It’s a crisp and overcast Saturday morning when I pull up to the house Lane Delmonico shares with her partner Ted Barker. His Oma and Opa once owned it, and now they rent it from Ted’s mom.
Lane welcomes me through the door, leading me to her kitchen for coffee. She’s laid out fruit on a platter for us, and I completely forget to help myself to it, even though I want to. I’m absorbed by our conversation instead. She asks if I’d like a plain cup of coffee or latte style and steams milk for me at a small espresso machine next to the fridge.
We sit in the sunroom. More than a dozen of the sparkly glazed studs Lane is known for are laid out on a heavy tile. We drink our coffees, chatting about teaching, and the time Lane spent in France, and how important creativity is to our sense of purpose, and so on.
Later, as I get my things together to leave, Lane thanks me for what must be the third time, and asks if I’m a hugger.
Yes. Yes, I am.
FULL: What got you into ceramics?
Lane Delmonico: I was nearing the end of grade twelve, and my friend Chloe pulled me aside and said, “Let’s move to France!” She’s half French and goes back every summer to visit her family. Her mother, who passed away from breast cancer when she was quite young, was a potter. She wanted to learn about her mom’s past and passion. One summer, her French grandparents took her to this little pottery village, and she just fell in love with a potter who was offering an apprenticeship. Agnès only took two students a year as apprentices. It was a six-month program, and it was educationally based. Chloe came back to Winnipeg and said, “I’m going, and I’m not doing it without you.”
I jumped on board. It was really scary at first. I was seventeen. It was really tough physically too. The first few weeks I felt like I couldn’t do it, because I didn’t have the upper body strength, the skill, the dexterity. It’s a really steep learning curve. I was throwing pots every day for eight hours a day for six months.
FULL: It’s a fairly common dream teenagers have, to spend time abroad out of high school, but the reality of the situation can be challenging.
LD: I was lucky to have a really solid friend at my side who knew the ins and outs of French culture. Our teacher didn’t speak any English. She translated a few of the key vocabulary on a paper sitting in front of my wheel. I was already fluent, but I almost felt like I was starting from scratch. It was a lot to learn and think about all at once. It was also a pretty formative time.
I’ve continued to pursue pottery because I really loved my teacher. It was evident that she had found a sense of purpose and identity through ceramics, as well as an appreciation for the arts. And she was just stinking funny. I wanted to emulate how I felt when I was with her learning pottery, and I’ve been lucky enough to continue with it.
FULL: Have you been able to find support and friendship in the arts community here in Winnipeg?
LD: I didn’t go to fine arts school, so I don’t have that community, but I know a lot of artists, and my friends are supportive and have an interest in the arts as well. Local people who make things have been really friendly: Christie Peters, Jill Sawatzky, Chelsea Neufeld.
I also live with Ted, and he’s an artist, and he helps me a lot, gives me feedback. His entire family is in the arts and they all have a point of view and perspective. I feel well surrounded.
FULL: So you spent six months studying in France, what came after that?
LD: I came back to Winnipeg and pursued an education degree. I was still longing to go back to France, so I went and did a year of university in Bordeaux in print making and psycholinguistics. When I came back after that year, I began setting up a studio in my former childhood home. I’ve been working in that basement for the last six or seven years.
The house is an old riding stable and prior to that it was a dairy farm, but it’s a home that’s over a century old. There’s a wine cellar and my pottery studio in the basement. It’s a windowless basement, but there’s a cellar door. In the summer, it lets in a lot of beautiful light and a breeze and outdoor sounds. But in the winter months, it’s challenging. It’s quite dark and quiet now.
FULL: What do you do to motivate yourself to keep at it through the winter?
LD: Podcasts help. Also, my mother and brother live upstairs, so they come down and visit. If I’m feeling unmotivated, I can do a little bit of work or check on some pieces. I don’t feel dissuaded when I’m not that productive, because it’s also a nice opportunity for a visit.
FULL: I know that you work as an elementary teacher as well. How do you manage that while running a business?
LD: Pottery is my counter balance. My parents always showed me how important it was to nurture my passion. My mom’s a mathematician, but she also owned a hosiery shop, and my dad is an elections consultant, but he’s also really into woodworking and makes willow furniture.
Ceramics has definitely been a way for me to find a sense of purpose. It keeps me very busy, but I think I need it.
FULL: I imagine though too, there are those moments where a bunch of tasks come together all at once, and you’re overwhelmed.
LD: I can definitely get overwhelmed, but I think it’s about forgiving yourself for putting something on the back burner. If a piece isn’t completed as soon as I wanted it to be, or if I’m going into a school day having to teach off the cuff, then some days those are happy accidents, and I’ve realized that I think well on my feet.
I would be lying if I said I don’t feel stressed out sometimes, but because pottery is so important to me, it’s what I need to feel good. Despite sometimes being a source of stress, it’s something that makes me feel alive.
FULL: What about it makes you feel that way?
LD: I think it’s the emotional process involved. There’s so many steps, and I like the fact that I’m only one part of the final result. Sometimes when you throw down a lump of clay on the wheel with a particular form in mind, the clay starts spinning and it takes a shape of its own, or the glaze can work its magic inside of the kiln. My favourite part of the whole process is opening up the kiln — it’s an emotional thrill. You open the lid and it’s a result, or colour, or hue that you weren’t anticipating. I really enjoy the fact that I have to relinquish a bit of control.
It’s similar to teaching actually, because you are also only one part of the equation. There’s so many other factors at play as to how your intention will be received.
One thing I’m working on is letting go of practice pieces or things that don’t necessarily work out as planned. As a visual artist, I have physical reminders of all those practice hours, and they can get really heavy. I have to do a purge every once and awhile. Once I’ve done that purge or had that sale, I physically feel so much lighter, and I feel relieved and motivated. Even if I’ve sold pieces that I was in love with, that’s a good motivation to get back at it.
FULL: With pottery, I’m used to seeing a lot of mugs, plates, and bowls, so I’m curious how you got into making things like jewellery and buttons.
LD: I was trained at first to make functional tableware, but ever since I was a little child, I was captivated by tiny objects. I had a collection of rocks, buttons, shells, stickers, beads. I could spend hours just staring at them. A few years ago, I acquired a tiny kiln, and I thought to myself, “Well, I could fire two mugs in here, or I could fire thirty tiny things.” And so I started downscaling and thinking about what I could make that’s really beautiful but really miniature. That’s what brought me to the studs and beads and larger pendants. It wasn’t until Jill from Tony Chestnut asked about making buttons that I started doing that.
FULL: I love how interests you had as a child can resurface in different ways as you age.
LD: It’s wonderful, because it can make you feel like a kid again. I think I’m a dreamer. I get dewey eyed and wistful for past times, but I can cultivate that through my work now.
FULL: Something I find interesting about your work, particularly with the bolos, is the combining of traditionally masculine and feminine qualities.
LD: I definitely don’t market my pieces as being for a particular person or gender. I’ve had people come up to me saying, “I saw a dude on the bus who was rocking your sparkly studs!” It pleases me that all sorts of people are enjoying those pieces.
I love the balance between masculine and feminine, or even between playful and skillful. I like a piece to be skillfully made, yet imperfect — rough and soft at the same time. Those are the pieces I’m drawn to the most.
FULL: What do you like about working in ceramics as a business owner?
LD: I think my biggest sense of success or satisfaction is when I get to see people feeling confident rocking a piece they enjoy that I made with my own hands from something that comes naturally from the earth.
It’s nice to see folks at markets take an interest in my work and ask me questions. I don’t care whether someone buys it, but if they pick up a piece, stick their hand inside a bowl and feel the bottom, really look at it and ask about how its made, it’s those conversations that I love. They take me back to my apprenticeship in France and the conversations we’d have over lunch about the vessels we were drinking out of.