The first time Cori Sandler touched clay, it felt better than anything she’d ever experienced.
For five days all she did was eat, sleep and immerse her hands in the warm wet substance. “It felt like home,” she says.
That was 25 years ago. Now a professional potter, Sandler’s work is exhibited in Toronto and various galleries on the West Coast. Last year she moved to the Comox Valley; this month she became president of the the Comox Valley Potters Club.
“Due to renovations it wasn’t possible to set up my studio or kiln right away,” says Sandler. “So I went looking for the local clay community. Wherever you go, potters are great about helping and supporting each other.”
In addition to the Potters Club, an organization more than 50 years old, Sandler also discovered the Potters Place, a 19-year-old collective of potters and an incredible connection to North Island College.
“It was wonderful to find such a rich community of potters in the place I’d dreamed of living in for so long,” she says.
Sandler was introduced to clay while visiting a friend on an Alberta farm. At the end of her visit she returned to Toronto and looked for a way to continue exploring this intriguing new element. She joined a potters’ co-operative and within two weeks was a key member.
“That meant I got a key to the door so I could spend as much time as I wanted there,” she explains. “After a while other members noticed that I was sitting in the same chair and wearing the same clothes that were getting covered in increasing layers of clay. They told me I had to go home at least once a day.”
While phasing out her hand-painted clothing company, Sandler continued to teach music twice a week and spend as many hours as possible throwing pots. Then she apprenticed to a professional potter.
“That allowed me to learn all aspects of the business such as packing and shipping and exhibiting at large events,” she says. “It was wonderful.”
In the meantime, Sandler and her partner fell in love with Hornby Island. “We came out every year and dreamed of retiring there,” she says. “One day, we decided to do it now rather than later. We ended up in Union Bay and love it.”
Sandler is featured artist at the Potters Place for the month of Sept.
In her typical all or nothing fashion, Sandler quickly became involved with the local potting club and The Potters Place.
“One of the best things about the club is its affiliation with North Island College,” she says. “We meet there one Wednesday a month and pay rent by donating equipment the potting studio needs. They have numerous kilns we can use and if you take a potting course, you have access to the facility all the time.”
Many club members took their first potting course at North Island College with Alan Burgess and can’t speak highly enough about his support and encouragement. “The college and Alan have had a huge influence on potters in the Comox Valley,” notes Sandler.
But the potters club isn’t just about making pottery. They’re members of Potters Without Borders and Potters for Peace, organizations that help people in third world countries create and develop ceramic water filters.
The club also hosts two Christmas sales annually, one in Campbell River and the other at the Florence Filberg Centre in Courtenay (on Nov. 26 this year). These events are fund-raisers for club initiatives. “We also support other community organizations by providing space at the sales for them to fundraise and increase awareness about their organization.
A third sale takes place at the Driftwood Mall at the end of January. “This is the club’s seconds sale,” says Sandler. “Although the term second is often only in the eye of the creator.”
The Potters Club also supports YANA by providing handcrafted chilli bowls as a fundraiser and maintains a fund for Potters in Distress due to health or financial problems.
Workshops featuring local and international potters are held several times a year. “We also provide an annual bursary to a clay student at North Island College,” says Sandler.
The Potters Place, a collective of more than 30 potters, is a separate entity than the club. “To ensure high quality, all work is juried,” explains Sandler. “Some people donate their time by working in the store; others sell their work on consignment.”
The Potters Place moved to its current location in downtown Courtenay’s Artisan’s Courtyard in 1996.
“Next year we plan to hold a gala celebration to honour the long-time members of the Potters Club,” says Sandler. “And I’m thrilled to be the Valley and look forward to many happy hours of potting and promoting the club.”
Those interested in becoming a member of the Comox Valley Potters Club or having a table at a Christmas sale can contact Sandler at email@example.com or 778-427-4001.