Potter Rickie Woods says goodbye to tour, Haliburton County
By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 26, 2017
After nearly four decades living in the Highlands and 30 years on the Haliburton County Studio Tour, potter Rickie Woods has decided to embrace the next adventure in her life, leaving the Highlands and the tour to live with family on a 100-acre farm in southern Ontario.
Woods is one of Haliburton’s best known potters and is a founding member of the Haliburton County Studio Tour. She created her studio in Blairhampton back in the 1980s, taking risks and following her intuition alongside her husband Tim and their four kids: Amanda, Dennis, Katie and Trevor.
She connected with the community, formed lifelong bonds and put down deep roots. She saw the arts sector grow and experienced success as a craftsperson alongside her colleagues, in large part thanks to the tour.
But in the last couple of years, life has changed dramatically for Woods.
In July of 2015, Tim died of cancer.
“He had a stroke in January of 2015 and in March we found out he had cancer. He was gone by the end of July. So that was 2015,” she said.
Woods allowed herself to take the time to decide what comes next.
“That’s why it’s taken me awhile to make this decision. We waited to see how it was going to go. It’s just different. Very different.”
Woods has decided to move to Angus, Ont., a small town near Creemore and about 20 minutes from Barrie. There, her daughter Katie has a family and a 100-acre farm.
“Katie said, ‘if Dad was alive and he was retiring, he’d want to live here [on the farm].’ I knew right then I was making the right decision,” Woods said.
The move to Haliburton County was one of the first big leaps Tim and Rickie made, choosing to leave their lives in Cobourg for the unknown in the Highlands.
“We came up to visit Tim’s sister-in-law in Donald,” she said. “We absolutely loved it.”
The newly fallen snow and fresh air of Haliburton enticed them. Tim found a job with Highland Lumber and Rickie was a stay-at-home mom.
It sounds idyllic, but it was also nerve-wracking.
“We didn’t have any money. What were we thinking?” Rickie laughs, seated in one of the Muskoka chairs Tim built on the screened in porch of her home on Blairhampton Road.
Each chair is a little different – a record of Tim’s progress as he tried various techniques. He had worked in construction when he was younger, and after years of office work, returned to building. He did renovations and built homes for others and was the fix-it guy in their own home. Crucially, he was able to repair pottery equipment, allowing Rickie to keep up her prolific practice.
Rickie Woods learned to pot first when she lived in Cobourg. She worked as a secretary at Fleming College and took a class there from Wayne Cardinalli (who also teaches at Haliburton School of Art and Design – Fleming’s Haliburton campus). When she and Tim moved to the Highlands with two small children, Rickie was looking for things to do. She took a workshop at Fleming.
“It was great because there was a network there. There were people who are still my friends today,” she said.
Taking small steps, Woods entered the artisans’ world, selling her work at the big summer sale at J.D. Hodgson Elementary School and then in 1987 helping to found the studio tour.
“We almost had to cajole, beg, people to participate because it was a commitment,” she said. It cost $25 for an artist to join and the two county galleries each pitched in $50 for advertising.
“That first year I had about 400 people through,” she said. “We knew we were onto something good.”
The tour grew exponentially with Woods’s sales doubling every year for the first five years.
“The best thing that came out of the studio tour is that it markets your studio for the rest of the year. It would have been 1990, three years in, I had people calling in the winter to see if my studio was open. That was encouraging.”
Propelled by the momentum of the tour, Woods was able to set up a thriving business out of her home.
“For the last 20 years, I’ve been open seven days a week for the months of the summer, from May to Thanksgiving. For many, many of those years, I’d have somebody every single day. It was really an important factor in being able to make a living as a craftsperson.”
That was particularly important when Tim fractured his skull while coaching hockey.
Suddenly, money was “extremely tight” for the family of six.
It was another turning point for Woods, who remembers having to make a distinct decision to switch her already bustling business into a real economic engine for the family.
“It was January of 1994. I … was lying in bed and I prayed. And I said, ‘what are we going to do?’ There just wasn’t any money. It sounds really hokey, it really does, but I heard, ‘you make it, you’ll sell it.’ And I said, ‘OK.’ I really started to work. And that was when the studio tour really became a major part of my income.”
Woods embraced the world of functional pottery, creating lines of plates and mugs, casserole dishes and sugar bowls in rich browns and emerald greens. Her customers would eagerly return each year to collect more items and over the years, they became friends.
“They’ve become a supportive community for me. I’ve known some of them for 30 years. They just come in to see how you’re doing. What’s new? What are your kids doing?”
In order to ensure she had a steady income, Woods focused on the functional – a potter friend of hers once called her the “Queen of Small” as she would make many objects that could be efficiently packed into a kiln – but now that she’s embarking on a new adventure, she thinks she’ll branch out a bit.
“To explore the decorative and non-functional was something I couldn’t take the time to do because I wasn’t sure if it was going to sell,” she said.
On the farm, Woods already has a workspace designated for the next chapter of her pottery journey.
And it was built by Tim.
Two months after her daughter’s family moved into the farm, their garage burned down. Being a carpenter, Tim helped with rebuilding the space, which has two bays and a second storey.
“One of the bays is going to be my pottery studio,” Woods said. “It’s almost like it was meant to be. It’s really nice that Tim built it.”
She hopes that some of her customers will come to see her in her new space in Angus and she intends to keep a strong connection with the Highlands.
“I belong to a book club up here and I plan on being back once a month,” she said.
Good friend and fellow potter Debbie Wales said people in the Highlands will miss Woods and her presence in the local arts scene.
“She’s been instrumental in the success of the studio tour for the last 30 years. She was on the original committee that started it and she’s been such a champion of the studio tour and reminding people they have to put on the very best show they can,” said Wales, who along with her husband Grahame, was on the tour for decades.
“It’s not going to seem the same without her.”
Woods’s move also coincides with another milestone: turning 65.
While some people prefer not to share their age publicly, Woods said marking the passage of time is something she eagerly embraces.
“After you lose somebody before 65, everything’s a bonus. Sixty-five? You bet. It changes perspective.”
Rickie Woods is N on the studio tour, located at 2023 Blairhampton Rd., a few kilometres from County Road 21 between Haliburton and Minden. You can find her online at rickiewoodspotter.ca, by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 705-286-1556.