Pottery in the Forest opens studio in the woods
By Sue Tiffin
Published Sept. 25, 2018
Not long after Bernie Nicholson retired two years ago from her job in the employment centre at Fleming College, she set up a 50-by-25-foot studio 10 feet away from her house in the woods, hunkered down and immersed her hands in clay.
“What a position to be in,” she said. “I’m so grateful to have the pots. I just moved right into the clay. When you’re retired, I think lots of folks, you have to build a new structure, a new routine. But the pots made that an instant move. They gave my head a place to go and build that structure right away. I was pretty lucky.”
Nicholson loves pottery, and adores her shop, which she says is “bright and beautiful, in the forest, with trees out every window.”
It’s such a beloved space for Nicholson, that it’s understandably hard for her to ever leave it.
“It’s pretty darn good,” she said. “I love pots, for sure, right down to my toes. But I always keep that to myself somehow. I just want to live in my shop ... It’s all glass and big ceilings and it’s a beautiful workspace, so that kind of keeps me there.”
Nicholson first took pottery courses at Fleming College almost two decades ago.
“With Fleming, I had access to these beautiful classes,” she said. “They bring potters from all over Canada, great potters. I took a class every summer, one week, for probably 10 or 12 years. That’s a pretty exciting thing, if you love pots and you get the chance to be with these tremendous potters.”
Going to the courses alongside friends, she found she developed a quick interest in pottery.
“We had a great, great time, but right away, it was an instant love for me,” she said. “That was a surprise to me. It was such a deep and real, good thing – it was a great thing. And then I just lost it for clay after that.”
Nicholson found space in her basement to continue working with clay at home.
“My husband was a key person, because he was tremendously supportive of some time,” said Nicholson. “The struggle was to have time to be down there on the weekend, and he made that happen.”
Nicholson said what she loves most about pottery is the way working with clay feels.
“Definitely that feel on your hands,” she said. “That feel on your hand, [of] slurry (wet clay). It’s a sensual kind of thing. It’s beautiful. “
Nicholson said there are so many ways to make your pottery your own.
“That’s kind of a challenge, for a long time, or it was for me, for sure,” she said. “It’s so vast, your decorating techniques, your form, everything. But it’s also one of the great things about clay, because everyone is so different ... It just lets you be really comfortable because you get to be you pretty quick, when you make those choices.”
After 18 years of potting, it was only two years ago that Nicholson felt she became really clear on what she wanted to do in her art.
“There’s so much out there, but once you get your place – and you have to try so many things – but once you find that, it gets really good then.”
She works with two clay bodies – white for half of the year, and red for half of the year – and six different glazes, one being clear and five colours. The colours she uses have been steady for more than 10 years.
“I’ve kept those colours, because I love them, they seem to be appealing to people, and that lets me really focus on the form, if I’ve already established that these are my glazes,” she said. “All my brain power can go to form.”
Nicholson said when she first started to carve, she didn’t think much about it. She started to make clay stamps and found it to be fun, and then she started enjoying the time she was spending doing that.
“I would sit outside in the backyard and carve away at this stamp,” she said. “Then I started to carve on the pots. Once I started to carve on the pots, I just loved that right away.”
About 15 years ago, just a few years into pots, Nicholson began selling at the Artisan’s Market in Kinmount, which she found encouraging.
Pottery in the Forest, Nicholson’s studio, has just opened formally this season, and is welcoming guests to visit this year, its first on the Victoria County Studio Tour. Her functional stoneware: plates, bowls, platters, trays are both wheel thrown and hand built, and are glazed in a range of colours, including earth tones. She particularly notes a blue over a red body which she describes as being fairly dark like a denim with some flecks in it and breaks on the edges – all of the edges on the piece, the corners, are brown. A green, she built herself.
“I tested and built that colour,” she said. “It’s a clear green, and it’s bright and happy, and I like that. I like pots that are happy and bright.”
Besides Nicholson’s pottery itself, visitors to Pottery in the Forest (No.24 on the studio map), will have the opportunity to visit Nicholson’s home away from home.
“People who come into the shop, it’s the first thing they comment on,” she said. “It really is a beautiful space.”
The artist is hoping people will be hands-on with the art.
“I’d like people to feel welcome,” she said. “Come, visit, feel welcome. Touch everything. I’ve got signs in my shop: ‘touch everything.’ Pottery should be touched. Kids, I love to have kids in the shop, because they want to touch everything, and you should touch pottery. That’s what it’s about. Often when parents are looking at stuff, kids are in the shop with me and they’re touching clay and it’s a cool thing for them, too. It’s a wonderful thing to share. Especially with kids, they just light up, and they try everything.”
Nicholson recently held a workshop for kids, and said it was a delight.
“That’s probably my top of the line for joy and fun,” she said. “They love everything. They have no expectations.”
The Victoria County Studio Tour happens Sept. 29 to 30 and Oct. 6 to 7 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information visit http://victoriacountystudiotour.com.
Pottery in the Forest is otherwise open at 1104 Galway Road in Trent Lakes from April to November, Wednesday to Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
“And those hours, I’m religious about,” she said.”I’m certainly here every minute of that time.”