All fired up 

Potter Laura Wee Lay Laq offers workshop in August

Smooth, cool clay oozing through your fingers.

This sensation and more are part of a weekend workshop from renowned Canadian pottery artist, Laura Wee Lay Laq, who specializes in primitive pottery and burnishing techniques.

Currently studying in the area of Halq’emeylem, the artist talked about her work via e-mail.

"At first glance, people often think my work is made of pewter or wood, versus clay," she wrote.

Wee Lay Laq is known for her hand-building techniques like coiling, pinching, and padding.

"I try to capture the essence of motions like the unfurling of petals, for example, rather than try and duplicate them."

The hands-on workshops take place on Saturday, Aug. 17 and Sunday, Aug. 18 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Millennium Place.

The cost of the workshop is $160 and it is open to all levels of expertise, from beginner to advanced. But enrolment is limited.

The artist will also present a slide shown on Friday, Aug. 16 at a private home, an open invitation for those interested in learning more about this stylized pottery.

"My main concern is form," she writes.

"My work is unique in that it is concerned with the vessel/sculpture form, a quality that sets my work apart from others."

Of texture, she says: "burnishing is commonly found among indigenous peoples in pottery making around the world, but is less common here, and so stands out."

Laq once summed up her feeling in another interview, saying: "the works are like children – they are the closest you will get to me."

She has been a potter for the past 30 years, but it all began in high school.

"I practised hand-building and throwing a kick wheel after class. I was always the only one there, and I loved the peace and quiet and the smell of the clay."

Today, her burnished and sawdust-fired pottery is housed in the permanent collection of the UBC Museum of Anthropology, part of the special collection of the Koerner Ceramic Gallery, specializing in European ceramics.

In 1991, she was one of three potters invited by the Prime Minister of Canada to represent Canada in China exhibitions.

She also donated a piece at that time to an auction for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which raised $11,000.

"I was extremely surprised the auction fetched such a high price," she said.

And just how long does it take to create a potted wonder?

A rough outline for an "Olla," a traditional water vessel, is as follows: the construction time takes between three and four days, plus the bisque fire (the first fire) which takes eight hours, followed by a cooling period for 12 hours.

The next step, a sawdust firing (a second firing), takes between two and four days.

Meanwhile a petal or pod sculpture could take up to two weeks, with the firing process around the same time as the Olla.

Burnishing, a type of polishing with a stone that produces a glass-like sheen, is the finishing method the artist prefers.

"I find burnishing extremely soothing and hypnotic, a combination of the coolness of the clay and the sound the burnishing stone makes when it touches the surface of the metal."

She continues to hold exhibitions, and her work is on display at the Institute of American Arts at Santa Fe, at the Pottery Workshop at the Fringe Club in Hong Kong, and in Honolulu, Hawaii.

A field researcher, she went overseas to Japan, China, Mexico and parts of Europe for her 1977 book, titled Comparisons of Indigenous People’s Pottery: A Traditional and Contemporary Perspective .

"Working with clay is really hands on," she says, "and clay is cool and soothing to the touch."

To register or for more information contact Eileen Tomalty at 604-932-2004.

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