Thoughts on PGBC exhibitions, past and present
Updated: Aug 6
“You will never reach your destination if you do not look Back” --Jinny Whitehead (Past President), 2005
By Debra Sloan
It was heartening to see so many people at the Lipont Place Gallery on Aug. 8, for the opening of the most recent PGBC exhibition. Forty-five artists were represented at this open exhibition, and as each could bring up to 12 pieces it was a generous show. This show is the most recent in the long history of PGBC ceramic exhibitions.
Guild member Wei Cheng was active in locating a gallery for this exhibition. Some months back, Wei started looking for a location to host a PGBC exhibition. Wei worked hard to liaise with the Lipont Gallery and the Guild. It turns out to have been a good choice. The Lipont Gallery has generous floor space, great ceiling height, and is in a good location on #3 Road, Richmond. The staff worked hard with the volunteers from the Guild to mount the exhibition and it was a handsome setup.
The PGBC has hosted many juried exhibitions. Ceramics 1969, 1977, 1978, 1979, Retrospect 80, Ceramics 81, Ceramics 82 and Clay Sculpture 1984 were all catalogued exhibitions. From 1972 to 1978 Hiro Urakami did a superlative job of exhibiting ceramics at the House of Ceramics, and during the Gallery of BC Ceramics years many artists were represented. The PGBC also hosted Made in Clay - the ceramic fairs that represented dozens of ceramicists, and displaying thousands of pots, held on Granville Island during the 1990s and early 2000s.
This current exhibition at the Lipont is one of a long history of exhibitions put on by the Guild. There have been several much larger, landmark exhibitions that involved more artists and works. The Retrospect 80 exhibition marked the 25th anniversary of the PGBC, and was held at the Robson Square Media Centre. It was a huge collective effort by the Guild. There were 12 people on the catalogue committee alone. 119 BC ceramic artists were invited, some of whose practices dated back to the 1940s, and an additional 19 artists were in the juried section. There were 387 pieces. The catalogue had an image for every one of the 137 artists involved, and there were 6 essays; Johann Polberg wrote about Hycroft sales, Georgina Hughes wrote about early workshops and classes in Vancouver, Barbara Beach put together a history of the PGBC, Miriam McCarrell wrote about ceramic galleries in BC, and David Lambert wrote a reflective essay. The Restropect 80 catalogue is still used as a touchstone by collectors and curators across Canada.
2004 saw the massive exhibition “Thrown” at the Helen and Morris Belkin Gallery at UBC, curated by Scott Watson and Lee Plested. Though this show was not put on the PGBC it was about key guild members. This show featured the apprentices and descendants of the Leach tradition in BC. Hundreds of pots were loaned to the gallery. It was a landmark exhibition, and in 2009 the Belkin Gallery published the scholarly and significant publication, Thrown, British Columbia’s Apprentices of Bernard Leach and Their Contemporaries, edited by Scott Watson and Naomi Sawada.
In 2005, PGBC President Jinny Whitehead, worked tirelessly to spearhead many projects to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the PGBC. Carol Mayer, Darrin Martens and Hiro Urakami juried and curated the catalogued exhibition TransFormations at the Burnaby Art Gallery, that represented thirty-nine BC ceramicists. The Gallery of BC Ceramics hosted survey exhibitions in honour of the anniversary during 2005, and PGBC also supported the Arrowsmith Potters Guild in hosting a very successful Masters Symposium. There were additional ceramic exhibitions in other communities ; Fire Women was shown at the Seymour Art Gallery, and Fired at the Ferry Building Gallery. Island Fire was shown at Cityscape community Art Space in North Vancouver. The Fraser Valley Potters Guild hosted a show at the Evergreen Gallery in Coquitlam, and Gibson’s Public Art Gallery hosted Artistry in Clay. On top of that volunteers at the PGBC organized BC in a Box to travel throughout BC, and Keith and Celia Rice-Jones organized exchange exhibitions with Tajimi, Japan. Al Sathers composed a snapshot publication, published in CD format, Sourcebook 1955-2005, featuring 130 BC artists, that included histories of over twenty associated BC ceramic guilds.
The Fraser Valley Potters Guild, the FIRED UP! group, the Burnaby Art Gallery, the Seymour Art Gallery, the West Vancouver Museum, the Greater Victoria Art Gallery and the Surrey Art Gallery are among galleries who have all hosted significant ceramic exhibitions, often accompanied by excellent catalogues. The Vancouver Art Gallery hosted ceramic exhibitions in the 1960s and early 70s.
The other Guild accomplishment is the number of publications put together by volunteers. There are over 14 PGBC exhibition catalogues, and dozens of special interest books going back to the 1960s. Even the simplest exhibition catalogue becomes a tremendously significant document.
A PGBC publication that deserves special mention is the 1998 Made of Clay a survey catalogue of BC potters, compiled and edited by Linda Doherty and Deborah Tibbel. The photography was by Ken Mayer, who has been the go-to photographer for many important ceramic publications, and often pro bono. Les Manning wrote a foreword, Carol Mayer wrote in depth about the BC ceramic practice, and Jane Matthews, the Gallery of BC Ceramics manager, wrote a ‘Story of the Guild’. Made of Clay is still used extensively as a resource by collectors and curators from all over Canada. At this point in time the PGBC is not only the oldest ceramic provincial guild in Canada, but it may also be one of best documented.
The ceramic practice only turned up in British Columbia at the turn of the 20th Century. Publications, catalogued exhibitions, and symposiums are essential mechanisms to foster knowledge and promote excellence, and these only come about with countless hours of volunteer activism. Thank you again to Wei Cheng, the Lipont Gallery, and those PGBC members and the Board who made this exhibition possible.
Copies of all of BC ceramic publications and catalogues are deposited at the Rare Books and Special Collections in the UBC Library Archives for anyone to access. All of the PGBC's newsletters from 1965 – 2003 can be accessed at www.arch-bc.org. Curators are using this resource for research. They are a fascinating read. More recent newsletters can be found on the Guild's website here.
The Lipont Gallery has also hosted events by the newly organized Sino-Canadian Ceramic Association. The SCACA is welcoming new members.
Debra Sloan is a BC ceramic artist, long-time member of the Potters Guild of BC and a frequent contributor to our PGBC Newsletter. She is responsible for the BC Ceramics Marks Registry project and has worked tirelessly to document the history of ceramic culture in BC. For more on the history of the guild, download a copy of her article Origins of a Ceramic Culture: The First Fifty Years of the BC Potters Guild 1955 – 2005 .