Canoe Culture


Canoe Culture – an Exchange Exhibition

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By Eva Gallagher

What happens when the oldest potters’ guild in Canada meets with the newest? The Canoe Culture collaborative project! In 2014 the Deep River Potters Guild (1954) was contacted by Dermot Wilson, a North Bay artist, as he wanted to share with us his great news. They had just formed a potters’ guild in North Bay! And would we be interested in collaborating on a series of workshops and exhibits? He successfully applied for an Ontario Arts Council grant to help pay for the project and the Canoe Culture project was born.

Its theme is based on the historic Ottawa River to North Bay water transportation route first used by the First Nations people and then by Champlain and the voyageurs who followed in the wake of their paddle path.

The project brought together ceramic artists from our two communities. How does the water route and history shape our vision of our sense of place? What do we see and feel when we look out over the river, when we go to the beach, or go out in our boats?

The year-long project included a series of pottery workshops. Last spring, North Bay potter Keith Campbell, gave a workshop in Deep River and Eva Gallagher, Ligita Gulens and Marg Killey reciprocated in North Bay, exchanging ideas, techniques and enthusiasm.

The project culminated with two month-long exhibitions of ceramic works created especially for this project The exhibits were juried by Pat Stamp, a North Bay potter, Cathy Walsh, a Deep River artist and retired Mackenzie High School art teacher and Dermot Wilson. The 16 artist show, 7 from North Bay and 9 from Deep River, opened in North Bay in mid November and now will be showing in the Program Room of the Deep River Public Library from Thursday March 31 to Tuesday April 26.

Come out to meet the artists at the opening reception on Thursday April 7 from 7 to 9 pm. There will be musical entertainment and refreshments to celebrate. And come to see how this historic waterway has inspired two diverse groups of potters, who shared a common theme, a theme familiar to many of us – the historic Ottawa River to North Bay canoe route.

The Artists

Alison Packer

Artist Statement

It was the impenetrable nature of the northern forests which brought the canoe into being. The canoe was created from the trees to escape the grasp of the trees. Between this tension of the forest and the craft came always the constant movement of the river.
The canoe culture of northern Ontario was born therefore of these things and has made the human history of this valley possible.

As primarily a wheel throwing functional potter, I have taken this opportunity to try something different.  Working with soft slabs, pushing and pulling, adding and subtracting, two wall plaques came into being to explore my ideas.


About eight years ago I wandered by chance into the Deep River Potters Guild and discovered the wonderful world of clay.  The feeling of touching and molding, spinning and shaping, was overwhelming and I became obsessed.  Since that time I have had great pleasure in making functional pottery for people to enjoy.

My work can be purchased at the Valley Artisans Co-op in Deep River.

Betty Ackroyd

Artist Statement

The Voyageurs were an important part of Canadian water transportation history during the fur trade in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Their work was gruelling, paddling at a rate of 1 stroke per second for 14 hours per day.  They preferred manoeuvring difficult rapids if possible, to avoid having to portage overland where each man would have to carry two or more 90 pound bundles, plus a water-logged canoe, weighing approximately 400 pounds.  Many of the Voyageurs died along the way.

I wanted my sculpture to convey the strong and hardy physical aspects of the Voyageur, but also the good-natured, jovial personality that was necessary in order to endure the rugged demands of their work.


I was born in Barrie, Ontario in 1947.  I grew up in North Bay, Ontario, and recently moved back after living for 48 years in Southern Ontario.

I am a self-taught artist who works in fine art painting, mixed media, sculpture and ceramics. I am influenced by nature and the beauty of the many lakes around Northern Ontario.   My sculptures reflect the character, humour and soul that I see in the human face.

I have been mentored by Aleid Uhl, Keith Campbell, Pat Stamp and Dermot Wilson.

Cheryl Brabant

Artist Statement

The most important thing to me about the Ottawa River is….fishing of course!

Fishing is getting out of the house with hubby Andre, and the river is so relaxing (for the most part).  We have caught all of the fish we used in my projects.  I roll out the clay, Andre cleans the fish, then they are pressed firmly into the clay.  The pieces then get fired.  I then brush on underglaze  and then they are fired once again.


I have lived in Deep River all of my life, except for the two years I attended St Lawrence College in Kingston, Ontario where I majored in the photography program through their Fine Arts Program.

I attended the Deep River craft fair in 2009 where Ligita Gulens was demonstrating throwing on the potter’s wheel. This inspired me to join the Deep River Potters’ Guild and I have been having fun ever since. .

My work can be purchased at the Valley Artisans Co-op in Deep River.

Edie English

Artist Statement

For me the river is a haven of peace and a place to allow my spirit to expand.  When I began to consider how best to express my feelings about the Canoe Culture Project, I thought about the river and its history and I felt it important to use my work to tell the story that is not often told; to honour what is not often honoured.  For me, it is imperative to keep in mind that long before Europeans “discovered” the river and its adjacent lands, the First Nations peoples inhabited the river and considered it their own.  Their relationship with the river was, and remains, a sacred one.

Within the legends of the Algonquin, Ottawa, Ojibway, (and other) tribes the spirit Nokomis is, among other things, the caretaker of the rivers and is responsible for keeping them full of water and wildlife.  Nokomis means “Wise Woman” or “Grandmother” and is closely related to or seen as, the earth goddess or “mother –earth”.

Eva Gallagher

Artist Statement:

My work for this exhibit has been inspired by the Ottawa River, the fur trade and the design of the “made beaver” – the stretched beaver pelt dried on a wooden frame made by bending and lashing together branches into a circle.

Over four hundred years have passed since the first Europeans traveled the Ottawa by canoe to North Bay, driven at first by a search for a route to China and then for furs, especially beaver pelts. For two hundred years the “made beaver” was the “currency” in trading with First Nation inhabitants.

On the shores of the Ottawa one can find chewed off beaver sticks and stones, all beautifully weathered and I have incorporated them into another piece as a tribute to the voyageurs who risked their lives running the treacherous, rocky rapids to bring their beaver pelts to Montreal

As Deep River is home to Canada’s nuclear pioneers, the Ottawa has seen the progression of ideas and knowledge from 10,000 years to the present – from the hunter-gathers that first came here after the retreat of the glaciers to today when scientists work with one of the most important discoveries known to man – nuclear fission.


A Raku course offered in Deep River in 1968 sparked my interest in ceramics. Over the years I have taken many courses and workshops to improve my skills – most recently a year long mentorship with U.S. potter Steven Hill (2009), a Fusion mentorship with Keith Campbell (2013) and another mentorship with Wilno potter Dan Hill (2014). I fire either in the electric or gas kilns at the Deep River Potters’ Guild or in my wood-fired kiln that I built on our “farm” in “The Newfoundout” in the Opeongo Mountains.

I especially enjoy the decorating part of the ceramic process – either through manipulation of the clay or through surface decoration. I continually experiment with new techniques and glazes so the style of both my functional and decorative work continues to evolve.

My work can be purchased at the Valley Artisans Co-op in Deep River.

I have exhibited in several group shows, most recently in 2012 with Dan Hill and Tim Storey at the South of 60 Gallery in Barry’s Bay, in 2013 in the “Four Friends, Four Perspectives” in Deep River as well as in “An Odyssey in Clay” in North Bay and in 2014 in “Deep in Clay”, the Deep River Potters Guild 60th anniversary show in Deep River.

Glenda Mikawa

Artist Statement

When a potter first touches clay, a moment of quiet possibility pervades.
Glenda Mikawa has found the rawness of nature and the struggle for survival found in our early explorers.  Carving into clay echoes the very slash of paddle into water, of cutting through to the essential struggle between canoe and water: voyageur against the elements.


Glenda’s porcelain creations are thrown on the wheel or done in relief. Her introduction to clay began under the guidance of  Mizuno san, a master potter in the Arigasa Pottery School in Gunma, Japan.  Upon returning to Canada she continued her studies at Canadore College in the Continuing Education program under Keith Campbell, Pat Stamp and Cindy Geisler.

She was accepted into the year long Fusion’s Mentorship Program which was mentored by Keith Campbell. Glenda is currently involved  in the North Bay and Area Pottery Guild  and she also works in her own studio.

Much of her pottery and water colour paintings reflect the many years of living and immersing herself in the Japanese culture and she has exhibited in various shows in North Bay.

Karen Gray

Artist Statement

Recently I began using a technique called Sgraffito – Italian for “to scratch”.  I apply a coat of under glaze to leather hard pottery, then draw a design on it and the final step is to scratch away the under glaze, revealing the desired design.  Depending on the piece, another layer of under glaze may be painted by hand onto the design.

The images carved are reflective of the Canadian Shield are I live in:  windswept pine trees, canoe bows, ravens, sunflowers and poppies.  I use stoneware clay, fired in an electric kiln to cone 6.


After spending a few Sunday afternoons in a friend’s pottery studio I decided to enroll in the ceramics course at the Haliburton School of Art.  I had no pottery experience prior to these enjoyable Sunday afternoons.

Upon graduating from the course I returned to my full time job and dabbled in pottery as a hobby.  I participated in local craft shows and two seasons at the local farmer’s market.  In 2008 I purchased a house that was built in the 1890s and spent 6 months renovating it until it became my pottery studio and gallery.  It opened in May 2009.  For the past 7 years I have been making pottery full time, year round.

I recently moved my studio from Maynooth to Huntsville.

Keith Campbell

Artist Statement

For the exhibition “Canoe Culture: An Exchange Exhibition” I created work that represents historic events that have added to the history of our communities. One of the works is a full size porcelain paddle called “Artifact: The Samuel De Champlain Paddle”. Champlain visited our area at least four times which means we have a history together. It was the basis for the fur trade and is one of the reasons Canada became a productive country.


Keith Campbell has exhibited his works in over 285 Exhibitions nationally and internationally. He has received 46 awards/honours including being inducted into the Niagara Falls Arts & Culture Wall of Fame, a Lifetime Achievement Award from CBACH, The John and Barbara Mather Award for Lifetime Achievement from Craft Ontario.

Keith was a finalist in the Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts in 2010 & 2014. Keith was also presented with Canada’s 125th Commemorative Anniversary Medal as well as the title “Artist in Resident Emeritus” from Canadore College in North Bay. His works are included in numerous collections including the Archives of Ontario, The Canadian Museum of History and the Royal Ontario Museum.

Ligita Gulens

Artist Statement

Primarily, I make functional pottery on the wheel; hand-building and sculptural work has not been of much interest or prominence in my work. When the challenge of participating in the Canoe Project with the Deep River and North Bay Potters’ Guilds presented itself, my thoughts quickly turned to: “How can I do this on the wheel?”

Several years ago I participated in a workshop with Neil Patterson, and his methods immediately came to mind—“I can make a basic canoe shape on the wheel!” I threw 2 cones, and used the smaller cone to form the traditional canoe. This canoe is stained with natural materials: berry juices, beet juice, coffee, and tea – in keeping with native culture.

The larger cone was cut and re-assembled in a “canoe-basket” form that incorporated a weave pattern, patterns also being part of the native culture. This “canoe-basket” alludes to the use of baskets and pottery, vessels formed by natives to store and transport goods. I also work with stained glass, and thus it was natural to incorporate waves and water made from “fused glass”.


I have been interested in pottery since attending an evening pottery class in 1972. Upon arriving in Deep River in 1973, I was happy to join the Potters’ Guild, and have been a member ever since. I am self-taught, with help from friends and learning by participation in workshops with professional potters. I have updated my knowledge and skills by attending summer courses at various arts programs, primarily at Canadore  College’s Artsperience. As a member of Fusion, I find their annual conference to be extremely motivating, stimulating and rewarding.

For a change during the winter months, I create original designs in stained glass, including window panels. All my work is sold exclusively at the Valley Artisans Co-op in Deep River.

Marg Killey

Artist Statement

When the European immigrants were introduced to the canoe by the people of North America four hundred years ago, they realized its value as a portable, versatile vessel for their exploration, exploitation, settlement and trade. They used the canoe to make their way north and west up the St. Lawrence, Ottawa and French Rivers and beyond.

Since its acquisition, the canoe has undergone many transformations in size, shape and material, to meet the needs of its users. It has been birch bark, wood and canvas, aluminum, fiber glass, various plastics and resins, carbon fiber and now clay.

This piece depicts the Turtle, burdened by a modern canoe loaded with tools and the products of settlement and industry of this wave of immigration, as it made its way north and west, leaving a permanent mark in its wake.


Marg Killey became a member of the Deep River Potters Guild in 1979 and has been an active member ever since, including serving on the executive in various positions.  She set up her own studio at home in the mid 1980’s and for many years she spearheaded the Deep River Summerfest raku firings for the public and she continues to teach and encourage new students at the guild.

In addition to learning so much from fellow guild members, as a member of Fusion, she attended conferences and educational workshops throughout Ontario for over thirty years. At Canadore College she completed a number of technical, design and installation courses.

She sold her work locally through The Valley Artisans for eighteen years, and her work has been displayed in a number of galleries throughout Ontario. Her work is now included in private collections in a number of countries.

She prefers the freedom of hand building, taking inspiration from nature, and man made surfaces. Her work frequently combines a natural image on a surface inspired by metal, leather, wood or others.  Although she does make functional glazed work, her favourite finish is polished wax on clay which allows the texture, fine detail and colour of the clay to be visible.

Mary Lahaie

Artist Statement

This project is not just about the canoe but also about the way living on the water here in Northern Ontario makes me feel.

My piece is called “Log Cabin”. I tried to evoke the comfortable, quiet feeling of the trees surrounding the cabin with the canoe close by.

I want my work to be visually pleasing and yet completely functional so I have chosen food safe underglazes and glazes fired to cone six on stoneware. My goal is to make an attractive pottery product that people can use and enjoy every day.


Since I retiring in 2009, I have been able to dedicate my creative self to pottery. Previously I had a career as a registered nurse and a registered cardiology technologist.

Peter Brewster

Artist Statement

The play of light over a canoe in the sun has always fascinated artists.  The canoe has provided transportation in this area for thousands of years and became the vessel of choice during the fur trade.  Partaking in this canoe culture is part of life in the Ottawa Valley to this day.  Most houses in town store a canoe in either their garage rafters or yard.

My interest in the canoe form aligns with the theme of the project.  I developed a flexible form to hold the thin clay walls until the pot is leather hard. Then it is ready for final shaping and for the addition of supports to allow glazing of the completed form.    


I have been a member of the Deep River Potters Guild for the past three years, and enjoy making hand built vessels for my own use.

I moved to Deep River in 1979 to work at AECL. With a love of the outdoors, I have participated in canoe tripping and especially whitewater paddling, in Renfrew county and beyond.    

Rosemary Thomas

Artist Statement

Rosemary’s work is both functional and decorative.  She uses underglazes, coloured slips  and carving to enhance the fine detail and clean lines of her work. She is influenced by her love of the natural world and the desire to walk gently on the earth.


Rosemary Thomas has been a professional potter for almost 30 years.  She began her career working as an apprentice at Rockcliffe Pottery in Commanda, Ontario and later attended Canadore College in North Bay.  While at Canadore Rosemary became the volunteer studio technician and was eventually hired by the College to fill this role. Rosemary has expanded her pottery skills by attending conferences and workshops in both Canada and the US.

Her daughter Tracy Thomas is an accomplished potter in southern California and the mother daughter duo enjoy travelling and sharing their mutual love of clay.

Rosemary is a founding member of Art on Main, downtown artists’ collective in North Bay.

Rui Xu

Artist Statement

I am interested in hand-building and really enjoy spending time on it. This ceramic wall plate was inspired by paddles, which are not only tools that make canoes move, but to me have much more meaning to them.

We live in a country with so much history tied to the canoe.  Over thousands of years, people from generation to generation paddled the Ottawa River for fishing, for transportation and also for pleasure. Today, we paddle through the history of the Ottawa River to recognize the pride of the paddle.


Rui Xu joined the Guild in Deep River a year and a half ago and she is still a learner in the art and craft of pottery. She is interested in hand-building and decorating, often using underglazes and stencils on her pieces. Although an engineer by vocation, her avocation has become pottery. In 2014 she took part in the Deep River Potters’ Guild 60th Anniversary exhibit “Deep in Clay”.

Sue Huang

Artist Statement

I love clay for its plasticity and complexity and for offering me the endless invitation to experiment with shapes, surfaces, and firing processes.


Pottery has been the traditional skills of my Chinese ancestors, but I had never experienced the exciting moments of waiting for a pot to emerge from a kiln until I joined the Deep River Potters’ Guild four years ago.  And now I can’t wait to get to the Guild every day!