Special to The Record
A visit to the back rooms of master potter Gordon Hutchens’ studio is like a trip to a magician’s lair. Surrounded by the mossy, moody grandeur of Denman Island’s Douglas fir forest, the studio is a jam-packed jumble of rooms, full of potions and powders, tiny tools and big machines, and hundreds of vases, mugs, bowls, and other pieces, all at various stages of production.
As Hutchens prepares for craft fair season, he takes a short break to give me a behind-the-scenes peek at the workspace of one of B.C.’s most celebrated potters. We start in the front room – an elegantly-lit gallery showcasing the graceful shapes and magnificent surfaces of Hutchens’ pottery. This is where visitors like myself want to know: how does he do this? How does he achieve these textures, this luminosity, this velvet iridescence, this metallic sheen that glimmers and shifts and plays with light?
The answer to such questions involves a combination of craftsmanship, creativity, advanced chemistry, hard work, and a certain mad-scientist, inspired-alchemist enthusiasm that has animated Hutchens for over 45 years.
“It really is a bit like alchemy,” he says. “Both disciplines are about the transmutation of minerals and metals. You take a pinch of this and pinch of that, add high heat, and transformation happens.”
As he speaks, Hutchens gestures to a wall-sized chest of multiple small drawers, and to rows of shelves crowded with bottles and jars. Every one of them is labelled: names such as nepheline syenite, lithium carbonate, spodumene, magnesium carbonate, black copper oxide, and aquaregia, which, Hutchens points out enthusiastically, dissolves gold.
Hutchens has been a leader in his field for years. He’s had over 25 one-man shows, 70 group exhibitions across Canada and the U.S., and three major exhibitions in Japan. He’s taught many courses and workshops, authored educational videos, and written articles for ceramics magazines and books. Yet he is nowhere near complacent.
“There are so many things I haven’t had a chance to experiment with. That’s why I love this art form,” he says. “Ceramics is the most complex of the arts. It includes all the visual art disciplines, and more: it’s about three-dimensional form, line and form, colour, chemistry, and mineralogy, and to top it off, you get to play with fire!”
Hutchens has been exhibiting at the Denman Craft Fair since the event’s inception 35 years ago.
“The Island really puts on a top-notch show. There is the same quality and diversity as in the big shows I do in Vancouver and Victoria. At the same time, it very much feels like a neighbourhood event.”
You can see Hutchens’ creations, along with the work of close to 80 other artisans, at the Denman Island Christmas Craft Fair, Dec. 3 and 4, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., at the Denman Community Hall and the Activity Centre. Lunches and desserts at both venues. Free shuttle from ferry terminal, so customers only have to pay “walk-on” rate from Buckley Bay terminal.