It’s one of the oldest art forms in history.
People were making ceremonial human and animal figurines in clay as early as 24,000 years BCE (before the Christian era).
Ceramic tiles were being manufactured in Mesopotamia and India some 10,000 years later, and the use of functional pottery to hold water and food is thought to date from between 10,000 and 9,000 BCE.
In spite of the fragility of the works themselves, they have long been recognized as the earliest evidence of civilizations of both the East and the West – and a key element in identifying and understanding the development of each of them.
The ancient, highly tactile medium – whether used to create works that are functional, artistic or, most commonly, somewhere in-between – is alive and well at the South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre.
And the public can judge the current robustness and creativity of its local flowering this weekend (April 30-May 1) as the Semiahmoo Potters’ 2016 Spring Sale comes to the centre’s Turnbull Gallery (the show runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday).
For visitors, its a chance to bond with – and hopefully buy – works that express their individual aesthetic values in their homes.
But it is also an expression of a form that continues to inspire, and that, while technically challenging, is also a source immensely satisfaction for its practitioners.
Since relocating to the centre’s pottery studio in 2014, the club has seen the benefit of increased exposure and a growing membership that currently stands at 40 active members – almost double where it stood at its lowest pre-move ebb, vice president Sue Johnston said.
As someone who joined just before the relocation, Johnston said she counts herself as one of the influx of new members who have brought added vitality to the organization.
“We also have a lot of long-term members who have been with the club through its whole history,” she adds. “It’s been an exciting two years of change and growth for the club and all the members.
“We’ve had some growing pains but we’ve been working very well together over the last nine months. And we’re looking forward to a good year going forward with Semiahmoo Arts – we feel like we’re totally a team. We help them, volunteering for some events, and they help us, and it’s a really good feeling.”
She notes that pottery studio technician Tony Wilson has also been doing great work in keeping glaze supplies up to date and kilns full.
“Tony is eminently reliable,” she said.
For Johnston herself, membership in the Semiahmoo Potters was a return to clay after retiring from teaching after 30 years (her most recent assignment was art teacher at Fleetwood Secondary).
“One of the main advantages and changes in the new studio environment is the joy of working with a group of dynamic studio potters,” she said.
“The constant flow and exchange of ideas and help with technical and design-based issues is present daily… there is a wide range of experience and training in the new and growing group.”
Johnston said the members include “a number of Taiwanese potters who are bringing traditional influences to their functional work in types of decoration and finish,” including Ching Ching Lee, who is known for her huge tea pots.
“Two of the recent members are arts instructors from China – Simon and Una Liao – who bring a fine arts edge and a steep learning curve to their work,” she said.
“Simon, particularly, is playing with different forms and glazes – he’s very exploratory, in the fine arts tradition of pushing the boundaries.”
One of the new members is scarcely a new face, Johnston noted – renowned B.C. potter Don Hutchinson, who provided temporary quarters for the club in his home studio (now closed), has lately come into the fold, and will show new work at this weekend’s sale.
“I was taught by Don over 30 years ago at Langara (College). He inspired us all in the ceramics classes there, not only as potters, but as future art teachers, too.
“He’s a consummate teacher and professional potter – we’re thrilled to have him journeying with us.”
As further evidence of the current momentum of the Semiahmoo Potters, club publicist Diane Petersen cites a successful recent Raku-firing workshop with a dozen members and Crescent Beach potter and SSR&SC teacher John Wright.
The club will also be participating in the City of White Rock’s cultural ‘pop-up’ on Johnston Road; partnering with the Fraser Valley Potters Guild for a show in August and with the Semiahmoo Arts Council in September, she said.
The South Surrey Recreation and Arts Centre is located at 14601 20 Ave.