Behind The Wheel - Jane Snider Pottery
Jane Snider, based in Ottawa, Ontario is one of The Northern Kiln's top selling artists. Read on to learn about her experience, history and inspiration.
Although I feel like I’ve been working with clay pretty much my whole life, I didn’t actually touch it until I was in university. I liked making stuff and took art courses, including pottery from my first year right through until graduation. After graduation I worked for a fellow graduate who was setting up a pottery studio near my home town. I worked with him part-time for over 4 years in a production/retail facility, eventually setting up my own basement workshop and marketing my work at a weekly farmers’ market. These experiences early on in my career were influential in helping me understand how to make a business out of selling things one makes (something not always taught in a school setting). When I moved to Ottawa, I was confident to set up my own full time pottery business. Not all of the jobs involved in making a living at pottery are fun but for me the variety of tasks required is part of what I love about being self employed.
My inspirations have been varied. Early on, I developed a line of work that was heavily influenced by the early Ontario folk art traditions that surrounded me as a child. I used a slip trail decorative technique that evolved from literal interpretations of folk art (lots of birds and flowers of various sorts) to a more nuanced abstract design using the same technique.
I’ve been fortunate to have a sort of parallel career working together with my husband in East Africa and Asia for a total of 10 years with a non-government organization, primarily working with craftspeople, as a liason between them and North American markets. Obviously those influences are immense in my life in general, but also in my pottery. While we were helping to design new products using local materials in Kenya, advising on colour combinations for silk weavings in Laos, facilitating exchange workshops between Sudanese and Canadian artists, and assisting fledgling businesses to get started, we were always surrounded by rich and varied craft traditions and innovations. It often felt like we were in a field university! Inspiration was everywhere—in the hardworking people we met and in the fascinating material cultures we learned about. We were happy to share many of those stories with folks in Ottawa when we returned from Kenya (with a toddler in tow) to open & manage a fair trade store, which I worked at on a part-time basis for 5 years.
Working overseas for 3-4 years at a time, then returning to Ottawa for 4-5 years, provided me the opportunity to wind down and start up my pottery business several times. Each time I could look at the creation process with fresh eyes. On one return, I switched from high fire to mid fire, for environmental and economic reasons, which necessitated designing a new body of work, finding a new clay that worked well and developing glazes. When we returned from Laos (which has a very hot climate and has a strong Buddhist history & culture) I added rich red and yellow colours and started making round forms which echoed the alms bowls that monks used.
Recently (since the first pandemic lockdown when I found myself with time to try new things) I started using transfer patterns in my work. The lockdown also offered me the opportunity to finally get a website up and running, and to try lots of new (to me) online platforms to sell my work. While I was happy to be able to do a few in person shows last year and finally see customers again, I really like the flexibility that selling online gives me, so I look forward to a combination in the future.
Do I have a favourite piece of pottery? Definitely not! However, we brought a lot of pots back from East Africa, and those are probably the ones I admire the most. In many ways they are unremarkable, being made as water storage containers, pouring vessels or cooking pots, but they are beautiful in form and aesthetic. I admire them everyday. And of course they remind me of the people who made them. I guess that is my hope for the pots I make as well—that folks who use them can have some appreciation for and link to the making process.