Red Deer’s Shirley Rimer has been creating ceramic sculptures for 45 years in an artistic career that has spanned the globe — from Mexico to China.
Yet the same motifs appear in her work time and again, as is evident in her A Chronicle in Clay retrospective exhibit, now showing at the Red Deer Museum and Art Gallery.
“A lot of my inspiration has been found in the home; I‘ve always found a sense of comfort and safety there,” said Rimer. Even her large bowls and vessels, she feels, were influenced by a sense of sanctuary.
Rimer admitted that coming home always felt like a refuge — especially back when she was busy planning classes and workshops while working full-time in the ceramics department at Red Deer Polytechnic (then Red Deer College).
But as a child of Jewish Holocaust survivors, there could be deeper reasons that Rimer has always craved feelings of security.
She recalled it was her mother, who was rounded up by the Nazis in Poland during the Second World War and taken to a concentration camp, who was the likely source of her creativity.
“My mother was very artistic. She was always doing beautiful needlepoint,” she recalled.
Her dad, who had survived the war by escaping his captors and hiding in the forest, later became a contractor who built apartments in Calgary.
While her parents were circumspect about their traumatic past, they were very supportive of her artistic aims, she recalled. “In fact, my mother once told me she was jealous… that she would have loved to do the same, but it just wasn’t feasible…”
Rimer began embroidering pillowcases as a child. She eventually expanded her talents by enrolling in the art program at Red Deer College after her spouse took a teaching job in this city.
Rimer’s RDC instructor Chuck Wissinger, who started the ceramics program, was a great influence. After she completed the two-year diploma in 1981, he hired her as his studio assistant. Those 12 years of working among other artists at RDC were a huge education, she recalled.
“You learn a lot all the time through the different classes…”
Rimer later did a year of graduate studies at Washington State University. Her own artistry flourished further after the mother of two left RDC to become a full-time artist in the 1990s. Her curvaceous vases, whimsical totems and earthenware sculptures often incorporate metal, glass and experimental techniques — including using salt and wood ash, coloured clay inlays, porcelain powder stains and gold luster.
“I never liked making the same thing twice,” admitted Rimer, with a chuckle.
Twenty-three of the ceramic pieces in this retrospective were donated to the Red Deer museum after she and her husband downsized to a smaller home. Others are on loan from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts.
These works span from the late 1980s to the last decade and include many pieces Rimer made at residencies around the globe, including in France, Italy, Mexico, the U.S., Turkey, Greece and China.
Rimer admitted that one of her greatest challenges was learning to work with different types of clay — from finicky Chinese clay that was never meant to be sculpted, to off-white or terracotta type mediums that tested her skills in India and Mexico.
As an avid traveller, Rimer believes absorbing these new cultures, techniques and folk tales helped take her art in new directions.
Looking at her sculptures in the exhibit leaves Rimer feeling proud of her life-long accomplishment. Although she’s now in her 70s, her creative process is continuing in a new studio she’s setting up after her recent move. “You always have to have passion,” she said, with a smile.
A Chronicle in Clay continues to Dec. 2. Rimer will attend a First Friday opening reception at the museum from 5 to 8 p.m. on Oct. 6.