Throwing pottery a labour of love for ceramic artists Richard and Carol Selfridge.
Talents of ceramic artists meld in a creative partnership
A peek at the resume of ceramic artists Carol and Richard Selfridge quickly establishes they are an extraordinary couple with a unique story.
First off, they have a joint resume. Exhibitions, accolades, teaching, lecture, study tours — all are shared. This husband-wife team has worked collaboratively, full time, for 38 years.
Theirs is a love story. The pair met at a local pottery shop/studio in 1974 and fell in love. Carol moved into Richard’s 1914 Edwardian home/studio near Mill Creek ravine and the illustrious pair have been churning out internationally acclaimed ceramics ever since.
The Selfridges’ illusionistic terra cotta majolica, wood-fired stoneware and translucent porcelain have been exhibited in more than 250 juried and invitational exhibitions across North America, Western and Eastern Europe, Japan, China, Korea, Australia and New Zealand. Frankly, their resume would dazzle a travel writer.
Their work is held in prestigious collections worldwide including museums in Barcelona, Japan, Korea and China; the Minneapolis Institute of Art; Alberta Foundation for the Arts; and the Art Gallery of Alberta.
A passion for working with clay has been the essence of their life together, before children, while raising a family, and now as grandparents.
Making art is, quite simply, who they are and what they do. Even their home is a tribute to this love, living areas melding into studio and gallery spaces at every turn.
The idea of working collaboratively — seamlessly swapping roles through every step of the art making process — had me wonderstruck. To find a rhythm which allows two individuals to share a home and studio, raise children, and artistically work together seems remarkable and rare.
Carol says the collaboration started out of necessity when they started having babies. She would throw the pots but wouldn’t have time to take them to the next step so Richard would jump in to do the trimming and finishing.
Richard admired Carol’s deft drawing skills so he’d throw and she would decorate.
So it began, the natural evolution of two artists with “a similar eye” combining their strengths, skills and ideas; sharing their creative journey in unison.
“We’re both crazy about the work that each other does,” says Richard, “and we know that together we can make better work that either one of us can make on our own.”
The ceramic journey is anything but simple. Perusing the multiple interior and exterior studio spaces located in their home, it is obvious that a ceramicist must also be part chemist, industrial designer, manufacturer and lumber jack.
Working with clay requires muscle, involves a lot of grunt work, and it’s a dirty business.
The Selfridges start with raw clay. In the basement studio, known as the throwing and glazing room, they painstakingly remove impurities to produce their own special blend.
“We make the best clay in the world,” exclaims Richard. “We hope our pots will last thousands of years.”
The refined clay is put through the pug mill to remove entrapped air and the extruded clay is now ready to be thrown on a wheel to make bowls and cups or flattened by the slab roller to construct plates and platters.
On a productive day, the couple can transform 600 pounds of clay into tea pots, cups and vessels, a feat Carol calls “turning straw into gold.”
Wooden paddles, a Chinese harp for cutting and Japanese hakime brushes adorn the walls.
I spot the boom box and Carol says, “We throw to rock … you can’t really throw to classical.” I nod in agreement.
There is lots of equipment — electric kilns of various sizes and a ball mill, designed and welded by Carol, to grind rocks and materials into a fine powder for making glazes.
The two potters wheels are set up so that Carol and Richard sit back-to-back when they throw, their chairs occasionally rolling into one another.
“Richard’s chair is in love with me,” Carol says smiling, “it slides over and bumps into mine.”
A photo studio in the basement allows them to shoot professional images for exhibition submissions.
On the main floor, Carol decorates the pots in the terra cotta painting studio at the back of the house.
With windows on three sides, the bright space overlooks the backyard where she can watch the squirrels and neighbourhood cats.
Outside sits a huge, two-chambered kiln designed to burn natural gas and/or wood,
“We’re both crazy about the work that each other does, and we know that together we can make better work that either one of us can make on our own.”
a combo that produces crackle and salt-glaze finishes while a coffin or train kiln burns wood (reaching 1,300 C/2,372 F), leaving an ash-glazed finish on stoneware and porcelain.
Scrap and reclaimed oak, maple and walnut are neatly stacked in the yard. A recent firing took 36 hours and was stoked continually with two cords of wood.
“It’s like we are a mini-pottery village,” says Carol.
Indeed it is. The couple is extremely prolific and their work highly diverse, ranging from colourful vases embellished with painted figures to functional tableware in earth tones.
Finished pieces are displayed in the Selfridge Gallery, a glassed-in porch in front of the house. The gallery extends throughout the entire main floor living space excluding the kitchen.
The Selfridges have amassed a rich personal art collection of paintings and prints by Alberta artists and more than 950 ceramic pieces from around the world.
A collection of the pots sit in wooden grid shelves, each with their own story of the maker and the process.
Exotic items include antique opium pipes from Cambodia, pottery by Japan’s living national treasure Tatsuzo Shimaoka and an ancient bowl from the Sung Dynasty.
The Selfridges twice a year hold an open house, an exhibition and sale of new works. This season’s event takes place Dec. 1 and 2 from 11 a.m. - 5 p.m. in their home/studio/ gallery at Bring a friend how these earth into
For more sel-fridge-ceramicart. Selfridges locally by Scott
gallery at 9844 88th Ave. Bring a friend and marvel at how these two masters turn earth into art.
For more information go to selfridgeceramicart.ca. The Selfridges are represented locally by Scott Gallery.