Community Papers

Potter creates advanced diploma program at North Island College

Gordon Hutchens at a firing of his Tozan Anagama kiln on Denman Island, one of three Tozan kilns in the world. North Island college is adding a Professional Potter advanced diploma, starting in May. - Photo submitted
Gordon Hutchens at a firing of his Tozan Anagama kiln on Denman Island, one of three Tozan kilns in the world. North Island college is adding a Professional Potter advanced diploma, starting in May.
— image credit: Photo submitted

When Alan Burgess created North Island College’s Professional Potter advanced diploma, he wanted to solve a problem.

“I saw a need for a professional program,” said Burgess, an internationally recognized potter who has taught ceramics for 40 years. “I was organizing an exhibit for up-and-coming potters at the Fired Up! Arts show and found many highly recommended degree graduates who produced very nice work but weren’t practising.

"They didn’t have studios and couldn’t make a living from their work even though it was their dream. I thought, we’ve got to fix that.”

Starting this May, the college is accepting its first students into the Professional Potter advanced diploma — a comprehensive program for accomplished students who want to build their technical, production, and business skills.

“This is for potters who want to walk the walk as well as talk the talk,” said Tony Clennell, a NIC instructor and well known potter out of Hamilton, Ontario. “In 10 intensive months, students will get sound and practical vocational skills to set up their own workshops. It’s designed to have students walk out the door with skillful throwing, mold-making, hand-building, glazing, kiln building and marketing skills.”

Students will have unrestricted access to a wide range of gas, salt, soda, electric, and raku kilns. In addition, they’ll fire one of only three traditional Tozan Anagama kilns in the world at Gordon Hutchens’ Denman Island studio.

They will also develop business strategies and accounting skills to grow their business and market their expanded portfolio with the digital photography skills needed to create a website. In the third term, students can complete an internship with a practicing professional potter or a two-month residency at Medalta International.

The program has drawn interest from students from across Canada and the United States, as well as caught the attention of potters guilds and associations.

As president of the Alberta Potters Association, Monika Smith, says the program presents a rare opportunity to develop your body of work under the eyes of master potters, as well as learn vital business skills.

“The need for a program like this is huge,” she said. “Potters can not afford to be invisible. Most people, if they want to do this for a living, will eventually have to create studio space. At that point, they have to start thinking about return on investment, how you sell your work, where, and at what price point. That’s a conversation everyone should have.”

North Vancouver potter Jeanie Rogers secured program funding through the Canada Revenue Agency’s Lifelong Learning Plan, which allows students to withdraw up to $10,000 per year in RRSPs to study full time.

“I wanted to take the time to explore clay at a higher level and be able to make a living at it when I’m done,” Rogers said.

“We’re very proud our professional potter students will be developing these skills in the Comox Valley,” said Jan Carrie, North Island College’s vice-president, education. “Not only will they be creating beautiful work in the Shadbolt Studios, they’ll have an opportunity to organize an exhibit before a dynamic arts community on Vancouver Island.”

The Comox Valley is home to a series of summer festivals, including B.C.’s largest curated outdoor art show and music festival such as the Filberg Festival and Vancouver Island MusicFest, respectively. Both festivals draw visitors from across Canada annually, adding to the weekly farmers markets, community festivals, recreational activities and events in the Comox Valley.

Noted instructors to date include NIC’s own Burgess and Hutchens, as well as Tony Clennell, who also teaches ceramics at Sheridan College of Art and Design. Many more potters are expected to be announced in the coming weeks.

For more program information and admission requirements, or to apply, visit or call 1-800-715-0914.

— North Island College

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