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Potters pay tribute to ‘gifted’ club member

A small sampling of some of the work of the Semiahmoo Potters Club

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus was quoted as saying “nothing endures but change.”

His words seem highly appropriate for the Semiahmoo Potters Club, which holds its annual spring show and sale of work this weekend (Saturday, April 30, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. and Sunday, May 1, 10 a.m.-4 p.m.) at Ocean Park Community Hall, 1577 128 St.

The club, originally started by 11 keen potters, has endured some 17 years – but certainly not without change. For a number of years – after losing its Community Arts Council sponsored space at the old White Rock Elementary – the club was without a regular home, and had to do with a shed-like space for turning, firing and glazing works.

Latterly the club has been renting a small house on the property of professional potter Don Hutchinson – an arrangement in which members have reaped the additional benefit of his advice and mentorship.

But with the steady growth of the club since then – it now stands at more than 30 members – it is inevitable the club will have to look for a larger space in the future for its daily operations and monthly workshops.

Other change can be sad – and unexpected. Under that heading comes the passing in February, after surgery and a brief hospitalization, of stalwart member and club ambassador Geoff Purcell.

It’s inevitable the current exhibition will be partly a memorial for the popular retiree, who used his past experience in sales and marketing to make the club’s shows a continuing success.

“Geoff was one of our long-term members,” said 10-year veteran Joan Yates. “He was the one who always organized our sales and he was incredibly gifted. Although it was a huge task he always enjoyed it and was enthusiastic about the sales.”

Yates said Purcell’s upbeat, thoroughly welcoming presence will be missed at this year’s sale, not only by his fellow potters but by regular visitors to the well-patronized events.

“When people attend the sale this weekend, they’re going to see sort of a memorial board set up – they’ll see that and say ‘oh, I remember him,’” she said. But it’s thanks to Purcell’s past organization that the current show is in the shape it is, Yates said.

“The sales committee has done a fine job in putting everything together – I think Geoff would be pleased.”

The current sale – which will showcase the work of some 25 members – will feature all kinds of pottery from practical wheel-turned mugs, cups, bowls and plates to ornate hand-built sculptural pieces, Yates said.

“I think we have some of the finest hand-builders I’ve ever seen,” she said, adding that a growing membership has resulted in an ongoing infusion of energy, ideas and new techniques in the club.

Once or twice a year the club organizes all-day workshops, which bring in potters from outside the community to demonstrate other skills, such as the building of pottery boxes – something at which member Joan Ashenhurst is an acknowledged master, Yates said.

“Her butter boxes always sell out at our shows,” she said.

The shows also have another spin-off – they attract new members Yates said.

“At every show we’re taking away six or seven applications to be put on our waiting list,” she said.

The growth of the club is both a blessing and a curse, she admitted.

“It’s been wonderful being tenants of Don’s and when we first moved to his property we thought ‘wow – we have so much space,’”  she said. “Now we’re outgrowing that space.”

She said the club is monitoring City of Surrey initiatives to increase arts space – hoping they could one day mean more room in South Surrey for the club.

“Hopefully our day will come, that we’ll be able to have space through the city,” she said.

Yates agreed that part of the appeal of pottery is creating a tangible three dimensional work. But it’s an art in which there is always room for improvement and refinement of technique, she said.

“We’re constantly learning, that’s why it’s so wonderful,”  she said. “But it’s not only a learning thing but a community of friends as well. I think that’s why we all feel the loss of Geoff – it’s like losing someone in the family.”

About the Author: Alex Browne

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