Stepping into Dominic Legault’s world of pottery is delightfully overwhelming, with pails of glaze, bisque fired mugs, and bowls. There are one of a kind finished pieces stashed on every flat surface and tucked into boxes and shelves throughout the studio. Completed pots are kept by the artist for inspiration, as ..
“I first tried pottery 23 years ago but only made a few things. I got into pottery again 7 years ago here on Haida Gwaii and it became my full-time job about 4 years ago,” Dominic Legault says while standing beside his large yellow brick kiln filled with bowls and mugs waiting to be fired.
There are boxes of completed pottery on shelves that are waiting to be sold at summer markets.His home studio is full of items found in his environment, like rocks and seashells. Dominic is mostly self-taught for throwing pottery, but he has also trained with Tony Clennell in Ontario. He is “inspired by traditional Japanese pottery as well as many potters of the last 100 years”.
“I like asymmetry and when the clay looks and feels like the earth that it is. I like seeing the marks of the process made by the potter” he says, as the lines form in the bowl of a freshly turned piece of clay. The process of making pottery is as scientific as it is beautiful.
“It is a long process with many steps from start to finish,” he says as he rolls some clay in his hands and walks through the process making a bowl at the end of our visit. “I like that there are so many different steps since I can always keep busy and change things up every few days,” he says, pointing out various items in different stages of the process.
Deciding what to make and how to make it often comes down to what appeals to him, and also what will sell. Sculpted porcelain cups, mugs, soap dishes, heavy sculptural pitchers, bowls big and small and noodle bowls are items he makes and sells regularly.
First comes “Wedging” which aligns and warms up the clay particles, then weighing out the clay into balls. Throwing pots using a potters’ wheel is most potter’s favourite step. He lets the clay pass through his fingers, gradually shaping it, then carefully removing the finished piece from the wheel.
“The pots then dry to a leather-hard stage which is when the clay is partly dried but still malleable. Pots get altered and trimmed and this is when the handles get put on mugs or other pots. This is the stage to further develop ideas started earlier” he says of the making stage.
Dominic has many shelves and a dehumidifier to help dry the work evenly. Depending on the thickness of the items, it could take up to a week to dry on the shelf. Humidity, weather changes including heat, cold, and winds also affects the drying time and can also cause cracks.
Trimming and Cleaning Up
Greenware is what your piece is called when it is dry, Dominic says, and this is a fragile time for the piece. He gently handles the pieces and places them on a flat surface ensuring they do not touch each other.
“Trimming” is one of his favourite parts because it is another creative step in the process. He scrapes away any thick pieces of clay using a trimming tool, then cuts the piece from the throwing wheel with a thin wire. The pots then get totally dry which can take about a week or more, they are then fired the first time which is called a bisque firing, he adds.
Finally, he makes sure the dried pots are flat on the bottom, giving them a final inspection now for defects or sharp edges helps with the quality control later on. This is the last time that pots in their dry clay stage can still be recycled and made into new pots by crushing them and rehydrating the clay. Once they are fired they solidify to last a long time.
“This firing makes the hardened pots absorbent (like terra cotta planter pots), they are then ready to be glazed” he says.
The bisque kiln is fired to 1000°C. The water in the clay is drawn out by the heat in the kiln. This first firing helps burn off impurities and helps them not crack in the next firing. Once fired, “it takes two days for the kiln to cool” he adds.
“I make all my own glazes from raw ingredients I buy. The glazes contain mostly ground up rocks like silica sand, feldspars, dolomite lime, and others” Legault states. The glaze choices are often made with the user in mind as they are the ones who will be eating or drinking out of the finished products. Test pieces are glazed and notes are kept and stored away for future reference to help experiment with new glaze combinations. The chemical reactions under the intense heat vary to produce different effects. Colours, patterns, and designs can be planned but it cannot always be counted on to turn out exactly as envisioned.
“The pots then get fired in a bigger kiln” he says looking into the large kiln. It takes him about a month to fill the kiln before a firing is possible.
“The kiln cools for 2 days then I do a final clean up on the bottoms if necessary” he says. He then begins the marketing process and packages them up for sales and shipping depending on where they have been sold.
He encourages others to get involved with making pottery by offering group classes. Dominic teaches pottery classes on Haida Gwaii a few times in the winter. He also sometimes has an apprentice or student coming by to trade lessons and studio time in exchange for gardening work.
“Making any art as a full-time business and surviving from it is a challenge. The money does not compare to other standard jobs but I get to make my own hours working from home. I enjoy the outdoors on breaks when the weather is nice. I like going to the market once a week in the summer!” he says holding a nicely glazed mug.
Pottery is all about connection; from the makers hands to the customers hand who uses the item in their daily life. As the interview ended, he put a newly turned bowl onto the shelf to dry and reached for another ball of clay, ready to start making a new bowl.