The Ice House Gallery
Grace Jollymore Joyce Art Centre
October 9 – 31, 2021
It can be disheartening, how much the ongoing (seemingly interminable!) pandemic has distorted our expectations for what we can see and do in Atlantic Canada. A persistent theme of many of the recent posts in Billie has been the sheer pleasure people are taking in actually getting out, in experiencing something in real space, outside of whatever four walls we have spent too much time in over the past eighteen months or so.
We’re mostly open across the region, it’s true, but galleries and other venues will confirm that visitors are still hesitant. Numbers are down as we all tentatively try to make sense of our new normal, for however long that normalcy lasts, given all the rumblings of a possible fifth wave of covid this fall.
I choose to remain optimistic, though, to hold onto the feeling of freedom I had several weeks ago as I got into my car to drive to Tatamagouche, just over an hour away from where I live on the outskirts of Halifax, to visit an exhibition that, incongruously it seemed, purported to be a survey of contemporary Maritime ceramics, the type of project that no major public gallery has attempted in a few decades.
It felt liberating to be crossing the province, and it was with real pleasure that I saw that Unified Earth lived up to its billing: here, indeed, was a survey of some of the best ceramics artists in the region, along with younger or lesser known artists who’s work had yet to become known to me. Walter Ostrom, Jim Smith, Joan Bruneau, Isako Suzuki, Neill Forrest, Judy Blake, Maya Padrov and Deb Kuzyk and Ray Mackie of Lucky Rabbit Pottery were some of the thirty-six potters in this surprising exhibition curated by Brandt Eisner. The show was in the Ice House Gallery, run b y Marshall Feit, the operations manager of the Grace Jollymore Joyce Arts Centre in the Tatamagouche Creamery complex, a cluster of small venues and presentation spaces built around the historic Tatamagouche Creamery. The Grace is a small gem, with a shop and lobby space that doubles as the Ice House Gallery and an intimate performance venue that will seat a few hundred people (at pre-covid numbers). The Ice House Gallery programs shows on an almost monthly basis, from solo projects and thematic group shows to wildly ambitious projects such as Unified Earth, a look at what the Maritime ceramics scene is about these days.
And what is it about? Based on this show I would say that it is about ambition, a trait shared by Eisner and Feit, and by the sheer existence of the Grace. The works that were on view in Unified Earth ranged from exquisite functional pottery to sculptural objects that pushed the limits of what is possible in ceramic art. It’s heartening to see that the work of surveying a scene, of deciding to gather the best and brightest and then showcasing those decisions, is being carried out by a small community-based organization with little public funding, and certainly with few resources beyond the generosity of artists and the boundless energy of its staff and volunteers.
As we shake off our pandemic torpor and venture out more and more (vaccinated, masked and social-distanced, please!), I can think of few places more worth a visit than Tatamagouche and the Grace, to see what ambitious project the Ice House Gallery is up to next.