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St. Albert potter Elke Blodgett honoured with special exhibition

Art Gallery of St. Albert creates rare retrospective, requests public memories, stories, photos and videos

Activism has become a powerful force in contemporary art throughout the 21st century. One of the most respected and dynamic voices to call it how she saw it was Elke Blodgett. 

A potter for more than 40 years, Blodgett’s visionary raku ceramics became part of the City of St. Albert’s public collection as well as numerous private collections. Known by all simply as “Elke,” she unapologetically forged her own path until her death in 2018.  

Blodgett was an artist, kiln builder, mother, teacher, community organizer, passionate environmentalist, health advocate and a force to be reckoned with. Born in Europe, she lived in St. Albert most of her life, creating pottery as art and fighting to maintain Big Lake and the Sturgeon River as healthy ecosystems for future generations. 

The Art Gallery of St. Albert is preparing to launch Fire in Her Hands, a one-of-a-kind tribute to the cherished potter. The exhibition, the first retrospective of Blodgett’s artistic work, will run July 11 to August 10. 

The gallery is reaching out to members of the public for any stories, photos, videos or pieces of early pottery they would like to share. 

“The idea started in 2017 with the previous director. We were enthusiastic because this was different from what the gallery normally does. But when COVID arrived in 2020, we decided to postpone it so we could be on the other side of the pandemic,” said Emily Baker, gallery curator. 

While the media often wrote about her artistic achievements and environmental advocacy, less is known about her push to inform the public about manganese toxicity, a disorder she unwittingly contracted while firing raku ceramics. 

Manganese is a metal ore used in numerous day-to-day products. It is also a glaze colourant, yielding rich hues. When fired above 1090 C, manganese creates lustrous bronze sheens on clay pottery. However, the vapours manganese produces can be breathed into the lungs and penetrate the skin producing Parkison's-like symptoms. 

“Elke breathed it in because the manufacturer she purchased the manganese from didn’t label the glaze correctly. She wrote a paper about it because she wanted to ensure other potters would know about it, and that led to changes in how glazes are labelled,” Baker said.  

The retrospective will include personal stories about Blodgett. Baker asks anyone interested in sharing memories of her, whether as a neighbour, friend, fellow potter, environmentalist, health advocate and writer to contact her. 

“The scope of her impact is beyond amazing. She was a complex woman, and this is a way to honour her," Baker said. 

Baker can be reached via email at [email protected], and people can share their stories online at

Anna Borowiecki

About the Author: Anna Borowiecki

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