Wearing a gas mask and protective mitts, Jane Murray-Smith reaches into a 2,000 F flame and pulls out a ceramic starfish, glowing red-hot after bathing in fire for an hour and a half.
The potter drops her piece onto a bed of paper shreds and covers it with a metal lid. As flames lick the starfish’s copper oxide glaze the resulting chemical reaction leaves the piece covered with random, vibrant splashes of colour.
“You just don’t know what it’s going to look like … you just have to do it and have fun and see what happens,” she said of the post-firing reduction process.
Murray-Smith is at work preparing for the Nanaimo Pottery Co-op’s annual Spring Show and Sale at Country Club Centre on May 11 and 12. After pulling six more decorative items from her raku kiln she moves on to a series of freshly fired pots, decorating them with horse hair, ostrich feathers and sugar.
Murray-Smith joined the local pottery club in the mid-’90s, a few years after taking her first class and buying her own wheel and kiln. Because she was balancing her work with her pottery, Murray-Smith found she was only firing her kiln once every six months and wasn’t getting enough practice. She decided to retire from her work in brain-injury rehabilitation to focus on her art.
“You could say I puttered at pottery for about 12 years and when I was 52 I quit work to become a full-time potter…” she said.
“I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ I may have to go back to work.”
Murray-Smith said she joined the other potters for the collegiality, support and sales opportunities that come with working in a group, and because “[potters] have the best potlucks.” She said the group sold well at the market in Coombs and because she was constantly making and selling she started accumulating her “10,000 hours” of practice pretty quickly.
“You will never stop learning as a potter. Never ever ever,” Murray-Smith said.
“And then you get into individual kilns and individual kilns, they all fire differently. You could almost say they have their own personality.”
Murray-Smith now works and sells her work out of her home studio, Phoenix Gallery of Glass and Ceramic Art in Lantzville. She said she’s looking forward to attending the upcoming spring sale and interacting with potential buyers. She said people are always interested in learning about how the pieces are made, while those who do know share a knowing glance.
“They’ll come and they’ll be looking and they’re really appreciative and they look at you and they say, ‘I took a pottery class. I know what goes into this,'” Murray-Smith said.
WHAT’S ON … The Nanaimo Pottery Co-op’s Spring Show and Sale takes place at Country Club Centre on Friday, May 11 from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, May 12 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.