Pottery passion fuels innovation at Purple Door studio
By Jenn Watt
Published Sept. 25, 2018
There’s nothing like the earthy smell of a fresh bag of clay, or the feeling of a new creation forming between your hands and the pottery wheel, says Charlene McConnell, one of the artists on the Haliburton County Studio Tour.
“I was a farmer’s daughter, so maybe it translates back to being home, smelling the garden, smelling the barn. Those are all happy smells for me,” she says, seated at her dining table in Eagle Lake.
McConnell is readying her home to become a gallery space for her diverse collection of work, which includes mugs and platters, garden sculpture, jewelry and soap dispensers. Normally her art remains in the roadside gallery, Purple Door Pottery Studio, but due to the volume of people and product, she’s moving the work inside.
McConnell aims for the functional, but makes room for the experimental as she creates her pottery, which has been a passion of hers for 25 years.
“It’s very sensual. Very malleable. And it’s really just fascinating to be on the wheel and watch something grow,” she says. “Clay has its own personality. Each one has its own temperamental qualities that you get to build a relationship with.”
She makes her pottery with the end user in mind. Her mugs feature big handles with thumb grips. They cradle in the palm and are easy to hold.
She makes tiny plates to hold discarded tea bags, magnetic pen and pencil holders for the fridge and cheerful flowers that can be “planted” in your garden and will never wilt.
One of her distinct markers is the “dragon egg” pattern she creates on some of her pieces. Named by her daughter who had been reading a lot of Harry Potter at the time, dragon egg pieces have a bubbly pattern to them.
“It requires three firings as opposed to two. It’s a rather lengthy process, but I like it, so I just persevere,” she says.
McConnell first fell in love with pottery when she was living in Pickering.
“Originally pottery was just a recreational class I took when my daughter was young just to get out of the house in the evening,” she says. “After about three weeks I was hooked.”
Beginning in 2004, she and her husband Rob and their two kids started cottaging in Harcourt Park. She took an intensive 16-week pottery course and learned to make her own glazes.
And she began to acquire equipment.
It all resides in the basement of the family’s Eagle Lake home, where they moved after selling the Harcourt cottage.
Rob, who Charlene calls her “biggest fan,” is also one of her biggest helpers, doing any heavy lifting required and refurbishing the kiln.
Many will know Charlene for her work at Sir Sam’s, through the arts council, organizing Stanhope Heritage Day and her decade of participation on Tour de Forest summer studio tour.
She finds time early in the morning or late at night to make her clay creations.
This is McConnell’s second year on the Haliburton County Studio Tour.
“It’s an excellent tour. There are so many wonderful artists on it,” she says.
“There’s an exchange of ideas and creativity and a support system that’s very significant. And it’s always nice to meet new people.”
McConnell says she takes advantage of having the crowd of customers by gathering feedback. This year she’s offering oil bottles of different sizes, shapes and colours and hopes she can hear what people think of them.
One of the features of pottery is the element of surprise and the range of possibilities. An instructor once told her to include an experiment in every kiln and she continues to do that.
“I always put it on the top shelf,” she says of her experimental piece. “Opening a kiln is like Christmas morning every time.”
You can find Charlene McConnell at Purple Door Pottery Studio, 2368 Eagle Lake Road in Eagle Lake. She’s tour map location P.
Check out her work online at purpledoorpottery.ca or call her at 705-754-3536.