1840 Journal

Meet the artisans, discover their expertise, and share their passion.

Chronicles

A Short History of Canadian Ceramics

20 Jan 2020

The art of ceramics is thousands of years old. In fact, the term “ceramic” originates from the Ancient Greek word keramos, meaning “pottery.” Producing these pieces is a slow and meticulous process. Today, we mould, throw, and fire ceramics that are as pretty as they are practical and use them for more than just special occasions.
 

Three Early Varieties

When Europeans arrived in Canada, they saw that ceramic craftsmanship was already well established among the First Nations, particularly amidst the Indigenous cultures of the Great Lakes region. The first colonists also made pottery, essentially for utility, since clay was easy to find, inexpensive, and easy to replace if broken, unlike the blown glass and welded metal that they had to import from France.

After the Conquest in the mid-18th century, English ceramics flooded into Canada. This growing industry found a favourable market for expansion here and continued to be very popular for many years. All sorts of products were imported from Great Britain—terracotta, sandstone, and earthenware dishes, parian ornaments that imitated marble, and even delicate bone china… 

The Birth of a Canadian Industry

It wasn't until the end of the 19th century that Canadians began to use more products from Canada, particularly when sandstone deposits were found in Nova Scotia. Consequently, the importation of raw materials decreased and the production of 100% Canadian pieces began. In Québec, l'École de céramique de Beauce (the Ceramic School of Beauce) opened in 1940, which was a real turning point in the province's production of ceramics. While its colourful Rocco-inspired style may seem frozen in time today, its influence on the history of arts and crafts is undeniable.

Since the 1940s, ceramics has become a craft that combines beauty and function. Its artisans don't limit themselves to using one single material or technique. All over Canada, they manipulate clay and porcelain in different ways to create dishware and decorative pieces that will be treasured for generations. 

3 Ceramicists to Discover

A+J Métissage

Amélie and Julien are the duo behind A+J Métissage. Amélie is a ceramicist, while Julien is a glassmaker. Even though their pieces are created using different materials, there’s a coherency in their collection of kitchen accessories and decorative objects. As if echoing Julien’s glass pieces, Amélie’s works are simple, clean, and occasionally two-tone. Their tumblers, for instance, come in a faceted circular design that we often see on industrial glasses. Sometimes, they combine their two passions, like in their blown glass and ceramic mortar and pestle set!

Atelier Marie-Hélène Robillard

A proponent of the slow making movement, designer Marie-Hélène Robillard handbuilds her porcelain products instead of using other traditional methods like using a mould or a pottery wheel. “I fell in love with this material that is so challenging, but so beautiful when it’s fired to maturity. Porcelain remembers everything and tends to show our sudden or impatient movements! Its tendency to become distorted while firing and its lack of plasticity inspired me to imprint movement onto my pieces, enhancing their beauty by allowing them to keep their organic look. This is why I like to leave signs of how they were made—fingerprints and visible seams—like you would in sewing.”

“Of course, taking my time is important, but it’s the freedom I get from handbuilding porcelain that inspires me more. The freedom to freeze a moment, an action, a small wave of inspiration that breaks the monotony of the object and gives it the cachet of a unique piece. The freedom to create with my hands directly for people, without a machine.” By literally leaving traces of herself in her creations, Marie-Hélène expresses her individuality through minimalist pieces in pale pastel colours that commemorate imperceptible movements.
 

Shop the Atelier Marie-Hélène Robillard collection

Lookslikewhite

For Trudy Cane, everything starts by playing with a slab of clay. All pieces from Lookslikewhite are made by hand—some are handbuilt, while others require the use of a mould or model. They are then dried, fired, and glazed using a monochromatic palette that evokes the soft and minimalist look of Scandinavian design. Heavily inspired by nature and the seasons, Trudy creates pure and simple dishes in which food that’s made with love (in the same vein as slow living) can truly shine.

It’s currently a golden age for Canadian craft traditions as craftspeople reinvent these art forms by combining modern sensibilities with ancestral techniques. To read about this subject further, here are our articles about the long and rich history of textiles in Canada and the evolution of rugs over time!

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