We're all pretty giddy over here at make and do about introducing the first in our monthly series of guest artists. For the month of April we are hosting none other then extremely talented and lovely Joan Bruneau.
Joan Bruneau is a professional Studio Potter and Regular Part-Time Ceramics
Faculty at NSCAD University. She maintains her studio/showroom, Nova Terra
Cotta in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.
Joan Bruneau was born in 1963 in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Her love of travel and
food sparked her desire to become a potter, after discovering the authentic
cuisines and pottery traditions of Europe on a trip in 1983-84. She went on to earn her BFA from NSCAD University in 1988, and MFA from the University of
Minnesota in 1993.
(look to the end of the post for more details of Joan achievements)
The following are some questions we sent off to Joan about living and working in Clay in Canada. Her insightful answers really provide us a look at the development of contemporary ceramics in the Maritime Provinces.
1. Where is your studio located? How long have you been there? What's one of the perks of being a maker in that community?
My studio/storefront is in Lunenburg, on Nova Scotia’s South Shore. After 9
years of study and development in school, including an apprenticeship and a
residency, I was itching to pursue my dream; to return to my native Nova Scotia and be a full time studio potter. The South Shore of Nova Scotia was attractive in the mid ‘90s because there was a community of about 8 studio potters (NSCAD alumni) peppered along the South Shore in various towns. Each potter had a studio/showroom open to the public for direct sales and many of us lived above our shops. This was before social media and Etsy, so the studio/storefront model seemed the most direct way to sell work. Also, since Nova Scotia is geographically isolated, traveling to craft markets wasn’t an option.
Lunenburg had been a prosperous fishing town since the early 19th c but as the fishery declined by the early 1990s, it began a slow transition toward tourism and was designated a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1995. Lunenburg was pretty rough around the edges when I moved there in 1994 so properties were very affordable. Terrified, yet fuelled with naive optimism, I purchased a dilapidated mid-19th c building for $20,000 began extensive renovations ( costing another $25,000) and set up my studio/storefront in 1995. The local community continues to develop with an emphasis on culture. The NSCAD residency for recent grads is 10 years old and a classical music residency for emerging musicians started a couple of years ago. The Lunenburg School Of The Arts opened last year offering week long summer courses in ceramics, as well as other media, with renowned professional artists.
The character of my building and material culture of Lunenburg ,with it’s beautiful architecture built by master ship wrights, provides the right context for my work which has a lot of ornament, colour and detail.
Business is seasonal; the main season is from June through September, my shop's open from May 'til Christmas. Maintaining a storefront with regular hours can be grueling however it affords control over how my work is priced and displayed, plus reaps 100% of each sale ( as opposed to the usual 50% consignment plus shipping costs to galleries). I could not make a living wholesaling, my stuff’s too labour intensive.
I have taught part-time at NSCAD since I’ve been in Lunenburg. Teaching keeps me connected to the broader ceramics community and the younger generation while providing subsistence income over the leaner months.
The advantage of the seasonal business is that the winter months can be dedicated to research and developing new and more ambitious pieces for exhibitions. Winter provides privacy and time to develop and make slower elaborate things that require uninterrupted attention. The rest of the year is devoted to production pieces when my shop is open to the public. I enjoy the flow of production as well as developing slower more elaborate pieces. Both approaches have equal integrity.
2. Can you tell us a bit about one of your mentors, someone without who you
likely wouldn't e a ceramic artist.
One of the most influential experiences for me as a young student was Thanksgiving dinner at the Ostrom family’s home in Indian Harbour.
The Ostroms purchased their property along the wind-swept, glacier-ravaged coast for a song and landscaped and planted an award-winning garden and slowly built their home over the years. Observing the fruits of the Ostrom’s labour; their ability to create a beautiful life-style starting with a shack on the tundra, was very inspiring.
Elaine and Walter Ostrom taught by example that decorated pots inspire a collaborative dialogue between the maker and user.
This annual ceramics department event was not to be missed. Elaine and Walter would cook and bake for days and Walter would roast a couple of turkeys in his kiln. Visits to the Ostrom’s ocean-side home began with a tour of their award-winning garden followed by a tour of Walter’s collection of historical and contemporary pots and ceramics library. This was my first experience eating an entire meal presented on beautiful, innovative, decorated pots in a gorgeous environment embellished with Elaine Ostrom’s stunning floral arrangements in Walter’s flower baskets and bricks.
Upon graduating with a BFA from NSCAD, I apprenticed for a year with raku potter, Tom Smith in St. Andrews By The Sea, New Brunswick. I honed my throwing skills and learned that a studio could be affordably built.
Jim Smith , the celebrated studio potter in Chester. has been a good friend and mentor for years and has set the bar for pricing functional decorated pots in Nova Scotia and in Canada. I learned from Jim that higher price points may foster the development of one’s work not to mention one’s livelihood and lifestyle. Plus, customers perceive the value of artist’s work based on how it is priced and presented.
Both Jim and myself hire summer studio assistants, usually NSCAD students, who learn about production and work-ethic, discussing the work with the public, and pricing.
3. Looking around your local or provincial community can you name 3 other clay artists that should be on our radar?
Deb Kuzyk & Ray Mackie ( Lucky Rabbit Pottery)
Favorite Canadian Potters: Melissa Schooley, Bruce Cochrane, Diane Brouilette,
Diane Sullivan, Lindsay Montgomery, Dale Perriera, Sam Uhlick, Cathi Jefferson,
Fredi Rahn, Sarah Coote, Katrina Chaytor, Martina Lantin, Martin Tagseth
4. Would you describe your work as having any inherent "Canadian Aesthetic"? If so can you describe how you might perceive stylistic trends in contemporary Canadian Ceramics.
I’m among a group of Nova Scotia potters (Birdsall - Worthington , Jim Smith and Shauna MacLeod) who mix a custom clay body comprised of 60% Lantz Clay, a local earthenware clay mined by Shaw Brick in Lantz, NS, so my work definitely has a Nova Scotia aesthetic. Lantz Clay is exceptionally plastic, forgiving and tight at c04. and lends itself to altering & colour!.
Most NSCAD ceramics alumni ( potters) who studied between 1970 - 2008 were influenced by Walter Ostrom, NSCAD ceramics department head. Walter has been a long standing advocate for functional pots despite the resistance within a conceptual art school environment. Walter has traveled extensively in China since the 1970s and is well versed in Chinese ceramics history and exposed students to the vast history of ceramics in order to make informed pots. He also championed earthenware, pattern and colour in the mid-late 1970s when high fired porcelain and stoneware were considered the only viable materials for functional pottery. Walter instilled in his students that “function” not only refers to utility but serves as decoration. & communication. Walter has the rare ability to coax students to reach beyond their comfort zone and achieve excellence. He taught many well regarded potters such as (Christa Assad, Bruce Cochrane, Julia Galloway, Linda Sikora, Katrina Chaytor, Martina Lantin, Lindsay Montgomery, Ian Symons, Dale Perriera, Diane Sullivan, Kathryn Finnerty , Fredi Rahn, Sam Uhlick, Sin Ying Ho & Sarah Coote, Ursula Hargens, Adero Willard, Stephanie Rozene etc.).
Sarah Coote taught at NSCAD between 1986 and 1991. She influenced a number of us stylistically and philosophically ( myself, Linda Sikora and Kathryn Finnerty). Sarah instilled in us the importance of dynamic volume to thrown forms, in other words, what makes a pot “alive” or “dead" ( static.)
The NSCAD “aesthetic” could be characterized by attention to decorated surface and formal relationships, colour, pattern, function as a vehicle for communicating ideas, function as interaction, and contemporary practice informed by historical precedents.
5. Can you retell one of your favourite stories about being a artist?
Here’s a story that made me decide to become an artist/potter:
I was a rebellious 20 year old, back-packing around Europe for a year with my Dutch boyfriend, when we stumbled on Minoan Pottery in the Iraklion Museum on Crete. Those 4000 year old pots that caught my unsophisticated eye were incredibly lively and spirited and left an impression. I had no idea that pottery could be so expressive yet so old! This was the early ‘80s when espresso and olive oil were considered rare and exotic in Halifax. This trip also introduced me to the wonderful regional cuisines around Europe and sparked my passion for cooking & presentation and an interest in studying pottery at art school back in Halifax. On returning home, I visited NSCAD to pick up an application and the Ceramics students were having an exhibition in the foyer. Their pieces were as exuberant as the Minoan pots and were original and contemporary yet recalled aspects of pots I’d run across in my travels.
6. Were there any hard challenges you had to overcome in your career? What did you learn from mistakes or challenges? Could you offer some advice for
others who are trying to have similar success as makers?
The hardest challenge is the isolation in the studio and being tied down to the shop 6 days a week year after year. The workload doesn’t get lighter or easier. Dealing directly with the public can be rewarding yet frustrating.
*Seriously, if there’s a will there’s a way!
If you’re passionate about what you do…you’ll find means for doing it but be prepared to commit much of your time and energy if you are a self supporting artist.
* Develop your work as much as possible in school & in residencies before
setting up your studio.
* Make time for regular studio play & research…It can be as simple as spending an afternoon developing new methods for making handle shapes when you don’t have the pressure of a shelf of pieces waiting for handles!
* Take care of your body
7. Favourite artist, ceramic or otherwise.
Oh jeez, there are too many to name but here are a few favs:
And many other contemporary potters including the NSCAD Alumni above!
Historical Pots: Minoan, Etruscan, Staffordshire, Iznik, Sung Dynasty
8. What's on your playlist in the studio? Silence, music, podcasts?
The usual suspects: CBC radio 1, 2 & 3
Tales Of a Red Clay Rambler
This American Life ( love David Sedaris)
Joan teaches workshops across North America and has taught in the Distance
Ceramics Diploma Programs at Red Deer College, the Australia National University and the Glasgow School of Art.
Recent Workshops include:
2016 The Northern Clay Center Minneapolis, MN
2015 Alberta College Of Art and Design Calgary, AB
2015 Lunenburg School of the Arts Lunenburg, NS
2015 Sheridan College Toronto, On
2015 Whiteside Taylor Centre Baie D’urfe, Quebec
Joan’s work is exhibited throughout North America and is in recognized private
and public collections including the AGNS, Canada, Sykes Gallery, USA and
Jingdezhen Ceramics Institute, China. Recent exhibitions include:
2016 Florilegium (Ursula Hargens curator) The Northern Clay Center,
2016 The Clay Studio: 100 Cups NCECA Kansas City, USA
Bruneau’s work is also published in current Ceramics publications including
the feature article, “Idyllic Place; The Work Of Joan Bruneau” by Andrea Marquis
in Ceramics Monthly magazine ( April 2014) and
2016 Mastering The Potter’s Wheel Ben Carter
2016 The Clay Studio: 100 Artists 1000 Cups The Clay Studio
2015 Ceramics Monthly Materials and Glazes Ceramic Arts Handbook
Check out Joan’s interview with Ben Carter in his popular podcast, Tales of a
Red Clay Rambler: 2015 Episode #109:,Minneapolis Mn.USA