THUNDER BAY, ON --- May 22, 2010 --- I spent Friday afternoon at the studio of Allan Moon taking pictures and talking about his 30 years as an active potter. In Thunder Bay there are three full time potters like himself. Allan is quick to credit Kim Alexander and Fritz Lehnberg as colleagues.
If you want to learn pottery, he would suggest Jack Black a retired art teacher, Noel Keag, Edie Hashigushi and once again Fritz Lehnberg. Teaching is something that does not agree with Allan’s make-up, but he is happy to pass that task on to others who do a good job.
Pottery goes back in time almost as far as mankind itself. Basic earthen-ware pots were used by Native American Indian long before the white man showed up pottery is found in all cultures.
Earthen ware pots were used for cooking in campfires, larger pots were used to store foods collected at harvest or times of plenty. In Greek and Roman times Amphora were used to transport olive oil and wine. Pottery was all about practicality. Allan Moon feels strongly about the need to produce a serviceable piece. Thus you won’t find and artistically creative works in his studio. “My home is full of enough stuff now”.
At work in his studio, Allan begins to shape a weighted piece of wet clay into a bowl. Thirty years at the potters helps Allan shape the clay very quickly. Soon the bowl takes shape and is separated from the lump of clay and set aside to air dry. “The trick is to make a set of bowls that are more or less the same”. As we talk a few more bowls are fashioned.
There are many things that can happen to a piece of pottery that will cause the piece to self destruct. Having good consistent clay is Allan Moon’s starting point. Every two or three years he will order three or four tonnes of potting clay from a supplier in Toronto.
This is a blended clay mixture that he has been using for his thirty years as a potter.
“When you form a piece on the potter’s wheel you know it will shrink”, he says, “you have to allow for the shrinkage”. Once the piece leaves the potter’s wheel they are set aside to air dry. If the piece needs a handle such as a coffee mug, then these are added after the mug part is part dried. Also at this stage Allan will trim excess clay from the work and make sure the bottoms are flat, and that the piece is well formed.
The next step is the decoration of the pieces. I was surprised that the colour of the unfired decorations is completely different from the piece that comes out of the kiln. Once the piece is decorated a special glazing is applied to the work, in the kiln this will turn to a silica glass which finishes the work and makes it waterproof. “It is important that the glazing matches the clay you use” he says, “If not the glazing will contract at a different rate than the pottery as it cools, it will produce a spackled appearance of simply crack and fall off”. There are obvious challenges in Allan Moon’s quest to produce a serviceable piece.
A little innovation never hurts either. Allan’s party plate has a special notch in the plate to hold a wine glass, which frees up a hand to enjoy your host’s canapés.
Professional development for a potter usually means packing your bag and going to work for several weeks in another studio. After making some international queries he was invited to work in Mr. Kim’s studio in Korea in 2005. When the Korean National Pottery Festival wanted to add some international content, Allan Moon was invited to return to Korea to represent Canada at that Festival in 2006 and 2007. From the people he met in Korea, Allan returned the favour and hosted a Korean potter in his studio this past winter. The ability to work with another master potter, to share and develop new ideas keeps his passion about pottery fresh.
As a production potter, Allan needs to constantly be producing pottery. This has developed his skill at being a consistent potter. The time spent on exchanges with other studios allows him to return home with new ideas. One look at the finished works in his studio suggests that no substandard piece ever leaves his studio. “I like to warrantee my work for a year from purchase”, he says “should something happen to it I simply replace the piece.”
The art of Allan Moon is the pottery he produces, simple tasteful, works of excellence that will make their owners proud to have and use. They are meant to be used. If you want cheap, go to Wal-Mart, but for dining ware with flare you can select your pieces of pottery from Moon’s collection at the Fireweed gift shop on Algoma Street.
Since moving to Thunder Bay from Toronto in 1977, Allan has been a member of the Thunder Bay Potters Guild. The potter guild offers supports and encouragement for potters of all ages. Watch for their Spring Pottery Fair which will be held at the West Arthur Community Centre Saturday June 19th, 2010. The exhibition will be held from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. In addition to pottery sales there will be activities for children and demonstrations for kids from age 9 to 90.