Merry Potters: The Artists of Woodlawn Pottery Studio

While online shopping is appealing, and dangerously easy, it’s still wonderful going out on an old-fashioned hunt for gifts that both come from the heart and are made by hand.

Absolutely Luminous: Raku pottery by Kumiko Claros

This crisp December weekend, one such hunt led me to Woodlawn Pottery Studio’s 2016 Show & Sale.

The Woodlawn Pottery Studio 2016 Show & Sale at Artscape Youngplace, 180 Shaw St.

The artists’ work shone in a light-filled former classroom at Artscape Youngplace on Shaw – a school-turned-cultural community centre near Trinity Bellwoods Park.

There are some people that just don’t take a bad picture; they look good from every angle. The same could be said for the pottery in this show.

Mind you, as one of the artists revealed, that’s not necessarily true of the pieces that didn’t make it to the show.

“When I was starting out in pottery, someone told me that if you make a piece that is ugly, don’t fire it because it will outlive you for decades,” said Michele Silveira, smiling.

Woodlawn Pottery Studio artist Michele Silveira examines a fellow potter’s work

Silveira took time out from helping at the cash to tell me about Woodlawn Pottery Studio.

An artists’ co-op, it’s located within a YWCA woman’s centre in midtown Toronto. It started as one of the Y’s educational programs, but the program was cancelled in the 1980s. Several of the potters banded together to run the studio as a co-op, and so it continues to this day. There are 19 members, all women, but men are welcome to take courses there.

Silveira says several founders are still active in the group, including Joyce Wheatley, whose work reflects her lifelong fascination with East Asia, and Japanese culture in particular.

Wheatley’s mastery of technique is matched by the soul of an artist, 80-plus years young. As she writes: “In working with the clay, I try to capture that spontaneous instant when it does something magical and fresh. And when I do this then the piece has a vitality that a machine-made pot never has.”

Wheatley makes a living from her art, while Silveira – who works in radiation therapy at Sunnybrook Hospital – does pottery as a therapeutic hobby, though her work is highly professional.

“For me, I find it meditative,” she says. Part of that is the routine she has before she begins any piece, studying the clay for a long time, thinking about what would be good to do with it.

I ask if there’s an ideal potter’s personality — if most potters, like her, approach things slowly and methodically. Not at all, she replies.

“Some people work in a frenzy,” she says, adding that the members come from all backgrounds, including social workers, teachers, medical professionals and graphic designers.

Every potter’s style evolves, she notes. Silveira’s own work is evolving from more practical pieces to more expressive, emotional works, and figurative pieces.

Michele Silveira was keen to demonstrate her evolution as an artist in the show

“My goal is to do a big sculptural piece,” she says, gesturing something almost life-size. It would depict a female figure.

The women of Woodlawn Pottery Studio have found an art that allows them not only to shape and transform clay, but themselves in the process.

For more information, or to learn about their courses, visit their website: