Fired Up! February 2011 vol. 2, no. 7
Chandler Swain, potter and artist
This article is one of several that highlight Ottawa area potters and their work. You can find other articles on this website that show the wide variety of work that these skilled crafts people achieve.
Chandler Swain, Potter and Artist
Chandler is a high-energy person, an artist activist and a pottery teacher living and working in Ontario’s Ottawa Valley. In this article, she shares some thoughts on her artistic beginnings, and her journey as a creator. Chandler also suggests ways that could make all of us better potters and artists.
Chandler was a kid who loved art and drawing, in a home that appreciated art. She was inspired by seeing the artists at the Art Gallery of Ontario. As a ten-year old in Toronto, she remembers lining up for hours to see the Picasso show. This activity was very influential in her caree direction, but while in art college, she became frustrated by the 70s art rhetoric and switched to pottery: Designing and making objects seemed more honest to her.
Her pottery is energetic and often whimsical. For her, good pieces seem to make themselves as she plays with ideas and forms. She allows the quixotic to happen when exploring new directions. Working in clay is an adventure, mystery and above all, fun. It is great a way to explore your inner artist. Chandler’s figurative works are a pleasurable challenge to her. She builds on her ability to capture two dimensional images and transform them into three dimensions. Her pots have a figurative sense – something that she believes happens as she is looking to capture a sense of liveliness. Her recent Queen sculptures remind some people of her daughters, but they are anonymous and proud feminine icons,based on a drawing style developed through many self portrait studies created in art school.
Chandler finds the glazing and firing the least fun and she has found that her eight years as a technician at the Nepean Visual Arts Centre forced her to learn on the job and has made her more careful with the tedious, but necessary tasks of the ceramic process. This has made her mindful of her slapdash tendencies.
The freedom to work for herself on her own time satisfies Chandler. She enjoys being a potter and artist because it is a career that is challenging and fun for her. She also relishes the expectation of not knowing how her day in the studio will unfold. She spends time in the garden (or shovelling snow) when she needs to think. She likes the feeling of being fully responsible for the success of her work – in a field where honesty is critical. She admires craftspeople and artists who challenge themselves to be the very best, and she aspires to those goals. She sells her work in shows like 260 Fingers and the New Art Festival and a few urban galleries. Besides teaching classes in city studios, in July Chandler runs five day workshops at her home studio by the Mississippi River near Almonte, Ontario.
She finds that people get a lot out of working for five full consecutive days in a fun and stress-free environment. She also learns from her students as they solve problems and develop new ideas. Their enthusiasm creates a high energy which Chandler loves.
Andy Goldsworthy is an artist, an often ephemeral land scuptor, whose work Chandler admires. His work caused her to pay more attention to and respect the natural world. Her most recent work explores the state of our planet. She wonders how she can contribute to making things better, especially since ceramics is such a ressource heavy field. In her figurative work she is inspired by photos of interesting people such asthe urban activist Jane Jacobs, who is one of Chandler’s heros. Of course she enjoys the work of many potters and artists such as Sandy Brown in the UK, Mimi Cabri in Canada and Viola Frey in the U.S. She visits galleries and shows frequently. Chandler feels that this exposure is important in the process of making good art and not getting stuck in too comfortable a place.
Chandler’s time as president of the Ottawa Guild of Potters has given her a unique perspective on the direction that the Guild should pursue. She believes that encouraging education and excellence are the most important, and that less energy should be spent on sales. She would like to see the Guild maintain a high level of professionalism and she thinks that it does not help new potters to encourage them to sell their work until they are ready. She would like to see them able to make their own glazes and fire their own pots before rushing to sell their work. A realistic price for mugs in 2011 is around $30, just to break even for the professional potter’s production costs and time, but the pieces also need to have strong craftsmanship and express the individualism of the maker. John Ikeda’s beautiful mugs have sold for $50 for many years.
Chandler appreciates the guest speakers and the great library another really worthwhile resource to be exploited in the Guild. And she sees the success of the Great Bowls of Fire as awesome and the perfect kind of community involvement that the Guild should be noted for. Another area that the Guild could encourage would be more active mentoring – helping potters whose work could greatly improve with a little feedback. Chandler says that instead of looking to have more work in the sale, new potters should just try to have enough good work – to make half as many pots but make them twice as good! Everyone should seek out the work of potters whom they admire, for critique and feedback.
Visit Chandler’s website at www.chandlerswain.ca to see more of her work.
This article is developed from Chandler’s responses to my interview questions.
Images from Chandler Swain.
Sandra Marshall, Newsletter editor