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The curated collector

It’s rewarding and fun to collect local ceramics—here's how to start.

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Photo: Beth Dunham. Ceramics by Joan Bruneau, Jim Smith, Lucky Rabbit Pottery, Sarah MacMillan, and Peter Powning.

Handmade ceramics and pottery are everywhere these days. Visit a specialty décor store, a high-end gallery, or even your local farmers’ market, and you’ll find unique pottery and dishware made by local artisans.

Joel Kelly credits the buy-local trend for the surge in all things handmade. “More people are appreciating one-of-a-kind things,” he says. “And they want to support local artists and keep the money in their local economy.”

Kelly co-owns Made in the Maritimes, an artisan boutique (with locations in Bedford, N.S. and North End Halifax) that carries artwork, including ceramics, from 140 artisans across the Maritimes. In 2016, the stores sold about 2,500 pieces of pottery.

Buying handcrafted things creates a personal connection that’s missing from mass-produced items. “It creates a connection between the creator and the purchaser,” says Kelly. “Customers like to know the backstory on things. Everything we sell has a story that goes along with it.”

Appreciating the work and creativity that went in to crafting each item is what fuels Dartmouth resident Jamie Durnnian’s passion for ceramics. He’s been collecting them for 30 years.

“When I graduated university, I asked for pottery as my gift,” he laughs. “I received one of Jim Smith’s pieces.” In his home, ceramics are dramatic décor, displayed on mantles, shelves and tables throughout the space.

A mantel in Jamie Durnnian’s Dartmouth home. From left: leaf pitcher by Greg Payce, ewer by Jane Donovan, pitcher by Greg Payce, painting Gerard Collins. Photo: Beth Dunham.

His collection includes colourful mugs, platters, pitchers, vases, and tulipieres by Chester artist Jim Smith, Lunenburg artists Joan Bruneau and Walter Ostrom, Halifax artist Jane Donovan, and Annapolis Royal artists Debra Kuzyk and Ray Mackie of Lucky Rabbit Pottery, among others. “Ray makes the best handles on mugs,” Durnnian says. “They’re my favourite mug makers.”

Pottery by Chester artist Jim Smith. Photo: Beth Dunham.

Handcrafted items are more expensive than mass-produced fare. Don’t be put off if the handmade mug you’re eyeing costs $40. “Some mugs are done with decals, or have been fired twice or even three times to get the end result,” Kelly says. “Customers will understand the amount of work that goes into them. It’s an education thing, as well.”

Once you’ve found an item you like, pick it up and get a feel for it. See if you like the weight of it. “It’s a tactile process,” says Durnnian. “Colour, feel, and balance are the things I look for…Sometimes, it may not be the prettiest thing, but it’s great to hold.”

Kelly agrees: “That way, you will find something that you love, that isn’t just pretty.”

Durnnian loves meeting artists on their own turf. “I like visiting their studios,” he says. “You’re able to talk to them and learn what inspires them. You get to see the kiln, the wheel. You get a sense of where it’s coming from.”

Kelly gives his customers a similar experience, sharing details about each piece. “People fall in love with the backstory, whether that’s the process or the materials they used,” he says. “Shauna MacLeod, the artist with Black Crow Pottery, uses clay from Lantz, N.S. You can’t get more local than that.”

Social media is making it easier to connect with artists and see their work, particularly new designs fresh from the kiln. “I go online and check Facebook and Instagram to see what people are producing,” says Durnnian. “It’s a really great venue for seeing pictures of new work.”

Kelly says Instagram has been an incredible avenue for marketing new pieces. “People will rush in right away looking for particular things.”

For Durnnian, local ceramics embody a deep personal connection to his roots. “I carried Nova Scotian ceramics with me when I worked overseas,” he recalls. “I was carrying a piece of home with me. I suppose that is why I bring back ceramics when I travel—to have a tangible piece of the lands that I have visited.”

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