ANN RANDERAAD POTTERY, ALTON MILL ARTS CENTRE
POTTER, FARMER, TEACHER
When you’re at the pottery wheel, Ann tells us, that’s the part people like the most, the process, the getting there, the shaping. Our conversation was a lot like being at that wheel, bouncing from the hard-won joys of farm life, to llamas as security guards, to the parallels between artists and famers. And at the end, we think, something pretty inspiring took shape.
So, there’s a farm in your life, too.
Yes, it’s a very mixed farm. Everything from llamas, ducks, peacocks, lambs, even lemurs. But it’s not our main business: we run a landscaping business as well, so between my husband and I we’ve got a lot under our belt.
You really have to diversify, I’m hearing that from everyone.
I think that’s a big commonality in the region. We have a lot of lambs being born right now (April), but there’s a nice match between landscaping and farming because if you can get the animals born in the spring, the two businesses compliment each other. The landscaping takes over when the animals are in the field and are less hands-on.
Are the llamas for wool?
No, we actually have them for predator control! We have a lot of coyotes in our area, and the llamas are really good at chasing the coyotes away, they make a very high-pitched noise, and the coyotes tend to leave the lambs alone if the llamas are with them.
And who takes care of all these animals?
My husband takes after everything except for the lemurs.
And he does the landscaping as well.
(Laughs) Yes, I was going to say he’s superhuman.
It seems there’s a very simple pleasure in work out here.
There is. Find what you love to do and it won’t seem like work at all. Farmers as a whole fit into that category, it’s not a job it’s a demanding lifestyle, so you have to love what you do or you wouldn’t be doing it.
Did the pottery happen before the farming?
I’d say they happened at the same time. I grew up on a farm as well, practically next door. Then I went into illustration after high school, but when I realized that illustration wasn’t being out in the fields painting wildflowers, that you actually have to sit indoors all day at a drafting board… I realized that I wanted to be outdoors, and began studying landscaping, and took up pottery as a hobby.
The pictures of you on your website are all outdoors.
I take my wheel outdoors often in the summer. If you go outdoors you have the sun or wind drying your pots too quickly, it’s an uncontrolled environment but I do love it outdoors.
It inspires you in a way?
It brings as much harmony to the piece as pottery does to me.
So making art outdoors isn’t just for painters.
Absolutely. I do sculptures and (raku) firings as well, which need to be outdoors, there’s an open fire… the bottom line is we don’t do that indoors! (laughs)
So… if you really are hardcore, then, let’s say, mid-February: are you outdoors with the fire?
(Laughs) Yes! I do my firing in the winter as well, it’s really nice to be able to take the pieces out of the reduction chamber and into the snowbank, which is a unique way to cool your pots down evenly. It’s really neat to see, lots of steam coming off.
Some artists tell me they like how the natural environment impacts their work. But what about the opposite: what effect does having a lot of artists up here have?
When I was thinking about what’s so great about this area and the art, it’s not just the art, it’s that all the other artists in this area creates a great network of artists and a great support of the arts. Art is really celebrated, we’ve got such an appreciation by locals as well as tourists. There’s no elitist sense, they can see the artist working hard, gathering inspiration, and turning it into something no matter their medium.
Anybody who can pull what a farmer can out of the land is an artist in a way.
Absolutely. Farmers are known for piecing things together with a piece of twine, so there’s such an eclectic mix of people in this region and each is strong in their own right. And I think the parallel between artists and farmers is creating something from nothing, and from the earth. That’s another way I suspect we relate to one another.
Do local materials find their way into the stuff you make?
It’s a romantic notion, to be sure, but to be able to utilize the clay from the ground you actually would need to do a whole set of tests to determine the properties the clay would have, its elasticity, firing temperature, and then you’d need to create the glazes to match that, so it’s not that simple. Also, any impurities in the clay could cause pieces to explode in the kiln. But it’s not to say that you can’t, we actually have a new term in the pottery world called “wild clay”, clay that you get from the ground, not processed in a factory environment. I’d like to start using it painted over the piece you’ve just finished, and once in the kiln it’s baked forever into the base clay.
Its something on my to-do list. I’m doing a lot of wood-firing, where I fire pieces with wood instead of the more common electric or gas. It’s a more hands-on process, because pottery is not just about the finished process but also about the love of doing. So wood-firing makes you slow down and appreciate what you’re doing. And the ash that comes through lofts through the kiln as it’s firing up, and those soft ash deposits will come onto your pots and change the colour and finish of your clay.
That’s real, the real wood. Our new motto for the Headwaters is actually, Where Ontario gets real.
I like that reaction!
I’m going to say that’s how we’ve been living for a long time. Its everything we’ve been talking about: down to earth, straightforward, honest, simple way of living.
Being true to yourself, to the land, just appreciating and respecting the land we’ve got.
Do your workshops lure a wide range of people?
Generally yes, but due to the fact that you will be sticking your hands in a bunch of mud you generally get people who think of themselves as hands-on, and most are. It’s no different than people who want to acquire a skill like playing the guitar, so generally speaking it’s people who want to be more connected, and basically want to try a thing that tends to be on peoples’ bucket lists.
But it’s not the end result that they’re after, it’s what they perceive the process to be, and in most cases they don’t know the process. Most people know very little about pottery outside the fact that it looks exciting, it has a validity about it, the same way that flickering flames and water motion does. So people are often drawn to it because of that. You can take this blob of earth and mould it into something. It’s a sense of magic.