Debra Olsen’s first gallery show in the South Cariboo has been months in the making, but her journey to learn and refine her craft has taken decades.
Olsen, who operates Fieldstone Pottery out of her 108 Mile Ranch home, has been interested in ceramics since she was a child and her mom first began tinkering with pottery as a hobby.
It wasn’t until the early ‘90s, however, when Olsen took some courses with a group of girlfriends that she had her “aha moment,” realizing that pottery was something she needed to pursue more seriously.
“I came home and said, ‘I can’t believe I have this stuff in my house. I gotta do this,” she recalled.
Olsen made a plan to dedicate herself full-time to pottery once her kids were grown and out of the house, and although it took another decade or so to get there, in 2013, she and her husband decided on a big change.
“We decided to sell the house and go to New Brunswick, where I attended the New Brunswick College of Craft and Design,” she said. “It was very scary… but we thought, what have we got to lose, really?”
Olsen spent two years studying with experts and “working my butt off,” she said, noting that even after completing her two-year Diploma in ceramics, there was still a lot to learn. Upon graduating, the Olsens spent a few years in Chilliwack before settling upon the South Cariboo as home base, where Debra set up a large studio overlooking 105 Mile Lake.
One of her specialties is Western Raku firing, a process by which the pieces of glazed pottery are heated up in the kiln until they are “lava hot,” then placed into metal bins filled with combustibles such as sawdust or newspaper. As the bin’s contents burst into flames, the lid is sealed shut which suffocates the fire and draws oxygen out of the glaze, resulting in unique, distressed-looking designs.
It’s a tricky process, one that takes a lot of prep and focus. With the drastic temperature change of the pots, Olsen is always mindful of the potential for disaster.
“That’s the great thing about going to school and learning some of this stuff, you realize it’s really nothing to panic about,” she said, noting that she only had one cup blow up in the kiln in her last batch of dozens of pieces. “As soon as you panic, things go sideways.”
Olsen has spent the past several months prepping for her first gallery showcase in 100 Mile House, entitled Art of Making, which runs June 18 to July 17 at the Parkside Art Gallery.
She plans to have a long table set up with several pieces on display, but realized in the planning process she would need some wall art to round out the gallery display. So, she reached out to fellow 108 artists Anita Edwards and Cindy Wickingstad to see if they would be interested in joining the show.
Edwards, whose medium of choice is oil paint, will have several of her forest landscapes on display – many of which are new and haven’t been seen before, she said.
“I’ve always done well with my gardens, and as much as I love them and the colours, this time I’ve kind of focused on the forest, and trying to find some more colour within the forest,” said Edwards, who has been painting for about 25 years.
Wickingstad, an acrylic and oil painter, said she was thrilled when Olsen asked her to participate. She describes her work as “contemporary and expressive, with bold colours.”
“I decided I would paint some still lifes to go with Debi’s pottery, which are primarily in acrylic,” Wickingstad said.
All three artists are hopeful the community will support this show and others at Parkside, now that COVID-19 restrictions are starting to ease.
This particular show – Art of Making – celebrates the joy of transforming a handful of clay or stretch of canvas into something beautiful and meaningful.
“The one thing about being a potter is that sometimes people have issues with whether or not it is art. There’s this sense that if it’s functional, it can’t be art,” Olsen said. “For me, I just want you to like it and take it home.”