“Deep In Clay”

DEEP RIVER POTTERS GUILD Celebrating 60 years – May 5th to Saturday, May 17th 2014.

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Pottery has a long tradition in the Ottawa Valley going back more than 2,500 years.

Indian Point on a summer night two and a half thousand years ago……

The sound of laughter, along with the smell of cooking mingles in the stillness of the warm evening. As the sun sets, children and dogs run out to the sandy spit to welcome the new arrivals of canoes and their paddlers – who are eager for food, camaderie and a place to camp for the night.

Later at a campfire, a pot gets accidentally dropped, and a woman exclaims in annoyance as she brushes the pottery shards into a pile near the base of a tree. She thinks, “At least I was able to offer the new arrivals food out of it before it broke. They still have another hard day of paddling tomorrow to get to Alumette Island with their trade goods of copper. What a long way they have come – all the way from Lake Superior! Fortunately it is summer and I will have time to dig clay and make and fire a replacement in our pit before we all leave Indian Point and disperse into small groups for the winter….”

In the autumn the leaves fall and cover the shards and fire pits and the layers build up, continuing over the centuries and millennia. Then one day in the spring of 1952, archaeologist Dr. A. Tarc and Deep River resident and amateur archaeologist Barry Mitchell begin digging at Indian Point and the pot emerges – after waiting over two millennia to tell its story.

Indian Point Pot

It was radiocarbon dated at 2500 years and is on display at the Museum of Civilization in Ottawa.

Deep River resident and amateur archaeologist, Barry Mitchell, discovered it in 1953 during excavations from 1952 to 1963 near Indian Point, Quebec, across from Deep River. This style of pottery is called Vinette I. It is characterized by its vase shape and simple impressed corded decoration made from impressing woven fabric or basketry into the clay surface.

The find was important not only because of its age and size but because enough shards were found to be able to reconstruct most of the pot. Pottery first appeared in this area during the Early Woodland (Ceramic) Period – from 3000 to 2000 years ago. Although it is not known which group of aboriginal people the maker belonged to, whether ancestors of the Algonquians or others, this type of corded pottery was first found in the Ohio Valley. It then made its way north and east during what is referred to as the Early Woodland (Ceramic) period (500 BC to 1000 AD) – which is characterized by the first appearance of pottery.

It was obvious that the makers of the pots were highly skilled. Although they were made by building up coils of clay, the walls were amazingly thin, especially considering the size of the pots.

The Indian Point pot is very elegant and beautifully executed – no lumpy flat bottomed beginner pot here! The makers also displayed a technical knowledge of their craft that was surprising. Even the earliest pots were made of tempered clay. That is, coarse granite grit, sand or sometimes grasses were deliberately mixed into the clay. This allowed the clay to remain more open as it dried, so it was less prone to cracking when fired in their pit fires. Once fired, the open porous nature of the clay and the rounded bottoms also allowed the pots to withstand the thermal shock of being heated on an open fire when cooking.

According to Barry Mitchell’s paper published in April 1966 in Anthropology Papers, National Museum of Canada, titled “Preliminary Report on a Woodland Site near Deep River, Ontario”, there were other finds in the Indian Point area as several refuse pits, hearths, and fire pits were excavated. Most of the finds relate to the Middle Woodland Period (500 – 1500 AD) with some late Woodland Iroquoians (after 1300 AD) and even indications of European contact. Because of the poor state of preservation of the artifacts – pottery shards, pieces of stone scrapers, refuse bone and shells from animals, – all of these would be unidentifiable to the untrained eye.

With the arrival of the Europeans and their trade goods of durable metal pots, pottery making as a craft mostly disappeared among the First Nations.

Celebrating 60 Years!

Pottery, apart from stone, is the most enduring of man made artifacts and much of what we know of our prehistory is due to the archaeological examination of pottery and what stories it can tell us. If mankind is still around, what will future archaeologists, centuries and millennia from today, think of the civilizations that lived in this area of the Ottawa Valley?

Over the 60 years of the Guild existence, over a thousand members have participated and tens of thousands – maybe even over a hundred thousand – of pots have been made. Many early, long time members, such as Jack White, Hank Clayton, Jean Simpson and Paddy Chapman have passed away, as well as others who joined in their retirement years such as Joe Carr. Others have moved away – some even continuing to work with clay. However we are fortunate that many of their pots remain to remind us of their creativity and enthusiasm for clay.

Garden Pottery

Clay is an easy method of making garden sculptures and pottery. However, unlike stone, it is not frost proof, especially planters that have soil in them. When the soil freezes it expands and often cracks the pot. Sculpture as well may crack even if it is made of stoneware clay, as it’s slight porosity is enough to start the cracking process once any water in the clay starts to freeze. The best way to care for your garden pottery is to bring it indoors for the winter.

Ceramic Drums

Clay is an easy way to make drums and other ceramic instruments. These drums were either thrown on the wheel or hand built using slabs of clay- a process that even beginners can readily learn. Once the drum is fired, goatskins softened in water are glued to the top. Each drum has a different tone – depending on the shape, thickness of the skin and other factors. For more on ceramic instruments see the book “From Mud to Music” which is in the Library.

Steamboat Teapot Workshop

Last winter the Guild hosted a workshop with Foymount area potter, Tim Story, who is well know for his teapots – many in the shape of steamships. This flotilla showcases some of those teapots made by Guild members at the workshop.

The Family that Clays Together Stays Together! Pottery Created by Our Junior Members

Kids and clay are naturals – their imagination can take them anywhere! The Guild offers family memberships with the stipulation that children must always be accompanied by their parents, as there are various hazards at the Guild, such as toxic materials and hot kilns.

Eva Gallagher

Eva has been making pottery off and on for over 40 years and started when the Guild was still housed in the former projectionist room in the now demolished lower part of the Community Center. She enjoys making functional as well sculptural pieces, often focusing on the decorating process to highlight issues and stories that interest her.

Mentorship with Wilno Potter Dan Hill

In the fall of 2013 several Deep River potters joined other potters from Renfrew and adjoining counties for an 8 month mentorship program with Dan Hill. With Dan’s guidance we honed our skills, sharpened our critical eye and developed new work – all to better continue our journey with clay. Thanks Dan for an inspirational journey!

Amy Doole – Maynooth
Lynn Dunn – Deep River
Eva Gallagher – Deep River
Karen Gray – Maynooth
Raandi King – Madonna House, Combermere
Alison Packer – Deep River
Heather Pentney – Deep River
Maureen Ray – Madonna House, Combermere

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