The kiln tucked in the back of the open-plan studio purrs away as new students and skilled potters share the space on a Thursday evening in the industrial outskirts of Yellowknife. A student rolls a piece of clay into a spout shape to affix to her final project—a teapot. Her nose is inches away from the slab of flattened clay. “Working with clay is about the process, not the product,” says teacher Jennifer Tucker. “It’s just mud. It can be altered.”
One of the city’s oldest organizations, the Yellowknife Guild of Arts and Crafts has fostered creativity and community for more than 70 years. Originally established by Ruth Stanton in 1946, the guild gave women a place to gather and socialize over the long winters. Today, pottery classes are the hottest ticket in town: the fall workshops sell out in minutes.
Wet clay spins out of control and all the student at the wheel can do is laugh. This isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Garry Singer, a wheel pottery teacher, encourages the student from afar, as
he patiently forms bowl after bowl from an enormous mound of clay. “It takes an awful lot of time to master the simple technique,” says Singer. When people sit down at the wheel, they want to make a dinner set or a mug right away, but it takes practice, patience and a lot of repetition. “You have to keep doing the same thing,” he says. And that means a lot of bowls.
The guild is funded through the participation of its paying students, but it also relies on many volunteers and unpaid teachers. “We have a mentorship structure,” says Tucker, who started at the guild in 2003. “I’m fairly new to this but I teach because I get to practice my craft while I teach others.”
With one eye on Singer’s students, who paint their bowls and mugs with coloured glaze, the rest of Tucker’s attention is devoted to the grooves she is carving into a vase, to give it a birch bark texture.
“You aren’t going to sit down right away and be able to do the Mona Lisa,” she says. “You may not leave a class with a complete piece. But you will have learned something.”