Aberthau Potters is a diverse group of people drawn together by their love of working with clay, be it through hand-building, wheel-throwing or sculpture. The history of Aberthau Potters, formerly West Point Grey Potters’ Club, is intertwined with Aberthau Mansion.
The West Point Grey Recreation Project was already operating with several affiliated groups, among them the West Point Grey Potters’ Club, when the Aberthau Mansion was officially opened as a community centre on November 16, 1974. The committee for the opening was composed of Dorothy Gillis, June Campbell and Cliff Lemire, the project director of the West Point Grey Recreation Project. Mr. Lemire gratefully acknowledged the assistance of the affiliated groups for their displays and demonstrations to celebrate the opening.
But let us take a step back…
The first classes offered by the West Point Grey Recreation Project were given at the old gymnasium, now the Jericho Arts Centre. Two mighty kick wheels dominated a small stage where the classes took place. The kick wheels were soon transported to the basement of the Aberthau mansion. A few electric wheels were added to start another set of ambitious classes, taught by Paula Temrick.
An outstanding teacher, Paula did not limit herself to imparting basic or intermediate wheel-throwing techniques. Soon Paula organized a series of workshops to introduce her students to the chemistry of glazing. Explanations, handouts and hands-on practice laboriously familiarized approximately ten students with silica, fluxes, refractory elements and the weighing of small amounts of such materials. All this led to the empirical and batch formulae in an amount as close as possible to 100 grams of a glaze with which each student could experiment. Paula was determined to expose her students to aspects of glaze chemistry!
As well, it was Paula’s inspiration that led to the founding of the West Point Grey Potters’ Club. The meeting in which the foundation of the club was fully discussed took place at the studio that used to be the coach house on March 26, 1974. There were sixteen members present.(1) Paula Temrick chaired the meeting that was also attended by Mr. Lemire. The first executive was formed: Norah Brown (president), Marilyn Pruden (secretary), Sandy McLean (treasurer), Paulette Roscoe and Rachel Bullen (special events coordinators), Caroline Fitzpatrick (newsletter editor). The goals and aims of the pottery club affiliated with the West Point Grey Recreation Project were clearly spelled out:
It would be composed of individuals who wished to use the Project’s ceramic facilities and “develop themselves as a self- sustaining and dynamic group.”(2)
Such development would be achieved through practice, teaching, the formation of a library and by sponsoring workshops and demonstrations by professional potters.
The goal to expand the knowledge of ceramics in the community would be reached by means of group meetings, newsletters, membership in other pottery societies and eventually through displays and sales of members’ pieces. The pottery club was, moreover, to operate as an opportunity for members to work independently between the teaching sessions.
The newly formed pottery club admitted only twenty five members with a waiting list of interested persons. A level of intermediate classes taken at the centre was and still is the prerequisite to enter the pottery club. The entrance fee was $10; the annual fee $30. It was also decided to set aside a certain percentage of all money for spending toward capital equipment.(3) Kiln, glaze, cleaning and clay-recycling committees were formed on a six-month rotating basis. The first full-fledged meeting of the pottery club took place on April 16, 1974. It was well on its way to live up to its proposals and objectives. The various committees were functioning; members donated some books and others were purchased; and the name of the club was voted on: West Point Grey Potters’ Club.
At the May 16, 1974 meeting, the members enjoyed their first demonstrator, Fay Tevendale. Present was Joanne McMaster, Parks Board representative. Snippets of the newsletter The Pot, No.2, September 1974, tell us that the club had subscribed to Ceramic Monthly and that well-known ceramists had been guest demonstrators and inspired the members with their talents and expertise. One of them, Ron Nelson, taught clay sculpture at Aberthau. He “gave an inspiring, energetic demonstration, seemingly making the clay live as he carved out his figures…” (The Pot, No.2).
In a letter dated September 30, 1974 to Mr. Lemire, the club asked permission to hold a display and sale sometime in November. Included in the letter was the proposal to use 25% of the proceeds of the future sale to expand the facilities and to purchase a kiln, one of the several purchased throughout the years by the club. Ever since that first sale on November 19, 1974 the annual, very soon biannual affair, became a popular and well- attended community event. The gracious setting of the Aberthau mansion, no doubt enhanced it.
This grass-roots independent pottery cooperative thrived within the community centre, and forged a relationship to offer studio and teaching space to individuals with an interest in pottery.
For twenty years, the club was financially responsible for many of the improvements in the studio, such as, the acquisition of kilns, wheels, the stainless steel sink and shelving. Club members also installed many of these improvements. The club functioned independently financially and collected all fees directly. Club pottery sales, an increasing number of members entering the club and membership fees financed these many studio improvements. In addition, the West Point Grey Potters’ Club committees ordered all the studio chemicals and equipment, maintained the wheels, prepared glazes, slips and stains, maintained kilns, loaded them, often with students’ pieces beside members’ wares, unloaded them, and did all of the cleaning of the studio. The club, in effect, ran the studio, and was responsible for the general functioning of the studio. Its relationship to the community centre was as an independent affiliated group.
In 1994, the affiliated groups were requested to renounce to their affiliation status and fall under the umbrella of the West Point Grey Community Centre. The club retained its club status but was no longer directly involved in using their separate financial account to make purchases of materials or equipment. Instead, membership fees were now payable to the West Point Grey Community Centre and the community centre became completely financially responsible for the studio. Fees were raised substantially to address the financial aspects of maintaining the studio, but the club still operated as a cooperative in the functioning of the studio, such as the ordering of materials and equipment, general equipment maintenance, making and maintaining glazes, stains and slips, kiln firing and cleaning of the studio. A log was kept of volunteer hours because if one logged enough of the required hours, then one received a reduction in his or her annual fee.
In the fall of 2000, a proposal for a studio manager was brought forward to the WPG Board by an instructor and supported by the club executive and the Board. A part-time manager was hired supported by another increase in members’ fees and canceling the rebate program for volunteer work in maintaining the studio. Alison Petty, who coincidentally started her interest in clay as a teenager in classes at Aberthau and went on to become a professional potter, was hired by the community centre as studio manager. She developed a written policy and procedures document to implement awareness of health hazards presented by chemicals, dry clay, kiln fumes and compliance with safe practices by all studio users. Within a short time, any doubts about the change to studio manager was quickly put to rest with her professional skills in managing the studio and her ability to communicate with the studio users. The studio manager also gave the pottery club members more time for their work and made for more efficient and consistent studio practices. Nonetheless, when need arises the club members are still there, ready to load and unload kilns with club members’ and class work, just as those, now dispersed members of 1974, had set themselves up to do.
What about the members themselves? Over the thirty years of its existence, the club has included potters of all ages and backgrounds with varied pottery interests. The many different languages spoken by members attest to the diversity of members’ backgrounds, as well as the unifying power of art. Members have appreciated the unique ambiance of the old coach house, annexed to a stately mansion, surrounded by a verdant park at the shore of the sea. Nowadays some of the Aberthau’s potters have their own studios at home, but still like to belong to the club for exchange of ideas, access to workshops and demonstrations by professional potters and camaraderie.
Thank you to Maria G. Tomsich who prepared the substance of this history (January 2004).