 

My life began in Wadena Saskatchewan.  We lived nearby on a farm outside the hamlet of Kuroki. I had an older sister and three more after me.  Along with our musical parents, the five of us were all blessed with artistic and musical abilities.

School was over a two mile hike by foot, bike or horse, even in 30 below weather.  Over time, I did them all.  We had a barn at the school for the horses.  This one room county school with 21 students, 10 grades and 14 immigrant backgrounds, was an education in itself.  From 1890 – 1930 approximately, large numbers of Europeans and Americans arrived to claim free land in the prairies.

I went to Wadena high school having to rent or board away from home because of distance.  Fortunately, education was important to our parents and we all did secondary school and advanced training.

Nursing was a dream I had aspired to since a young girl.  I moved to Saskatoon where I worked and studied at City Hospital.  In 1959 I was thrilled to put R.N. after my name.  I worked at the University Hospital while my fiancĂ©, Doug Barber, finished his MSC.

We married September 3, 1960 with all four of my sisters in attendance.  We made our first home in London, England, a significant move in those days, for I was not to see my beloved Canada again for five years when we moved back.  While my husband was pursuing doctoral studies I was a nurse or “staff” as the English called us at the Queen Charlotte and Chelsea Women’s Hospital.  This continued until 1964, when we welcomed our first son, James, into our little family.  By that time I had earned a post-graduate certificate at Chelsea Women’s Hospital. 

The following year, with his PhD in hand, Doug accepted a research position with Westinghouse Canada.  So off to Ontario we came and we stayed – this area has since been our home and it has been a wonderful place to raise our growing family.  Peter and Richard joined our active household and then our daughter Kathryn.  I pursued nurturing my family, supporting my husband and volunteering.  Part of my volunteering was as a long term member of the McMaster Women’s Club, and even at one stage its President.  During this time I began classes at the Dundas Valley School of Art and was soon hooked on clay.  The clay’s magic did it’s work and here I am today a reminiscing Potter.  

Perfecting centering and throwing clay on the wheel was very satisfying.  Anne Sneath at DVSA was my primary mentor and teacher, although I have done many workshops with Bodil Pearson, Bruce Cochrane, Wayne Cardonelli and others.  My style is simple, focusing mainly on shape with minimal decoration, bordering on the Japanese simple elegance.  I worked in red and white stoneware as well as porcelain with preference to white, oyster, grey and blue.

I had a studio at home as well as a studio in Greensville.  I became active in the Hamilton Potter’s Guild shows and did 14 solo annual shows from my studio as well.  My teen and adult children were helpful sanding pot bottoms and loading my car for shows.

Shortly after Textures opened her doors I was accepted as a collective member.  Co-op’s are dear to my heart and part of my heritage.  I soon became a core member and found learning and teaching in the group very satisfying.  One of my favorite spots has been behind the counter, curious to achieve customer satisfaction and support the other members by selling their work. 

One of my involvements in P.R. for Textures was to be spokesperson in interviews on video or television. 

Several years ago , I was nominated for Best Customer Service for my work at Textures in the 2011 Tourism Hamilton Awards.

Hamilton Potter’s Guild also awarded me a scholarship to develop a progression or series of pots which continued to inspire my later work.  The white casserole and footed bowl on display was part of that series.

 I had many commissions of dinner sets, large decorative pieces, and many communion sets for various churches. 

I still participate in jurying potters work who apply to Textures.  My husband and I have travelled extensively over the years and I am fascinated by the ancient and varied pottery wherever we travel. 

While in Japan I was privileged to have a demonstration by a “National Treasurer”.  He was an elderly man and so very highly respected.  I challenged him to a long necked bottle and of course no problem.  I seem to have inherent Japanese leanings but this trip was no doubt influential too.

My urge to work big is evident in some pieces here at the Textures display.  I liked to push the clay or porcelain to its extreme before it collapsed. 

When asked how long it takes to make a bowl it is difficult to answer because basically I would keep working on it until I was satisfied.  Being satisfied is iffy too because I was always trying to improve the clay body, the glaze or both.  Many steps follow, like trimming, bisque firing, glazing and the final firing.

Getting into clay provided much more than making pots.  The suspense of not knowing how a kiln load would turn out was sometimes a bit hair-raising.  Sometimes things go amiss.  The pots are over-fired or under-fired.  The job of a 24 hour cool-down and lid opening ceremony, when each piece comes out as anticipated was for me exciting and rewarding. 

I also found that the process of creating something new and desirable helped me to understand more of life.  I was approached by a nun at a course at Mohawk to make a video of forming and firing a vessel for an order to use to attract nuns and priests.  This was symbolic of shaping a life with guidance and purification. 

Another example; when throwing on the wheel, sometimes the clay has a mind of its own and one criterion I found was that respecting the clay is critical to working with it and so with all relationships.  Before clay I learned to be aware and nurture others.  The 40-year journey with clay helped me to be aware of self as part of creation. 

I am so grateful for a life that has included such a variety of interests and challenges and for the years of support from my husband, family and friends. 

This all contributed to enrich my 40-year journey with clay.
 -- June Barber