From windswept fields to thunderous skies, elemental Prairie motifs decorate the ceramic mugs, teapots and bowls made by Red Deer artist Dawn Candy.
The founder of Little Sister Pottery has married her two loves — of drawing and creating wheel-thrown ceramics — in handmade functional objects that are starting to sell across Alberta.
“Demand has been greater than expected. I was swamped this season. It’s been really busy,” said Candy, who works out of a basement studio in her Clearview home.
As a result of growing demand, she’s in the happy position of shifting more of her energies towards creating, firing and glazing ceramic pieces that will be displayed on store shelves from the Alberta Craft Council in Edmonton, to retailers in Calgary’s Inglewood district, a gallery in Black Diamond, as well as Red Deer’s Sunworks.
“I dream about clay,” said Candy, whose works bridge craft and art. The Taber native believes she does so much research and experimentation with textures, shapes, colours and designs, “I feel what I’m doing is an art.”
Other people must think so, too, since she was recently asked to join the collective of artists exhibiting their works and curating shows at the Viewpoint Gallery in Red Deer’s Culture Services building.
“It’s wonderful. I was very happy to be invited,” she said of the group made up of glassblower Darren Petersen, ceramicists Dawn Detarando, Brian McArthur, Shirley Rimer and Sally Smith, wood turner Andrew Glazebrook, multimedia artists Alysse Bowd and Robin Lambert, photographer Arto Djerdjerian, and painters Erin Boake and Susan Woolgar.
The gallery at 3827 39th Street “allows me to display more new and experimental pieces, even my drawings, and I like that opportunity,” said Candy.
Since her mother is an air-brush artist who’s done commercial and public art projects in Fairview, one might think Candy was destined for a career in the arts. But she didn’t initially see it that way.
Although she enjoyed drawing while growing up, Candy felt more pulled towards history and sciences. She eventually graduated from Lethbridge University with a bachelor’s degree in world religions, analytic philosophy and history. She had temporarily moved back in with her parents, who had relocated to Fairview, and was trying to decide what to do next.
“I was thinking should I get my master’s?” she recalled, when some friends suggested taking a pottery class for fun.
Candy went from creating figures on her pots to learning raku. “I was totally hooked,” she said.
When an instructor recommended she study ceramics at the Red Deer College’s visual arts program, Candy moved to Central Alberta and dove into more artistic experimentation.
Many of her pieces are now inspired by nature — whether it’s the wildflowers and poppies that decorate her latest line of ceramics, including “flower brick” vases, or the turbulent impressions on her earlier ceramic lines.
Atmospheric “ripples across the Prairie landscape” informed the wave-like pattern of her first ceramics line, Tempest, and the ominous indigo glazes in her follow-up line, Storm.
Textures, either applied as relief or as lines scratched into on her mugs and bowls, often create a sense of tension or movement. Candy said there’s a twisting suggested, just as Prairie grasses are sent swirling under the force of a thunderhead.
The unique surfaces of her functional pieces are what seem to appeal to store owners and buyers — so much so that a growing proportion of her income (about half) is now derived from ceramics sales. The rest is made up of teaching, which she enjoys, and occasional other jobs that come her way.
“I hear that people are really relating to the landscape aspect of my work,” said Candy. When customers pick up her mugs, “they see water or they see Prairie.”
The artist can imagine branching into figurative designs someday — because she loves drawing people.
But she insists all of her pieces, even the more ornamental ones, will remain functional. “I like the intimacy” she said, of knowing a mug she created will be held on a daily basis by the user.
Candy sees so much potential in the various combinations of glaze, texture, surface decoration and form, that she feels her vocation will always present endless variety and interesting challenges. “It’s really rewarding … I love the repetition, the pattern and imagery.”
The very hands-on act of shaping clay on a pottery wheel provides her with satisfaction. “I get to let my mind go unfettered for a while when I’m throwing,” said Candy. And whenever the music she’s listening to begins to keep the same rolling beat as the turning wheel, “it’s the best . … It just feels amazing.”