It was in a stream, not a studio, that Lee Horus Clark first handled clay. He remembers scooping it up from the stream bottom, back when he spent his days climbing trees in view of the world’s longest covered bridge just outside Hartland, New Brunswick. “I have a very distinct memory of playing with the clay and thinking about it, and knowing that you could make stuff with it,” says Clark, a ceramist who creates wood-fired pottery.
The source of that first artistic encounter never falls far from his sight. He still lives by the water, along the St. John River in Queenstown, N.B. He and his wife, Yolande Clark, a fellow potter, built a nearly eight-metre-long Japanese anagama kiln in their backyard. In late May or early June, they load months of work into it and wait as raw clay heats to 13,000 degrees Celsius to form a natural ash glaze.
“It is a process that never is lacking in new possibilities,” says Clark. “It’s practically impossible to get the exact same thing twice. Sometimes they break, sometimes they crack, and sometimes they can fall over. But also, any one of those happenings can turn out to be a blessing.”
Pottery wasn’t Clark’s first choice. He attended the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design in Fredericton for photography and discovered the wood-fire technique in textbooks and magazines. “I had a hard time wrapping my mind around it, but there was a quality about it that I loved, that I became obsessed with, and I just had to do it,” he says.
When he finished school, he received a truckload of bricks to build his first kiln. He’s now built six for potters in the U.S. and Japan. “You get to learn your kiln and learn what the possibilities are, and then start to play with what’s going on in there,” he says. “It’s kind of a life-long relationship.”
Clark’s bowls, vases, and sculptures are inspired by his young kids, and by the river and woods around his house. He often works with Yolande, and together they presented their “most adventurous work” at Fredericton’s Gallery 78, which featured 100 clay figurines, 50 sitting and 50 standing. The Buckland Merrifield Gallery in Saint John is also showing their work.
Clark says the next frontier is returning to where it all began. He’s begun experimenting with natural materials, like rock, granite glazes, and local clay deposits. “It will open an entirely wider range of possibilities,” he says. “With purchased clay, it’s quite homogenous. You know exactly what you’re going to get.”