On The Wild Side With: Brigitta’s Pottery
Growing up in a very creative family; a father who built furniture, a mother who was a gifted seamstress and a grandmother who was a marvellous cook, Brigitta knew from an early age how to sew,stitch, knit, wield a hammer and cook at an early age.
Music was an important part of our lives as well, more as in appreciation than playing an instrument; I learned to play the flute much later in live. Most of our weekends and holidays were spent either hiking, climbing and skiing in the Alps, or at the cottage my parents rented at a farm. There I learned to love an appreciate farming and nature in all it’s aspects.
Thus it was only natural that Brigitta was attracted to clay’s earthy properties. She says the material lends itself to being manipulated in every creative way one can think of.
Whether it’s soil I plunge my hands into to bring forth flowers and plants, or whether it’s clay I let slip through my hands to coax into shapes and forms, both give me the immense pleasure of creating. Creations that in return reflect on the beauty of nature.
Despite her creative upbringing, Brigitta says she began working with clay later in life. Once her youngest left home, she one day, filled her time by going to a pottery class with a friend. This reignited her passion for pottery and created opportunities that she did not let slip by. Eventually receiving a business license and building her studio, Brigitta began to sign up for markets, art studio tours and Christmas sales.
There was no opportunity when I was young, studied nursing, immigrated to Canada, and had a family. Even though I did not plan to start a business at this point, I did go to the Kootenay School of Arts studying ceramics for two years. Today I am still very happy working in my studio, totally enjoy the enriching contact with my customers at the markets and am up to a challenge when doing the odd custom work.
Brigitta creates her own unique colours and textures by mixing her own glazes, made of minerals, clays and oxides, which she sources from Greenbarn in Port Kells.
I buy Canadian clay sourced in Medicin Hat (Medalta), Alberta, through the pottery supply store Greenbarn in Port Kells. Medalta is a historic ceramic manufacturing complex now turned into a ceramic art school.
To offset the potential environmental damage from glazing materials Brigitta mixes surplus glaze and clay, form bricks, or lately ollas, and fire them to bisque temperature. This process stabilizes all material, and she then uses the bricks and ollas in her garden.
First and foremost, Brigitta’s design inspiration comes from nature. She says she does her best work when the environment is in mind. The rivers, forests and ocean that surround us, reflecting shapes and colours back to us.
…a perky frog, sea stars and shells are enhancing birdbaths, mugs and teapots. The process from idea to finished product can be long. An idea, some drawings, a prototype, or two, or three, breakage and disappointment, but eventually the piece looks at least somewhat like the original idea.
She is intrigued by both straight and clean lines and but gravitates towards organic shapes and forms like leaving uneven rims on plates, bowls and platters.
Or I coax an undulating wave into my mugs, making them look like fresh out of the ocean. And then my flower arranging vessels….well, I do sit in my garden a lot and while admiring the flowers I’d like to display I envision the form that would do it best.
What in part makes Brigitta’s pottery so unique from one creation to another is the inherit way pottery is finished. She says despite technological advances, no two kiln loads turn out exactly the same.
Outside temperature and humidity, density in stacking the pieces, thickness of each piece, type of clay used and placement in the kiln all play a role on how a pot turns out. That is why it can be very difficult to exactly replicate a piece.
Read More About Brigitta’s Pottery Making Process:
I do both hand building and wheel throwing and often combine the two.
Lets take a midsize mug:
A lump of soft clay, about 500 g, is gently wedged ( a special kneading technique that is supposed to get rid of air bubbles in the clay and align the tiny clay particles so that throwing becomes easier and even).
On the wheel it takes just a few minutes to form the cup, but then I take a rib (a flat tool) to the wobbly mug and distort the wall to get my wave pattern in. Lots of opportunity to press just a little bit too hard and the thin walls collapse. But if successful, the mug is then transferred onto a drying board and left to dry for a few hours (or anything from half an hour to two days, depending on the weather and humidity) till leather hard. That means the clay will be exactly like leather, it holds its shape but can still be manipulated to some degree. The mug is put back on the wheel, upside down, and the bottom gets trimmed, all the excess clay taken off to form a nice foot.
Meanwhile a handle is formed and left to dry to the same leather hardness as the mug, and then attached to the mug. The mug is left to dry completely, to bone dry, which can take anything from a day to almost a week.
Then the mug is fired to a temperature of 1040 Celsius. This process is called a bisque firing. It takes about 9 to 10 hours to peak temperature and a day to cool down. The process hardens the clay, however, it is still porous, won’t hold water, and is still not very strong.
At this point the glaze is applied. Glaze is a calculated mixture of clays, minerals, oxides and possibly colour pigments that will form a glass like layer around a bisque piece.
There are many techniques to do that, depending on the type of glaze used. Glaze can be painted on, sprayed on, poured over the piece, or the piece can be dipped right into the glaze.
Glaze dries quite fast and the piece can be fired a few hours to a day later. I fire to a mid range temperature of 2,000 Celsius. This time it takes about 12 hours to reach peal temperature and a good day to cool down.
And voila, the mug is done!