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Créateur du mois #1 // Maker of the month #1: Abbey

Créateur du mois #1 // Maker of the month #1: Abbey

Who are the “Makers” at Atelier Make? There are so many of us! From owners/founders Maya + Jaimie, to our dedicated staff, to the helping hands of our invaluable interns, and our oh so inspiring Open Studio members. Each month throughout the year we’ll share the work of one of these many “makers”.

Maker of the Month #1: Abbey

On an early morning in the Atelier Make open studio you’ll likely find Abbey, our self-proclaimed “studio grandmother” humming along to classical radio and working on her carefully painted vessels. Never without her fiery spirit, Abbey is always willing to share the tales of her many years working with clay.  

K: Let's start with a backstory on how you came to practice ceramics  

A: I started my undergraduate work at Bennington in the early 60s, a beautiful campus up in Vermont. A young teacher, a graduate from Alfred University, came to teach a ceramics course in a really new way. The ceramics there before had been quite limited, he brought in reduction firing, we learned glaze chemistry, handbuilding, wheel throwing. The whole idea there had been to learn through direct experience, so we did, and I loved it. 

After I graduated I went to live in New York City. I got a job teaching art in a highschool in Brooklyn, and I took courses at night working towards my Master of Science in Education. Once I graduated, with everything going on in the US at that time, my husband and I decided to leave the States. We arrived in Toronto in 1967 and with a little bit of adjustment I was able to teach in the public school system there. I was very committed to public education. Then we had our first child, but at that time there was absolutely no support for women going on maternity leave. It was very hard to get back into teaching after my maternity leave, there were no public daycares, so I was out of teaching for a while. 

Eventually I got back into teaching part time at artisan schools, I even taught at the ROM, where I was able to use the various galleries to teach a history of ceramics through direct experience working with clay, right in the gallery. I also worked as the exhibitions manager at the Ontario Crafts Council, where I was seeing some of the very best work in the province at that time. The Haliburton Summer School of Art and Micheal Gheba’s Raku courses were also an influential part of my ceramics education. 

In my late 50s, I was lucky enough to share and own a property that had space to set up my own studio. I was also part of a community arts center, so as well as my own studio I had contact with other potters in a beautiful facility just outside Toronto. I became a member of the Toronto Potters Association, through which I was able to exhibit at the Gardiner Museum.  

When I moved to Montreal in 2017 I was in no position to have a studio, until I found Atelier Make. It was right down the street from my house, I just walked down the street, walked in, and asked to join a class as soon as I could. 

K: Do you feel that this space [the Atelier Make open studio] has shaped the way you work, or the work that you make in any way?  

A: Yes, it has. Working here has enabled me to slow down. To really pay attention. Not just because of the solitude and lack of physical interruption, but having space to develop projects over time, to take my time. The first thing I did here was a series of sculpture projects that were a continuation of work I had been doing in my own studio, little thrown forms assembled. It's a different aesthetic than I had been used to here [at Atelier Make] we use a white clay, so I decided early on that underglaze decorations would be the way to go for me. I like doing brush work, and the clay here gave me a three dimensional surface on which to play. 

K: What is inspiring your work right now?  

A: I am challenging myself to make truly functional teapots, which has always been a continuing challenge for me since I began working with clay. I’m going back to a quiet, contemplative way of working, and Atelier Make is the perfect place to do that.