Passion for pottery
Wednesday, Aug 20, 2014 06:00 am
Pottery is a time-honoured craft, possibly the oldest one in history.
While stopping at Aleta Prieba’s decorative booth at St. Albert Farmers’ Market, I felt humbled in realizing she is a link in world tradition that dates back 10,000 years.
Now in her fourth year at the market, Prieba translates her passion for pottery into lovely functional stoneware mugs, plates, platters, bowls, vases, canister sets and goblets.
“I love the mix of colours. If you look closely, they’re not unfinished. They blend nicely. It’s a uniform, natural colour,” says Ottawa visitor Sonia Fairfield, eyeing the brie baker.
There is certain snobbism in the art world that implies a sculptor or an artist creates high art whereas a potter delivers artisanal creations that are viewed in a slightly inferior light.
It’s true Prieba doesn’t just create pretty background things for pure escapism. The practical pottery she creates are an adventure, an exploration of life she delights in sharing with others.
For her, creating pottery is the highest calling, a craft where housewares are made vigorously and impart a vital experience to others.
Her main muse is nature as witnessed in the painted birch trees, dragonflies, frogs and the iridescent northern lights.
Much of this stems from the organic lifestyle she leads in partnership with her husband Garry, a lifestyle that includes a large garden and homemade bread.
“You could say we live a homemade life,” Says Prieba with a smile splitting her face.
One of the most eye-catching items in her booth is a moose-decorated coffee mug that screams, “This is Canadian.”
“Most of my inspiration comes from the back yard,” Prieba says, explaining that a moose regularly walks by her front street in Whitecourt.
Prieba had a respectable upbringing, growing up Kamloops in a family where working with hands was a way of life. Her father was a woodworker. Her mother sewed quilts.
Although Prieba showed no inclination towards pottery at a young age, her first foray into shaping earth was on the South Thompson River.
“We lived on a river and I made mud pies on the beach ever since I could stand up.”
At 17, a yen to travel brought her to Calgary’s Mount Royal College to study interior design. As an elective, she enrolled into a one-time pottery class that morphed into an indelible moment in her life.
“I touched the clay and it took over. It spoke to me,” says Prieba, who was quickly enamoured with how well clay responds.
“It’s play in the same way children play. It’s fun. I’m still playing and having fun.”
For a time she worked in fashion retail, but by 1986 she needed a change of scenery.
She moved to the North West Territories working for the government at an airport office. When winter nights lengthened, Prieba joined Yellowknife’s well-established pottery guild and her style slowly evolved.
Today, the pottery displays a sureness of hand combined with artistic imagination and exacting skills. Her basement studio contains a wheel and an electric kiln that fires clay wares at 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. No two pieces emerge alike.
“It’s all about the quality. If you make something of good quality and you enjoy it, you know others will too.”
The practical side of me that hates washing dishes couldn’t help but ask if the stoneware is dishwasher and microwave safe.
“I’ve had some pieces in the dishwasher for 20 years and they still look like new.”
The St. Albert Farmers’ Market operates every Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.