The Art and Craft of Pottery with Em Gabriel
The local potter talks clay, guild and art.
Maichina Veri, November 28, 2022 // Brantford, Ontario
Em at work in her studio. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Em Gabriel is a full-time artist residing in Brantford who specializes in pleasing to use and cheerful functional pottery. She began as a hobby potter with the dream to have a career in art, and this dream organically came through when Em took the opportunity to pursue it after being laid off from her job during the pandemic. Now Em has a following of over 7,000 people on Instagram and is in her second year of being secretary for the Brantford Potters Guild (BPG). Em recently sat down with BTOWN to talk about clay, the guild and everything in between.
Em’s clay story began in high school when she was looking for an elective, carried through in the form of more electives in college and eventually took her to Mudfire in Atlanta. “I would say more that clay chose me than I chose clay,” says Em, “Just from my first clay classes I really loved that medium. It was the one I was the most fixated on and where my passion grew out of. I’ve done a little bit of all the other things, but clay is always what has held my attention the most.”
Crafting at the wheel. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
Focusing on functional pottery, as that is the most popular for pottery collectors, Em hopes to have mug in every home in Brantford. Em would also like to grow into creating pottery as art. “Pottery kind of suffers from this place in the market where people aren’t sure if we’re art or if we’re a craft. Most people view pottery as a craft and something that you would use functionally around the dinner table or with flowers. They don’t really think of it as art.” The difference between arts and crafts, as Em explains, is that art is interpreting the world and reflecting it back using different media and craft as being trained in a specific set of skills to produce an object, almost like a trade. Pottery is an intersection of both, but to pursue the field from an artistic side, Em suggests a Master of Fine Arts in clay is needed because it’s a difficult side to break in to. To make a living as a potter, however, Em says, “You’ve got to have a functional line.”
Em with some pieces of her holiday collection. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
To support and encourage the growth of pottery and potters in the community, there is the BPG. The guild offers beginner classes, as well as works as a forum for artists to be together. As of November 10, the guild has a home at Glenhyrst Art Gallery of Brant. This allows for both potters and the gallery to have a broader audience. “It’s a really exciting opportunity,” explains Em, “Pottery is not very frequently seen in art galleries, unless it’s a gallery that wants pottery in it. It’s a really great, exciting collaboration for the two. We’re hoping by being at Glenhyrst we’ll broaden our audience for pottery and that we’ll bring our community to Glenhyrst as well.”
Tools of the trade. Photo credit Paul Smith, Photohouse Studio.
The BPG is important to Em. Though she has her own home studio, Em remains part of the guild because she is passionate about community. “One of the really lovely things about potters, that I have found, is that potters love to share,” she says. Whether it’s sharing ideas or techniques, Em has found that potters are more collaborative than competitive. From her experience, potters like to see each other succeed and celebrate the successes. “The reason I’m part of the executive team at the guild and a part of the guild is people have poured so much into me that I want to pour back out into the community of potters and be available to help support other potters and pour into them as well.”
To learn more about the Brantford Potters Guild click HERE.
For information about the Brantford Potters Guild winter pottery sale running from December 2-4 at Woodman Community Centre click HERE.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Maichina Veri is a writer based in Brantford, Ontario. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing from Montreal’s Concordia University and has a background in Journalism – Print from Niagara College.
ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER
Paul Smith has been shooting photos professionally for the past eleven years. After graduating from Applied Photography at Sheridan College in 2008 he returned to Brantford and opened Photohouse Studios with his partner.