Wily animals, stone cottages and mysterious forests decorate Dawn Candy’s latest ceramic creations.
The richly painted vessels and plates in her Stone, Mountain and Lion exhibit at the white gallery in Red Deer, were inspired by her family’s storytelling tradition.
The images are based on three Brothers Grimm fairy tales that fed Candy’s imagination when she was a child: The Fox and the Little Red Hen, The Wolf and the Seven Little Goats (her mom told her these were lambs), and The Wolf and the Fox.
There’s also an obscure fourth story told by her great-grandmother, called Stone, Mountain and Lion. Its origins are unknown. “I couldn’t find anything like it, except for one Russian fairy tale and it wasn’t even that close,” said Candy, who suspects this tale was cobbled together from several others.
Candy’s mom would tell her children stories she learned from her grandmother while they were doing kitchen chores, such as shelling peas for dinner.
Candy remembers being transported to a different time and place — where a wolf could attempt, in ingenious ways, to capture a hen, eat little lambs, or get his foxy accomplice to lead him to a farmer’s stash of steak and pancakes.
Her mom learned these traditional tales back when she was a child in the early 1950s. And Candy’s great-grandmother, Tessie, in turn, learned them from previous recountings in her childhood in the 1920s. The storytelling chain likely leads right back through to the family’s central European origins.
The Red Deer-based ceramicist, who trained at Red Deer College, remembers being most captivated by Stone, Mountain and Lion — a convoluted tale involving three brothers (or friends), who are beset by a Rumpelstiltskin-like greedy old man. After they pin him by his beard, the old man rips it off to make his escape. (This gory part still makes Candy wince).
One of the three brothers track the old man by his trail of blood to underground caves, where three maidens and a stash of gold are discovered. The hero is eventually betrayed by his brothers, but chases them down from the back of an avenging eagle.
The story’s ending depends on the storyteller, said Candy. The betrayers are either killed or forgiven. Sometimes they are banished to an island.
She believes the darkness of these tales is part of their appeal. “There’s something delightful about being scared …”
Candy recounts the plot lines, visually, through painted scenes on a series of plates and wall hangings. “This way, everybody has a piece of the story,” said the artist, who tells of the seven lambs on a ceramic jug and set of cups. Each vessel shows one of the lamb’s hiding places, while a large tray is decorated with the wolf’s image.
Her designs, which were also inspired by her travels in southern France, come through a multi-step process.
Candy throws most of the dimensional pieces on a wheel, then shapes them by hand, including carving out designed borders. She draws the images in pencil, presses in the lines, then treats the clay with wax and paints with underglaze and slip. Clear glazes are applied on top.
The laborious process (“It took me a year to make this body of work,” said Candy of the 35 pieces) produces hazy, dream-like images that suit Candy’s nostalgic recollections of childhood.
The artist, who sells her Little Sister Pottery across the province, hopes viewers will enjoy the exhibit’s playful sense of escapism. “I think people are starting to respect these stories more … There’s a lot to be said, allegorically, through these storytelling methods.”
Her exhibit continues in the gallery accessed through Sunworks to Aug. 28.