BY KALISHA MENDONSA
This year’s featured artist for the 2017 Encore Sale and Show of Creative Expression (Encore, for short) is none other than Albertan potter Arne Handley, a familiar face and name to many in the local arts scene.
Handley has taken part in the Encore show and sale for many years. His pottery is recognizable in an instant, with vibrant and deliberate blue tones inspired by Alberta prairie skies. His works are minimalist in design, but offer functional, beautiful additions to any collector’s home.
This year, he will be doing live pottery spinning demonstrations on April 21st and 22nd during Encore. His demonstrations will begin at 2 p.m. on both days.
Handley identifies as an artisan and craftsman over an artist, as he strives to make functional clay items that serve both a specific function and offer aesthetic delight.
“I think that I fit closer to the craft side in this show. For example, on my business card I say artisan, rather than artist. I have a saying, that I am closer to a plumber than I am to Picasso,” he said with a laugh.
“We want to make things that are pleasing to the eye, but also serve a function. You want to use nicer bowls than Tupperware – and God bless Tupperware, because they are amazing at what they do – but there is an aesthetic to it. I’ve even heard studies that suggest food tastes better when it looks nice, and children perform better in aesthetically pleasing classrooms,” he explained.
His dedication to his pottery can be seen in his standard of excellence in craftsmanship.
Often, Handley will work tirelessly on a project or series of pieces, only to turn them away last minute if he doesn’t feel he has produced a high-quality item.
However, each of his pieces offers a unique fingerprint, as the individual variations of colour and finish bring a personality for each item.
Handley has been creating these items for over 40 years and is eager to open others to the possibility of being potters themselves.
He said his goal at the show is to obviously provide a product that is pleasing to the eye, but also to promote his love of crafting and open people up to the possibilities of their own creativity.
“What I would like to see people take away is a sense of, ‘that’s nice’ or ‘wow, that’s pretty’, along with the fact that they will understand they are seeing quality goods. That is important to me,” he said.
“It’s important because one, they might like to do it themselves. There’s always a person who sees my work and comes to a pottery class, and they really enjoy it. It’s really nice to see that sort of thing. I think that’s important. Also, it’s important for them because they have a sense that crafting is not only for the elite.”
Handley enjoys sharing his skill and knowledge by teaching at the Series Summer Art School at Red Deer College. He also has hosted workshops and classes of his own, patient and eager to share a love of creation.
He said he is greatly looking forward to another opportunity in Lacombe, where the local sale has seen praise for the quality and variation in the show.
“The group that runs the Lacombe sale is far and away the best group of people to do so,” he said.
“They really, really take care of the artist. From when you walk in, to the kind of food that is made, or if you need a break – those sorts of things. Maureen and Sandy are exceptional at what they do. It’s always been a pleasure to be there,” he said, adding he is looking forward to the ‘rodeo’, where artists and artisans are able to connect with fellow makers after what is usually months or years apart.
One thing Handley is very open about is the possibility and probability of failure in pottery.
He said it can be a tricky art to love because of the lack of ability to truly appreciate a piece until it comes out of a kiln. He added he envies painters, writers and other artists and artisans that are able to make corrections as they go, as opposed to having to play a guessing game with his work.
“For instance, with this sale, I was making teapots and I had a half a dozen of them. For whatever reason, three of them were extremely heavy, so they either go into our garden or into the garbage. Well, we’ve got enough teapots in the garden, so into the garbage it went. That’s the equivalent of scraping off or painting over canvas – it’s at the end of the process, rather than the beginning,” he explained.
“That’s a mark of being a potter – you never take ownership of your work until it comes out of the kiln. You can’t do it when you’re putting down a brushstroke, or looking up a word – it’s always at the end.”
He said there are parameters artists and artisans must work within, and they have to sort of hope that the art decides to follow those parameters.
This kind of unique opportunity truly makes his work genuine and meaningful, as no two pieces are ever quite the same.
“I love the blue that I create, and there is a reason why the colours are the way they are. There are mechanics to creating that blue, but also sort of controlled accidents or parameters you follow for the result,” he said.
“The only glitch with potters is that we can do all this work, but the final process is putting the piece in a kiln, and the colours that go into the kiln are not the same as what is going to come out. Essentially, you’re blind in that regard. You’re a little bit at the whim of whatever Gods there are, and whatever She wants you to do,” he added with a laugh.
“It takes time to be able to cut down that luck as much as you can, but you also want to allow yourself parameters for a flash of red, or the way a flame might run up the side of the pottery.”
All of these subtle nuances come together to create the famous Handley designs, which will be available for the community to view and potentially purchase next weekend during the Encore sale.
As well, many of his pieces are housed at The Gallery on Main.
To check out more of his work, visit arnehandley.com.