The more time I spend moving, conversing, and making, the more I feel I am in service to my humanity, my kids, my community, myself. – YC
I’m not sure how I came across Yolande Clark, but awhile ago I started reading her blog and getting a peek into the life she and Lee, her husband, have chosen for their family. They live in Queenstown, quintessential rural New Brunswick where they homeschool their four children and develop their work as visual and ceramic artists. Yolande is also a writer and birth consultant. I asked Yolande if she’d be willing to share about their life, and this is what she sent. Thank you Yolande for your openness and inspiring passion in all you do. – MH
*Words and photos by Yolande Clark*
It has only been in the past few days that I have noticed the air has started to finally shift. I never fully understood the potency of spring until I moved (from Vancouver) to New Brunswick nine years ago. It took me a few years to understand the east coast, weather and all, but NB is home now. My husband Lee on the other hand, is the tenth generation in his family to be born and to grow up on the Saint John River. We live with our four kids and a variety of cats and dogs (the chickens were eaten by foxes in the late fall) in Queenstown, a tiny rural hamlet on the river in south-central New Brunswick, between Fredericton, Saint John and Moncton.
Our four kids are very much integrated into the life Lee and I have together as artists, craftspeople, makers and partners. Our life is anything but seamless, and sometimes verges on the chaotic. Our life is always interesting though, and presents endless opportunities for refinement, self-examination and creative expression. We are very lucky. A dear friend came to visit us during last year’s firing. She looked around at our filthy barefoot kids, as they joyfully and fearlessly jumped around on the rocks, and she kept shaking her head and saying “Such a rich environment!” This has become our in-joke. When things start to fall apart, Lee and I look at each other, and repeat “Such a rich environment!”. It seems like a good mantra for life on earth.
Working with clay is such a varied, dynamic endeavour, and in many ways is complementary to having a family. Lee and I both make our own pieces as individual artists, and we share the responsibility for Enso, our line of production pottery. Enso is hand-thrown, then fired in our electric kilns with glazes that result in bright primary colours, and a clean functional aesthetic.
Our wood-fired work is very different: the organic tactile surfaces of those pieces come from the long-process of stoking the fires of our huge, brick-built anagama-style kiln for many days. Our life is, in a way, rooted by the cyclical nature of wood-firing. The firing process is enacted seasonally, after much preparation. As is the case every early spring, we are dreaming of freeing the wood-splitter when the weather allows for it, and starting in on the nine cords of Tamarack and Hemlock logs that have been waiting for the first firing of the year, which will likely take place in June.
But for now, buried as New Brunswick still is, under several feet of snow, we are primarily working in the studio we built into one of the massive old barns (a converted turn-of-the century forge, actually)—filling Enso orders, and establishing a cache of our best work for the anagama which will be carefully packed when the snow melts.
Our studio is…a mess. I sometimes dream of having a pristine studio space, but that seems rather far-off right now. The entire foundation of the barn needs to be re-built, and the floor has given out in several places. Nonetheless, our wheels are there, we have a shelf or two, and a good-sized window. What more could a potter want?
Just loading the anagama kiln takes a week or more. A wood firing requires an incredible amount of time, energy, effort and risk. Many pieces do not survive the firing, and many more take several firings in order to fulfill the aesthetic and functional requirements for sale or use. Each firing is an experiment, a surprise, a spiritual undertaking. Every piece that comes out of the kiln has it’s own energy, attitude, and story. The firing process involves stoking the fire approximately every five minutes, twenty-four hours a day, for about eight days. Ideally, we always have a couple of people who stoke with us, and we generally take five hour shifts, in rotation.
Our kids have all experienced a firing within a couple of weeks of being born. Horus, our six-year old, loves to stoke the kiln during the early part of the firings. They have all grown up around fire. We don’t restrict our kids’ movements, or their interaction with the world of our home, and they negotiate with danger every day, climbing the trees and structures on our property as they want to, piling wood with us, and yes, playing with fire. I do think it is a rare thing that our kids are fortunate enough to have the freedom to learn their own intrinsic boundaries, experientially, based on real consequences. Hot fire; hard rocks; gravity.
Our house is over 100 years old. I see a lot of old structures in rural New Brunswick being torn down, and there is something very meaningful to me about keeping this house alive. Several families have brought up children here, which makes me feel connected to this place, related on many levels. Our own kids were born at home, two of them in this house. It is cold, and creaky, and it has, in some instances, tested our sanity and tenacity, but at this point, it’s loved.
Lee and I homeschool our kids, which for us at this point, involves only a minimal (but focused) amount of formalized “schooling”, and lots of room for creating with our hands, working in the studio, cooking, playing, getting dirty, and being out in the world. I think any kind of real education has more to do with creating a strong relationship than with amassing information. This parallels my own experience of working with clay. To “learn” how to make a vessel has little to do with concepts, and everything to do with developing a relationship to the material in a visceral, spatial sense—how the material responds to its environment, and the conditions we impose on it. Relationship is the framework for everything. The goal is always to discover, to remain open, to stay soft—rather than an attachment to a specific desired outcome.
Recently I have been thinking a lot about the idea of sacrifice. I am noticing how essential it is to clarify one’s own definition of, and relationship to, concepts like success, growth, and sacrifice. I am actively engaged in letting go of extraneous things, ideas, and preoccupations, to make space for that which is really important to me. I’m trying to look at my life with a wider scope: nurturing the wildness in my children, making art that I am proud of, caring for my body and my environment, trying to be more conscious about where I’m headed. What does it mean to be human? How does one live a good life? I think about these questions a lot, and I think the answers lie in the small movements and actions of the mundane, and in how we treat each other, and our home. The more time I spend moving, conversing, and making, (as opposed to sitting, staring at screens) the more I feel I am in service to my humanity, my kids, my community, myself. Always negotiating the balance.
Objects tend to dominate our lives to a large degree, and I wonder if we might be happier and more fulfilled if we surrounded ourselves with fewer items that have more soul. Cups and bowls are small things, insignificant maybe. And yet, hand-made tableware brings so much simple joy. It’s a little bit magical to be connected, through these humble objects, to another human being, to a moment in time, to the work of our hands.
Find out more about Lee and Yolande below: