Despite years of experience as an artisan, Alison Dikland never plans, weighs or measures her creations. The result? Unique works of art.
Photo: Alison Dikland
A passion for pottery
I was in Grade 4 when my love for pottery bloomed. I attended a small rural school where sometimes we were fortunate to have special events. I remember baking a cake in the staff room with our French teacher and singing with my best friend in the talent contests. What stayed closest to my heart, though, was the time we signed up for a special class. I listened with exhilaration as my teacher recited the options. When pottery was mentioned, I threw up my hand in hopes that I would be one of the chosen. I was thrilled to hear I was selected—I was going to create a masterpiece!
Racing home, I shouted to my mother, “I need things to make clay prints, Mom!” Once my breathing settled and she understood what I was talking about, she sent me to her sewing basket: a large wooden contraption that opened on two sides, then opened even further on zigzag hinges when the lid was pulled. Layers and layers of buttons of all shapes, sizes and patterns lay in organized trays. I chose an assortment to bring to school. I was thrilled to have a unique collection of buttons with different textures to press into the clay.
I made my first clay pot that year. I looked at the buttons, trying to decide which one to use to decorate my dish. After much thought, I chose a button with a raised top and pressed it into the bottom of the dish. I carefully removed the button and inspected the result; the pattern on the button created a flower in the bottom of my dish. To finish it off, I used a wooden stick to make fluted edges on the rim of the pot. Next the dish was fired, and I glazed it brown—my mother’s favourite colour. I remember carefully packing it into my bag to bring home to my mom. She was delighted and kept it for years on a shelf by the kitchen window.
A few years ago, I met a woman who made lovely pottery. I asked if she would teach me how to use a pottery wheel. A friendship blossomed between us and my love for pottery bloomed once again. Eventually, she said I was ready to go on my own; she sold me her old wheel and sent me on my way. My husband and I set up a pottery studio in our bunkie (a small, prefab cottage).
I couldn’t wait to get my hands, arms and everything else in the room dirty. As I created, I continued to make mistakes and to learn. I love how the clay feels as it decides what it will become. Nothing I form is planned, measured or weighed. I take a chunk of clay, knead it, pat it and toss it on the wheel. Sometimes it wants to be a bowl, sometimes a mug, and other times, when it looks like the sides will cave in, I turn it into something unique.
My studio is my oasis and making pottery is my escape from everyday pressures. There are many steps to making a completed dish: kneading, forming on the wheel or by hand, drying, trimming, bisquing, sanding, waxing, glazing—I hand-paint the glazes so each piece is unique—firing again and most importantly, signing it. I use a dragonfly ring that my daughter gave me as my signature.
The steps involved make me appreciate the art, creativity and hard work involved in making each piece. I am glad that, as a young girl, I discovered the excitement that led to the passion for pottery I have today.
Take a peek at this Canadian’s impressive antique collection!