Wellspring of a Creative Spirit Flourishing
Ila was torn down and completely rebuilt which was followed by a successful firing. I had followed with much interest the 2020 Facebook postings Ann Randeraad made about this delicate process, the other sister potters who helped with this engineering feat, and their elation afterwards. But then I had to know, whence came this name for Ann’s formidable wood-fired kiln?
“Ila is my grandmother’s name, Scottish, Irish, and English, too. She was creative, gutsy, and wrote a newspaper column under a gender-neutral name. She paid cash for a new fur coat and then restyled it. She was hard working with so much perseverance.”
Ann’s own creative journey bears the hallmark of this heritage. She and her husband Dirk live with their children and grandchildren on their farm as a multi-family household. Ann grew up next door to this same farm property and remembers playing in the attic with the granddaughter of the former owners. Today she has her ceramics business on-site, a studio and shop, plus the storage for the wood needed to fire Ila.
While Dirk is a tree surgeon and Ann holds credentials as a landscape technician and ice technician, their exotic menagerie and forays into various niche market farming endeavours over the decades are an integral part of her questing, creative spirit. Then there is no way around it, I have to ask her about those rumours of their llamas escaping and visiting the local public school.
Laughing she says, “We started with a Jersey cow and yes we had an Exotic Animal Farm for a couple of decades.”
Apparently, while the llamas did find the grass greener on the other side of their fence on more than one occasion, at the height of their farm they had emus, ostriches, a wild boar, yaks, lemurs, and two varieties of peacocks. Today they still have Kevin and Priscilla, beautiful peacocks, who wander freely about even in the winter, with the white peacocks being housed in a poultry shed as they are such easy prey due to their colouring.
Well-grounded in her community and arts practice, Ann looked at the need for food security in their area. She, along with other potters and key community groups, did the start-up for the Empty Bowls food drive. She makes and donates hundreds of bowls every year for this volunteer-driven effort, which to date has raised over $100,000.00 for local food banks in 11 years.
Busy also with her booth at the Orangeville Farmers’ Market on Saturdays, she holds a membership with the Headwaters Arts collective as well. You can be sure to see her work in many of their exhibits and shows at the Headwaters Arts Gallery at the Alton Mill Arts Centre.
Clearly, Ann is happily in the throes of creative productivity. This past fall she was awarded Orangeville’s 2020 Arts & Culture Established Artist of the Year. Such a well-earned honour and recognition, and built on that same spirit of perseverance as her grandmother, Ila.
Feeding Ila the kiln for firing her pottery though, requires a lot of wood, which again bears the unique stamp of Ann’s ingenuity. She sources it from skid wood and a flooring company’s cut-offs, which yields both hard and soft woods. Tending a firing of Ila is a culmination of a labour of love with much hard and dirty work leading up to it.
From point of contact with a lump of clay on her potter’s wheel or workbench if hand-building, steps along the way include throwing or building an object to its partial drying then trimming, which precedes the bisque firing followed by the glaze mixing and application. Only then is the object ready for the final firing, which could be either electric or wood-fired.
Ila is designed for fast and efficient firings, which can be from 15 – 30 hours of careful tending and feeding. The shifts of potters watch the cone packs, temperature indicators, as Ila is brought up to a minimum of 2300 F, then the kiln’s fireboxes are closed up and the pressure is dissipated through the chimney.
The beauty of the unknown alchemy, which occurs with wood-firings as the ash deposits interact with the various glazes, is also affected by how loosely or tightly they packed the kiln’s interior. It is three days to cool Ila off to 70 F before opening, and at last, unpacking the pieces.
Her transition to wood firing from the electric kilns was 15 years ago, almost half of her three decades of doing pottery. She explained that there are more layers to the process and the intricacy of the results are some of the biggest differences.
“It’s not light a match nor push a button like with gas-fired or electric kilns. It’s a community firing.”
Ann can trace her fascination with clay back to her child’s play with mud patties carefully formed and laid out to dry in the sun and her contacts with a family friend, well-known artist, Joseph Panacci. She went to him for advice on developing her portfolio when applying to Sheridan for their Illustration program.
He was taking a ceramics course at OCAD, later becoming a full-time potter, and had advised her against going into such a physically demanding field. However, seeing him throw pots and work with the clay was captivating.
“I knew then I wanted to do something with clay!”
But first Ann did go to Sheridan and studied Illustration, living for six months in Brampton. And that was all she needed to know that city life was not for her, so she returned happily to her rural roots. After finishing her courses in Illustration, she studied for and obtained her Landscape Technician’s credentials.
Looking back on the trajectory of her artistic development, I am struck by how the different themes or motifs are picked up again at different stages and reincorporated. Nothing has been left behind. Ann has recently illustrated a child’s book and is now gathering material for the second book on farm life, her sketchbook at the ready.
With maturity, she muses, comes that desire to say more and produce thought-provoking work with a message. For her growth as a ceramicist, this involves sculptures and continued professional development within her global network. Wood-firing kilns are less than 10% of the ceramics done in North America with a rich sharing of skills and resources in this niche profession. Conferences with world-renowned artisans from Japan, Australia, and North Carolina bring knowledge from centuries of tradition. Some techniques have evolved and are handed down through generations of potters in a family.
Ann’s studio and showroom are housed on the farm located in Amaranth, at 284337 County Road 10, northwest of Orangeville, where empty bowls and more await visitors in a shop of glorious ceramic pieces.
Be prepared for sightings of Kevin and Priscilla and note that any conversation punctuated by laughter could be joined in with excited sounds from the several lemurs who reside in a private, two-storied corner area of the studio. You can even consider taking home some free-range eggs from their chicken flock.
Call before visiting at (519) 938-2092 or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit Ann’s website and follow her on social media at @annranderaadpottery. You can look for her on Facebook at Ann Randeraad for updates on Ila’s firings and current work.
Local writer, photographer, and artist E.C. Munson covers the arts and cultural scene as experienced through the eyes of other creatives and makers. She may be reached at email@example.com.
References – Thumbnail Sketches: Ann Randeraad, Wellspring of a Creative Spirit Flourishing
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