The Way of the Potter: Don Hutchinson

Don Hutchinson at Surrey Art Gallery. iPhone photo by gayle mavor

On Sunday, I went to a special talk given by Don Hutchinson, an incredible artist, sculptor, potter in Surrey, B.C. who had a retrospective on at the Surrey Art Gallery that just ended. As an aside, if you’ve never been to the Surrey Art Gallery, you must go. It just feels GOOD in there. Good Feng shui and good programming.

Don started off meandering through some of his childhood experiences which built resilience and the idea that there was no room for waste. When you ran into a problem, you never went out and bought something, because you couldn’t. No money. You had to solve the problem some other way. He became very resilient, and like an inventor, very versatile in his approach to problem-solving on the cheap.

He said he failed art in high school. And French. And Latin. And Chemistry. 

When he graduated (somehow) from high school, he spent two weeks wondering what he should do. At first he thought he might be a priest. Then he thought, no, I’ll be a clown. And then he went into the Royal Air Force. Leaps of faith. Each one of those.

Eventually, he was accepted into Art School, the Vancouver School of Art.  At some point, he had to choose what he wanted to specialize in. He loved painting and sculpting. He didn’t really want to choose. And then he realized: potter. He could be a potter. This was the 1970s. Pottery and working in clay combines both colour and form. Two of his loves.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He spoke about a teacher he had who gave the students an exercise. Create this type of vessel. When he came back at the end of the week and saw Don’s piece, he just laughed, didn’t say anything else. He then walked out. Don was humiliated and angry and frustrated. He wrecked the piece and the very next day, started over.

A week passed and he had a new vessel. The teacher came in. Looked at it and once again just laughed and walked out. That was it. Once again, Don was horrified, humiliated, frustrated and angry.

He started all over. By the end of that week, the teacher came by and Don was so frustrated and defensive that before the teacher could say anything, Don said, Look. This is it. I’m happy with it. This is the best I can do. I don’t care if you like it. I’m keeping it.

The teacher, with a bit of a satisfied grin said, Good. That’s what this was about. You’ve learned the lesson the hard way. I need you to do the best you can do. I need you to believe you’ve done the best you can and I need you to take responsibility for your work.

It was after that lesson that Don began to sign all of his pieces. By signing my piece, I was saying to myself and to anyone who bought it or looked at it that it was the best I could do at that time. Of course, years later I’d look back and think, Oh. That’s not so good. I can do better. But at that time it was the best I could do then.

I think this lesson is true for anyone working in a creative endeavour, including writers. We need to really do our best, believe it’s our best, take responsibility for the end result, even when we aren’t sure that anyone else will like it. The integrity in the process will lead (hopefully) to end results that matter and we are the most important person it must matter to.

That’s a great story. Thank you Don Hutchinson with perhaps a few details that weren’t exact in the retelling.  Don Hutchinson has been a potter for 50 years and taught at Langara College for 30 years.  Officially, he retired from being a potter two years ago and is now focused on painting in White Rock, B.C. 

Michiko Suzuki packages dreams and secrets into Hope Chests exhibit

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Fabric tents with image of girl by Michiko Suzuki seen here explaining about her art.

When I was a kid, my childhood friend Phyllis gave me a Japanese doll in a tiny glass case. It was a small plastic woman with a white plastic face, not even brown skinned, wearing a typical silk kimono. I can’t recall now what colour the kimono was. I think it was red. It was probably made in China even though the gift was given in the 1960s. The case stood about six inches tall. A mirror on the inside back of the display case highlighted the back of the kimono. And there was that little knapsack-styled bulge on the back of the kimono, the name of which I had to look up and have now discovered is divided into many segments: Senui. Obiyama. Otaiko. Tare.

I kept that case on my dresser for years. It sat in an esteemed place where I could look inside it every day. And there was something symbolic about part of my white face, looming in comparison to the doll’s, reflecting back at me from behind the little figurine.

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The top of the flat, wooden hope chest with the girl’s name, the artist’s name on top.

Finally, and I don’t even recall when, after so many moves, I finally let it go. It might have been in my 30s or 40s.  I do recall the outside plastic was beginning to peel away and brown stains were forming on the back of the little silver box and that contributed to my decision. When it comes to stuff, I’m pretty good at letting go, too good in fact, inevitably as an afterthought years later wishing I could examine specific things long gone just one more time.

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The collage of photography and fabric and printmaking that folds into the bottom of the box.

Phyllis used to tell me that I was more Japanese than she was, my interest in all things Japanese greater than hers at the time. I’m not sure what it was exactly that appealed to me so much. Was it just viva la difference? Was it how everything in Japanese culture seems to be done with such pristine consideration and exactness and that way of being is so opposite to my somewhat fractured, spontaneous dabbling? Was it that secrets and privacy dot Japanese culture and who doesn’t love a secret, not in the form of gossip, but in the form of hiding places? Spaces that beckons us with the promise of mystery across a divide. The folds in origami. The aromatic and culinary delights lying in wait inside bento boxes? The fine manipulations of rolls to create sushi with the delectable tastes snugly molded into seaweed rugs.

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Peering inside, the image of a girl on the fabric tent and the bottom of the hope chest with the art inside.

So when I heard about this exhibit called Hope Chests at the Burnaby Art Gallery, I knew I wanted to go. Saturday afternoon, the artist Michiko Suzuki was there. A small group gathered round and she spoke in Japanese dropping in English phrases  doing her best to explain through an interpreter about this unique work.  We followed her from one fabric tent to the next as she explained a little about each girl she had chosen and the rationale for the colours of the girls’ hope chests and their interests.

There was something so delightful in the gentle pulling back of the panels on the white fabric tents, each girl’s image on the front, and peering inside to where the bottom part of the hope chests lay. A collage of images and fabric represented what the artist had learned about each adolescent girl, eight girls in total.

The project began from a much sadder place. The artist was thinking of young girls in the sex trade in S.E. Asia (Cambodia specifically) whose hopes for their futures have been so darkened and dashed and of the girls in Fukushima whose exposure to radiation has impacted their futures through others’ perceptions of them, almost as if they may be Japan’s untouchables.

If you live nearby, it’s definitely worth a visit to June 12th, 2016.  Michiko Suzuki is a well known print maker in Japan. Her husband,  Wayne Eastcott, also a printmaker, is originally from Trail, B.C. They split their time between Vancouver and Tokyo where the exhibit will go next.

Writing desk as home

mydeskThis is my desk.

A lot of famous writers or published authors have taken to showing where they work. I’m positive they clean it up and manipulate it. I didn’t even bother to dust.  I wanted to give you the authentic experience. Oh the glory!

Of course, I’m neither famous nor published (at least not in book form), but as a tip of my hat to all writers who spend hour upon hour alone with their thoughts, music or not playing on a DVD, and engrossed in a story they want to tell, I pay tribute to you, my friends. It doesn’t matter to me whether you’re published or not. I have a small sense of what’s in your hearts and how much of yourselves go into what you’re creating out of nothing but your memories and your imaginations. You are the experience. The experience is you.

I have a relationship with this space that’s as every bit as real to me as those I have with people in the flesh. Even though in the past four years, I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve spent way too much time here in this five foot rectangle. I’m not denying that being out in the world, interacting with people, seeing places near and far is a good way to live and explore. It’s the best! But there is a world so rich and so deep inside that Dr. Seuss got it right even when he didn’t mean for the expression to encompass what I’m talking about: Oh the places you’ll go! The people you’ll meet! Even inside your own head. ha ha.

Like most people, the things I’ve chosen to have around me hold meaning.

Clay mask

I have this weird mask that I bought in a small art gallery called Marigold Arts on Canyon Road in Santa Fe, New Mexico. It was made by Allan R. Bass. I spent more money on it than I’ve ever spent on a piece of art. The pamphlet that came with the piece says he “developed a style of firing that combines Raku and Pit-firing techniques to achieve an Ancient yet contemporary expression.” He lives in a Kiva-styled pit house in rural New Mexico. In other words, he’s my kind of guy! But I bought the mask because it was just so different than anything I’d seen.claymaskArbutus Tree

I took this photo of an Arbutus tree on Salt Spring, of course, on a visit in 2007 with my friend Lisa Wolfe. She was recovering from an operation and still chose to come camping with me. I was being interviewed for a job at the Driftwood which I didn’t get. Gotta love rugged women! I just loved the patterns and the green bark. This tree is in a special place in Ruckle Park that I go to where few people ever are, and it takes me back to so many times of happiness and peace. The first time I ever saw it was with Will Gerlach whom I am eternally grateful to for introducing me to Salt Spring.

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Buddhist Temple

In 1987 or 1988, I went to San Francisco with a friend named Pam Melnyk. She was a quintessential hippy, a few years older than me. Pam had been to San Francisco many times and was the perfect person to travel with, especially for me a newbie to the city. We stayed at a hotel in Union Square. She took me through Haight Ashbury and because she was such a music buff, I got the whole history. At the end of a most memorable few days we got bumped from the plane and got paid to stay. We were so HAPPY you would have thought we’d won Lotto max. One more day! This Buddhist temple was at the end of a fantastic walking tour of China town and it was high up in a building that overlooked the financial district. I still recall the experience of lighting those incense sticks.sanfranbuddisttempleElephant

I have a little gold elephant in front of me bought by my dear friend Colleen Eaton on her trip to India. She has a fantastical story about getting on the back of a motorcycle to go back to this shop to have these little prints framed. I love elephants and elephants with trunks up are lucky. Did you know that? Never buy an elephant print if the trunk isn’t up!

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Ruckle House

Below elephant is Ruckle house. This photo taken by a very dear friend Tom James while I lived on Salt Spring. I just love the reflection through the window and the photo of original Henry Ruckle with his wife and baby. I have peered into this window so many times, a ritual whenever I visit Ruckle farm, and it never changes. It hasn’t changed in 30 years. There aren’t many places or things you can say that about and that really appeals to me.

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BC Women Artists

A poster I purchased at the Art Gallery of Victoria on a week-long trip to Victoria in 1986. I used to look at this poster and wonder about it, not really understanding the second to last shape. Now that I am that shape, I get it. Damn! I have always loved this poster. There is something profound in those five shapes representing the five phases of women which is its title. By the late Victoria artist Margaret Peterson.

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Paper weight

A paperweight with raspberry’s inside. Takes me back to a simpler time, a time in the country. I imagine this lying on a half-finished quilt in a small house with a wood stove and I just love it. A Value Village find.

paperweightIdog

Hey, it can get lonely here. Sometimes as a distraction I press the nose of my little yellow Idog and he shakes his head and barks. Often he’ll be silent and then out of the blue he’ll let out some robotic yelp and scare the hell out of me. Bad dog! Unpredictable! He wants attention but he’s so much less fuss than a real dog, if not quite as unconditionally loving. idogPhotos

A picture of Colleen and I on a trip to Salt Spring way back in 2001 to visit her sister who owns a house there in Vesuvius Bay. A particularly nice weekend.

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A saying

Whenever there is a problem repeat over and over. “All is well. Everything is working out for my highest good. Out of this situation only good will come. I am safe.” A gift from Colleen, probably at a time when I wasn’t feeling very good.

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Another card, hidden behind the one above. A card from Catherine Bennington, a woman I shared a workspace with at UBC in the basement of the David Lam building when I worked at UBC Multimedia Studies between 1995 and 1999 and she worked for Teaching and Academic Growth. She still works there. We’re Facebook friends and I know she would probably be amazed that I still have this card. But it was perfection and she captured what really matters to me in this simple handmade card. Thank you Catherine.catherinecardThere’s also a photo of the house I grew up in on Hamilton Street at Canada Way across from Moody Park in New Westminster that was ripped down in 1980 to make way for condos after my parents sold and moved to Langley. mavorhouse

A photo taken by me inside the old barn at Burgoyne Bay.  I love the colours of the wood and the beautiful vines across the window. I used to go there on my own with my camera and the enjoyment I got from that old run down place is impossible to describe or perhaps even understand. The sound of the starlings. The aroma of the grass in summer. Those moments are embedded inside of me and this photo helps to remind me of how special my time on Salt Spring was; how much contentment. It almost makes me cry now thinking of it.DSC_0746

I could go on but this is already way too long. Suffice it to say that our things are special to us. And this tiny space, my desk, so easily dismantled, is also a reminder of how little is truly required to feel at home when the richness of life inside of us is equal to that all around in the world.

Maybe you’d like to tell me about your writing space. Or show me.

Energizing writing into art via collaboration

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Reece’s peanut butter cups – The ultimate collaboration?

I met up with the artist Eryne Donahue who is going to visually bring to life her representation of my words for the community exhibit space in the Anvil Centre in the not too distant future.

I met her at the Waves Coffee shop on Columbia in New West and when we met you would think we were mother and daughter or old friends, but not two strangers who had never met before. We even had the same hair colour, relatively speaking.

We slipped into conversation without delay. I feel like Eryne and her newly emerging family represent the best of the evolving New West. People who have come from elsewhere. Young, dynamic, engaged and wanting to shape their lives in a community that they can raise their new families in. She is originally from Ottawa and moved to New West with her husband a couple years ago after being renovicted (“get out, we’re renovating and raising the rent”) from East Van where they’d lived for 9 years.

She has a little two year old daughter whose name, Ourigan, is spelled after a Chinook place name that she and her husband picked after they were reading a book together about the explorer David Thompson, “the greatest explorer who ever lived.” According to Google, Thompson mapped 3.9 million sq. kilometres and who, not so cool nowadays, married a 13 year old Metis child who remained married to him for 58 years

Eryne and her husband decided to follow some of Thompson’s route through Oregon, Washington State and B.C., camping as they went.Her husband works for an environmental consulting firm and travels around the province doing work related to water conservation and community education.

They have another baby, also a girl, on the way, due in May and they have chosen a wonderful name that begins with a Q. I’m not sure I should share it here so I won’t. Both names are gender neutral.

Eryne also works for herself as a graphic artist and arts educator with aspirations to do something related to community engagement and art, something she’s already been quite active in. At the moment, motherhood is kind of at the top of the priority ladder.

It was exciting to hear another person’s take on a piece of writing and to hear what she, as an artist, was drawn to in the piece in terms of how she was conceptualizing her representation of it.

It was surprising for me to recognize that her take on the term “diversity” was not as literal as I thought it might be, but instead, what stood out for her was the diversity of the spaces I describe within it, and then, as we met, the psychological space some of which was represented on the page but some only picked up via additional information I shared during our face to face meeting.

She is thinking of focusing on that aspect of diversity, an aspect I had not thought of at all, and that may help me improve the story’s ending. Therein lies the beauty of collaboration. How words on a page can engage another imagination, expanding upon the original creativity to present a completely new direction.

I’m excited to see what the final piece looks like and really happy to have made her acquaintance.

Visit Eryne’s website to learn more about her art and community engagement projects.

Finding Pockets of Artistic Magic

I’m not sure what I would do without the magic that is art in all its many forms.

Sometimes there’s no better antidote for a crappy week than a little magic when you’re not expecting it. And when you desperately need something magical and heartfelt and soul nourishing there aren’t too many things I can think of that equal the beauty of music and art. WesleyHardisty

I left the house on Sunday and headed over to Maillardville to check out the Festival du Bois. I was motivated when I saw that Wesley Hardisty from Salt Spring was part of a fiddle jam happening that afternoon in Mackin House, a beautifully restored heritage house.

We all crowded into the tiny living room, standing room only in the hall, and I felt as if I’d been transported to what I imagine a kitchen party in Cape Breton might be like, minus the good homemade hooch.

I love the collaborative and improvisational nature of how fiddlers decide on the next tune, the banter between them, and a wee story as introduction.  I was seated on the floor directly at their feet and it just made me so happy after, okay, I’ll admit it, being in such a bad mood for most of the week.   They played and somewhere in the dining room behind us, someone had a set of wooden spoons to add to the ambiance, and they clacked out the rhythm to the toe tapping.  It was such a welcome bit of magic injected into an otherwise frustrating week.

And again, this afternoon, as I often do, I got out of the house after a morning of focus. I headed over to Deep Cove and wandered around a bit before checking out the small Seymour Art Gallery there. I came upon an exhibit which focused on repetition. It was inspired by French artist Gilles Deleuze who wrote, “I make, remake and unmake my concepts along a moving horizon.”

The press release said, “In these six artists’ work by repeating the process of depicting their subjects over and over, the original meaning of the project starts to slip and the process itself gains importance.”

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This painting, above, by Suzanne Fulbrook, is a self portrait of a kind. She has exclusively painted her own face since 2008. “When you say a word 30 times or more, it appears to lose its meaning, becomes harder to say and becomes almost meditative. What happens if you repeatedly paint an image of yourself?” I guess she could now tell us.

I had a private curated talk by Vanessa Black, an Emily Carr grad, a painter, and the gallery assistant, and of course her descriptions provided the insights that brought the process and the works to life even more.

Monstersmall

This is by Elizabeth MacKenzie, a growing series of ink drawings to consider and affirm the experience of difference through the archetypal figure of Frankenstein’s monster. She is particularly fascinated by the un-named creature that Dr. Frankenstein created in Mary Shelley’s 1818 classic novel. She draws these on rice paper and puts them directly onto the wall.

It was a really interesting afternoon topped off by a late birthday dinner with a friend.

Vanessa will be hosting a talk this Sunday and a free bookbinding workshop for kids at 11 am and for adults at 2 pm.

A new exhibit called Tattoo, Ink and Flesh, with BC tattoo artists showing photographs of their most memorable works on skin, and discussing the challenges of working on a living medium is happening, March 15 from 2-4 pm. Local poets will perform and all poets are invited for some on the spot literary sharing.

Floathome memorabilia that fits

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I’ve never been a collector. Mostly it’s because once you start collecting something then I expect every birthday, every Christmas, every single occasion, someone will give you something related to what you’re collecting whether it’s a tasteful version of what you’d want or not and pretty soon your house is crammed full of angels or elephants, owls or bird nests, robots or wooden tugboats, turning you into the next contestant on Hoarders Anonymous.

If you move a lot, the challenge is to collect as little as possible.

The two women who own the floathome that I’m staying on may or may not be collectors. I don’t think they are collectors in the true sense of that word but they do have a knack, and I’m not sure which one of them to credit for putting together the interior of this place, their West Coast home, in a way that means everyone who comes here is impressed. From the artwork to all the little touches that add up to create a unified physical space the way a painting can, or a garden, or even an office, when it’s designed with love and attention.

Last night, I had six friends over for a BBQ, and one of them asked me, “Do the people who own this place have roots in Newfoundland and Labrador?”

“I don’t know, why?”

“Oh, it just has that feel to the place.”

“Oh, I said, absentmindedly, “well, they do have a house in Newfoundland and that’s the only reason I get to stay here.”

Oh yeah! Then it all made sense.

We had been focused on familial roots, sharing how we had arrived in B.C., either by leaving Ontario or Boston Bar or Nelson and from as far away as New Zealand, so my attention had been focused on the past and family roots, not the present when I answered the question.

This person had just come back from a first-time trip to Newfoundland in June and she said the house really reminded her of being there.  Of course it would.

Here are some of the treasures I like here.

beach chairs

These beach chairs are lined up on a kitchen ledge. They are always facing in the same direction and that always bugs me. People would never sit at the beach one behind each other like that. So, I moved one. They, of course, will move it back as they should.

bathing beauties

There is a three -foot long line of bathing beauties from another time in a wooden frame in the kitchen. This is only a fraction of the bevy of beauties lined up in it. You can never have too many female friends.

painting by Bobbi Pike

Who wouldn’t want to sit outside just soaking in the scenery from the vista of this yard painted by a person named Bobbi Pike.

wooden fish

I sit in front of this fish every day and do my work on the computer. I like him.

shellbox

This is actually an entire box covered in shells. Sometimes those are beyond tacky. Strangely enough, this one isn’t. It’s in front of the fireplace.

fish wall

They have a whole fish wall with fish heads and starfish. This guy facing you as you climb the first set of stairs means business. No getting away with anything around here.fishing basket

It’s imperative to have a basket to put all your special things -flys and lures and bubble gum cards. Huck Finn would have had one of these.

beaver teethmarks

The wood on the bottom left has been branded by a beaver. The other morning, I was at my computer (where else?), and I heard this weird sound and when I looked out the back screen door, I saw a beaver knawing on something right out the back door. He dove under before I could photograph him. For reasons I’m not sure of, Pat likes to collect these branches that Mr. Beaver has sunk his big teeth into.

What would you collect if space and money were no object?

Share your passions, mukimuk or not

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Yesterday, I gave a talk at the New Westminster Public Library to about 50 people, mainly women, attracted by my subject Georgia Totto O’Keeffe.  More than 30 years after her death the iconic American artist can still draw a crowd.  They came to hear about O’Keeffe and to see my slides of the Ghost Ranch which I took while visiting New Mexico in 2006 and 2007.

I talked about O’Keeffe and Alfred Stieglitz, others who had played a significant role in her life (Mabel Dodge Luhan, Juan Hamilton, Anita Pollitzer). I juxtaposed some of her paintings with some of the slides. She visited Taos in 1929 and the ranch she found in August 1934. It became her full-time home during spring and summers as of 1949 until the end of her life.

She spent winters at her second home, a compound in the nearby village of Abiquiu, until the young man who would become her closest confidante in the last 13 years of her life,  ceramicist Juan Hamilton, picked out an appropriate home for her in Santa Fe where she lived until her death at St. Vincent’s hospital on March 6, 1986.

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I was really nervous about this talk. Something about going back to the place where you grew up is nerve wracking. What if someone I knew from high school showed up?

Up there, at the front, on the other side, you have to keep to the one-hour time limit. You must make sure your information is accurate. But, the real challenge is to weave a story that shares the information you have and touches a chord in some way, preferably, emotionally.  That takes real talent and focused creativity.

I know I didn’t succeed in that last part. The audience liked it, apparently, based on feedback but to weave a really memorable story that sings, now that requires a whole other level of presentation and I have another chance to perfect that because I’m giving it again on April 10, 7:30 pm at New West Public Library.

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So, last night, after my own experience, it was great timing for me to then go to see how the pros do it  when I went to Vancouver’s Public Salon.

Public Salon was developed by former Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan and his wife Lynn Zanatta. They used to invite 10 people to dinner, people that normally wouldn’t ever be at the same table, and ask them to share one thing in their lives that that they were passionate about. One of their guests, a friend and older gentleman named Abraham Rogatnick, encouraged Sullivan to bring the wonderful idea to a larger audience. It wasn’t until after Rogatnick passed away that they managed to follow up on his suggestion.

We heard from  writer Timothy Taylor, a cardiologist from St. Paul’s John Webb, a particle physicists who works at Triumf but spends most of her time interfacing on Skype with other physicists all over the world and in Cern, Switzerland, Anadi Canepa; a Shakuhachi flute master Alcvin Ryuzen Ramos, an urban farmer/community activist Ilana Labow, architect (Paul Merrick), a scholar of Native languages David Robertson and well known dog psychologist Stanley Coren.

It was so inspiring. Don’t miss the next one:  June 5th.

Oh, and it was kicked off with a great mini concert by the Hugh Fraser Quartet. Jazzy stuff that really got me jazzed, the music and the talks.

As David Robertson would say in Chinook: Skookumchuk stuff by mukimuks.