In the middle of Waterloo Park, in the old Jacob Eby Farmhouse, there is a little hut, which serves as a home for Waterloo Potters Workshop. The old cedar grove guards the path to it, framing the entrance with it’s long, wavy branches. The little farmhouse has been a house to the workshop since 1967 and currently counts over 100 members, all local potters. In the workshop we have pottery wheels, kilns, hand building room, slab roller and bulk glaze ingredients in the glaze room. Our workshop runs as a non-profit cooperative, which means each member contributes a membership fee and needs to perform certain duties which are assigned on a annual basis.
Every time I visit the workshop I get a sense of history and energy of the people who had gathered here together or came here to work alone. The amount of beautiful art and craftsmanship skills developed here can not be counted as the workshop has been serving the local artists for a bit over half a century. When I step into the studio, it feels as if the spirits of the past members encourage me to continue with my craft, never doubt and give up and just do my best to keep growing and learning, but most of all, have fun and enjoy what the craft has to offer. This in turn, gives me this great sense of respect for all the people who put much of their life force into this magical place.
The entrance to the workshop is covered in vines of various type. As they grip into the white brick wall, each year they are also leaving marks on the name plague, showing the passage of time. When coming in, it feels like entering the magical land, a place where time has stopped and anything is possible. After all, this used to be a house, a family lived here. The children were running around, the parents were busy working. The history of this place is mysterious to me and I want to find out more. Upon some research, I found out that the building was raised in 1860 in the Gothic Revival Style and the whole park used to be a farm that belonged to Jacob Eby. After his death, his widow, Elizabeth, sold the land to the city of Waterloo in the year 1890. How was she feeling leaving the land and the house where she lived all her life? Where did she go after? Did she witness the transformation that occurred in the park when the city put up a zoo, walkways and planted beautiful gardens for the public? What was happening in the farmhouse between 1890 and 1967 967, before the workshop got ahold of it?
Although it is fun to ask those questions, I am not a person to research and study the history in detail. However, energetically, those questions open my curiosity and give me even more appreciation to be a member of the workshop. I am assigned the duty of a cleaner, which I really enjoy. It is like taking care of an elderly person, so many nooks and crannies, cracks in the floor, walls and windows. When I wash them, I feel grateful to be able to take care of the farmhouse and in return, to be able to use the space to mix my glazes at a lower cost.
Today felt extra mysterious as the workshop had no electricity and the light was very low on a misty day. When I arrived, I wondered how will it be possible to mix the glazes? The scales are electric and there was no hydro available. Eventually I discovered an old fashion scale and decided to use it instead. This made me feel even more connected to the past, as the people before us had no electricity either and had to make do with various circumstances.
Mixing the glaze from raw ingredients is mysterious and magical enough, but using old sliding scales in a dark building that is 161 years old, all by myself, surrounded by vegetation and a misty, rainy weather was one of the most unique experiences in my life. Here you can see mixing the shiny green glaze- adding oxides and silicas to it. After all ingredients are weighed and combined, I take the dry powdery glaze home and mix it with water in the studio. Next, it needs to go through a sieve to make sure there are no large chunks and it’s best if it sits for at least 1-2 days, to allow the suspension of chemicals to properly absorb the water. Pottery is a process of never ending learning and experimenting, so in a book I am writing my observations, proportions and the results of my experiments. After many firings, it is finally possible to find out glaze & clay combinations that work best for what we envision. Still, there is always chance, as no 2 pieces ever turn out the same.