A few weeks ago, CO’s Social Media Coordinator, Lee-Anne Bigwood, was in Vancouver and paid a visit to the lovely Claire Madill of heyday design to see what she’s been up to. We’ve been carrying her pieces at Galerie CO since the spring and love them as beautiful objects, and for holding flowers and kitchen tools. It was high time for a studio visit which, lucky for us, coincided with production on her brand new collection.
We’ll be carrying her whimsical “slightly crushed cans”, which are safe for drinking but also make sweet bud vases.
For this week’s blog post, Lee-Anne shares her observations following her visit with Claire…
When thinking of Vancouver, it’s easy to pull to mind windows with picturesque views of the ocean, with beaches and century-old trees peppering the foreground and snow-capped mountains in the background. You can imagine yourself enjoying the laid back West Coast vibe watching yoga-pants-clad runners and cyclists buzzing by as you drink locally roasted coffee and snack on healthy salads on a patio built for drizzly conditions.
But there is another part of town where the heavy-lifting gets done; in the portlands of the industrial section of East Vancouver. In this part of town, there is less meandering and more passing through, with huge trucks pulling up to loading zones near the massive ships docked from all over the world. If you take the time to cycle slowly or saunter through, however, you’ll be lucky to come across some sweet spots to visit in the area.
A highlight for me on the way to Claire’s studio was the nearly hidden Cottonwood Community Garden (the oldest in the city, which is at risk of being plowed over to create wider roads for all the trucks):
The entrance to the garden on Malkin Avenue (this photo and more about the garden can be found here.)
After exploring the neighbourhood on a typically drizzly but balmy Vancouver day, I made my way to Claire’s studio. In an email with directions she had given me the following instructions: “my studio is in a terrific building, full of full-time makers.”
Terrific indeed! The building, though staying true to the blocked industrial style of the area, seems to emit a sort of creative spirit with its bright green exterior.
The Mergatroid Art Studio Building
“I’m in studio #202 at the top of the stairs.”
Woodburned/etched photos leading up the stairs to the studios
Claire is incredibly welcoming, but apologizes for the mess. I don’t see the mess that she speaks of, instead I’m aware of the rows of neatly ordered shelves with her work in its many stages.
One of many storage shelves with her hew “basket” bowls.
The studio is large and brightly lit with natural light, and I ask her how she managed to score such a great space. She tells me that she inherited the studio space from a potter who married her best friend and moved to Montana.
Our discussions about her work come naturally. I start to take notes, but realize that I just want to sit and chat with her about her passion. She smiles freely and she beams with pride around her work.
Here Claire, wearing a pair of her geometric porcelain earrings, lovingly holds her favourite piece. She explains that this widemouth jar is her most-loved. “I don’t know why, there’s something about the weight of it and it’s so cylindrical. It’s just so perfect.”
She tells me that she is happiest when she is making things and calls herself a “designer/maker”. This doesn’t surprise me, since the kind of gallery-store spaces I’m most attracted to are typically staffed with people who embody the spirit and feeling of a home studio.
Claire isn’t originally from Vancouver, but from Southern Ontario. She went to high school in Whitby. We realized that where she grew up and where she still visits her two sisters and 91-year old Nanna, is where my own family now lives. This pulled at my heart strings a little since my own late Nana would have loved her work and the warm way she welcomed me into her space.
Claire and her Dad ‘somewhere in Ontario’, secured to filing cabinet with one of her porcelain cube magnets.
I then ask the always popular questions, “How did you get into this line of work? What brought you here?”
Claire tells me that she was really creative as a kid but at the time, one of her younger three sisters became known as the artist. She was never discouraged from creating, but was under the impression that there can only really be one artist in the family. She discovered her artistic self more deeply after her first degree, which was in Criminology (“I thought I wanted to be a cop!”, she laughs). She then thought she would become a photographer. At the time, she also had a line of punk rock wrist cuffs and collars that she made from vintage leather belts.
Subsequently, Claire attended the Emily Carr University of Art & Design on Granville Island in Vancouver. She applied to the ceramics department because, “there was so much to learn. Even with full time dedication, I knew I’d be learning something new all the time.” In her third year she took a mould-making class with Jeremy Hatch and loved it because it was foreign and fun. She started mixing porcelain casting slips and says she has never looked back. Jeremy continues to be one of her design inspirations.
‘MADE‘ in Toronto was heyday design’s first store and in 2009 she participated in the Toronto Outdoor Art Exhibit. She has clients all over North America, although most of her work is still sold in Canada. It seems we are nostalgic and connect to the vintage mason jars and baskets that remind us of times with our grandparents, at cottages and other memories of Canadiana.
Mould-making is a challenging multi-stage process. “It would be enough to just be a mould-maker, there are so many steps. It’s difficult and all consuming, but it’s worth it. I love it.” Each piece goes through approximately thirty steps from beginning to end include moulding, casting, glazing, sanding, firing, sanding again and polishing.
House and Home’s Design Lab has an episode with a feature on Claire, where you can see her in action going through all the steps, pouring and casting her porcelain pieces in this studio.
The moulds, which Claire makes herself, are made up of four parts banded together with a heavy elastic. You also fill the actual object you are molding with plaster, because you want it to hold its shape, and it’s the outside shape and features that you are creating a mould for.
If she creates a cast in the morning, she can’t handle it again until the evening. On an average production day she’ll make around 25 pieces. During the Christmas rush, that number can go up to 42 pieces a day.
Claire shows me one of her most popular models; an antique Beaver canning jar she found at her grandmother’s house. This next photo illustrates the way that the final product is about 13% smaller. This is because plaster is water-seeking, so the mould sucks a lot of water right out of porcelain slip.
Each piece is glazed on the inside, making it food-safe and water tight. The outside is kept matte, unglazed and monochrome, to keep the embossing of the original more pronounced. The focus is on the form coming through.
The final stage: dusting and polishing before shipping out
Claire also makes jewellery, some of which is black, but has a separate set of moulds, a separate section of the studio, and even a separate day that she works on it because she wants absolutely no mix up. It’s imperative that the pieces are pristine.
I wonder, with her attention to detail and affinity towards clean and monochrome in her work whether that style is carried through in her own art collections. “Oh no! I love colour. But I do tend to be attracted to geometric shapes.” I ask her to tell me about her favourite art pieces at home, and after our meeting she sends me photos of two.
She first tells me about a wooden piece she has on her table.”It’s so simple and complex. Instead of cutting it flat on the ends, he’s cut it on an angle. It is like a flat object, trying to be a 3D object but it IS 3D. It’s beautiful.”
Sculpture by Christopher Donnelly (photo care of Claire Madill)
“I also really love the bright, geometric paintings of Jessica Groome. I have two that I can see from my favourite spot on my couch!”
Left, and top right, paintings by Jessica Groome (photo care of Claire Madill)
I asked Claire about her favourite piece at Galerie CO.
“Living in Vancouver must be in my soul now — I love the rainy day blanket by Donna Wilson best.”
As I was preparing to leave, I noticed that she had a bag from one of my own favourite artists in Toronto: Bookhou. Claire loves her bags, and even showed me a hilarious photo of her and two friends all coincidentally wearing Bookhou bags at an art festival. She has traded a lot of products with her. This is what she does with many other designer-makers.
What nostalgic memories do her porcelain pieces conjure up for you? What would you like to store in her gorgeous vases?