At age 13, Mary Fox began potting purely by chance.
Since then, she’s exhibited internationally, given many workshops and created her own studio/gallery in Ladysmith.
As featured guest artist at the Filberg Festival, she’ll display a wide
range of functional and decorative work, some made especially for the four-day event on the BC Day long weekend.
“I was introduced to the craft of pottery while attending junior high in
Victoria,” says Fox. “I needed to take two electives but everything I was interested in was full. The counsellor said there was room in ceramics and I said, ‘What’s that?’ I was pretty intimidated as I don’t draw well and had not been exposed to any art before.”
Little did she know that class would ignite a passion that burns brightly to this day. By the end of Grade 8, Fox had finished the Grade 10 ceramics class. The teacher let her take the class again and also provided access to the ceramics room during lunch hour and after school.
With help from her dad, Fox built her own pottery wheel and by Grade 11 was teaching night classes. At age 17, she moved out on her own, supporting herself by making pottery.
“I’ve never done anything else to earn a living,” she says. “I love getting up and going into my studio every day. And I never get bored unless I’m invoicing.”
In the beginning, Fox worked as a production potter, creating useful and attractive pieces people could use to eat or cook with. In fact, it took her a decade or so to discover the challenges and rewards of decorative pottery and to develop her true artistic abilities.
“I love the creative aspect of decorative pieces,” Fox says. “I’m probably most well-known for my chalices. They are the most difficult to make — some go down to the size of a nickel and then have to balance in the kiln until I put them on a clay base. I’ve only made 25 in the last 10 years so they’re my most collectible item.
“I’m also quite well-known for creating my own glazes, specifically lithium and copper,” she adds. “No one else works with just those two elements. I’m largely self-taught so there was no one around to say, ‘You can’t do that.’ I’ve spent a lot of time exploring.”
Fox’s work has been exhibited in Japan, Australia and Italy. “Thousands of potters apply for these shows but only a few get in,” she explains. “It’s fun but a lot of work also. After a while I realized I’d rather be at home in my studio.”
So she rebuilt her house to include a spacious gallery.
“Now instead of taking my work to other countries, people from all over the world come to my place to see my work,” she says. “And with the studio behind the gallery, people can experience the whole process. Folks often stop by just to see what’s going on.”
Fox also offers workshops through potters’ guilds, which focus on everything from hands-on work to exploring the creative process and developing an individual style.
“I always tell beginning potters to spend their money on a big mixer before buying a car,” Fox says. “In the long run, they’ll thank me for saving the wear and tear on their hands.”
Fox had never been to the Comox Valley before and rarely participates in any festivals anymore. But she had heard so many great things about the Filberg Festival and, after a drive up Island to check out the site, accepted the invitation as guest artist.
And she’s creating some innovative pieces for the show.
“I decided on an ocean theme so am making cascading tidal pools based on my interpretation of local sandstone formations,” she says. “They’re all hand-built and probably take 30 to 40 hours to create. The tricky part is to hollow them out and get them to dry without cracking.”
Fox’s display will include a wide range of stoneware and porcelain in decorative and functional designs, as well as some of her unique glazes.
“Pursuit of beauty is a constant in my life,” she says. “I love the
challenge of creating contemporary vessels based on classical shapes. When you are working with pure form the tiniest fraction of an inch at any spot will make the difference between just a vase and a vase full of life.”
For a preview of Fox’s work, visit www.maryfoxpottery.ca.
The Filberg Festival takes place on the nine-acre waterfront Filberg estate from Aug. 3 to 6. Now in its 30th year, the festival features more than 120 of Canada’s finest artisans, fabulous food and lively entertainment for children and adults.
Tickets are available online at www.filbergfestival.com/buy-tickets-online or in person at the Filberg Heritage Lodge gift shop, Arizona Gifts in the Comox Centre Mall, the Vancouver Island Visitor Centre, Thrifty Foods Vancouver Island locations and at the gate.