Many artists say nature inspires their work, but then there’s Michael Flaherty of Catalina, N.L. In 2009, the potter, sculptor, and ceramic artist, spent three months in a self-styled apprenticeship with nature on Newfoundland’s largely abandoned Grey Islands.
“I’ve always been fascinated with escapism,” he says. “Never one to follow a conventional way of life.”
Now living on-the-grid in a rural community, Flaherty uses an electric kiln at his studio, Wild Cove Ceramics. He also built a wood kiln along the waterfront in nearby Port Union.
While he was alone on Grey Islands, except for a herd of caribou that had been introduced there to protect the population from hunters, he is now buoyed by the sense of community around him.
“The wood kiln is laborious,” Flaherty says. “You have to be there to put wood in every 10 or 15 minutes, so the firing often ends up being a big social event. Customers, neighbours, and friends come by and have a drink. People like the symbolism of the firing process, a performance from raw material to finished object,” he says.
He also encourages people to drop by his studio where they can watch and touch. Items such as bowls, plates, and teapots range from $20 to $200. Wood-kiln fired pieces are more expensive than those made in the electric kiln because given the process is more time consuming.
Flaherty’s most widely known work was inspired by his time on Grey Islands, off Newfoundland and Labrador’s Great Northern Peninsula.
In the 1960s, residents were part of a provincial government resettlement program to centralize rural populations. Decades later, Flaherty found archaeological remains of the people who were shipped out, as well as shed antlers from the caribou herd that was shipped in. “There were lots of artifacts on the beach that provide aesthetic and symbolic potential… a bit of a narrative,” he says.
He crafted a series of ceramic sculptural pieces that fuse caribou antlers with crockery shards. The antlers are typically white with a blue pattern, mimicking what you might see on a dish pattern. Meanwhile, the shards are finished to resemble the fallen antlers’ orange hue and green mold patterns. Pieces in the series range in price from $300–$2,000.
After a few years working in this medium, Flaherty is taking a hiatus from it.
“I love working outdoors,” he says. “I walk in the woods to find wood for the kiln, handles for my teapots. I’m inspired by the colour of the sky and the ocean where I live, but also, by the people in the area. We like to eat and drink and talk. It’s all part of the arts discipline.”
Find Michael Flaherty online at wildcoveceramics.ca.