by Peter Richards
A large brick kiln stands in the shed behind Frieder Hermann's restored 19th century farmhouse in Malpeque, Prince Edward Island. In the next room is a clay-encrusted potter's wheel and other tools of the trade. This is the workshop of North Shore Pottery.
For the last ten years on PEI, Frieder Hermann has been creating a pottery here; pottery which is immediately identifiable as uniquely his own. It is recognizable not because of its decoration or its shapes, but because of the unique colour and texture. "Earth tones" comes immediately to mind, but seems an inadequate description of the astonishing variety and depth of tones and textures in Frieder's pots, bowls and sculptures. Colours which seem to come from deep within the earth, and are rarely seen in much of contemporary ceramics.
One reason for this unique earthiness is Frieder's use of Island clay in his handmade clay mixtures. After being told that the Island clay was no good for pottery, Frieder (who suspected otherwise) found clay deposits in the Mont Carmel area which perfectly suited his purposes. The iron oxide in the clay, which makes the red colour, gives Frieder's pottery some of its distinct colouring.
But there are other factors which give Frieder's pots their unique look and feel. Frieder has been using a method called wood ash glazing whereby hardwood or softwood ash is used to give colour and finish to the glazes. "This is an experiment which is exciting me at the moment," says Frieder. He began last year by using beech and maple ash from the wood stove in the house. Encouraged by the results, he began using other species of wood native to the Island such as white birch, yellow birch, pin cherry, poplar and spruce. "Each species of tree gives a different colour," he explains. When the ash burns in the extreme high heat of the kiln, the minerals in the wood react chemically with the clay and the different colours result. A rough but very pleasant-to-the-touch texture also results. Recently Frieder has been collecting wood from old apple trees, and now he has an apple ash glaze in his palette.
Finally, Frieder chooses to carefully manipulate the firing process in the kiln. His kiln burns propane, and, during the firing, he carefully reduces the amount of oxygen in the kiln (called reduction firing). This process brings out the minerals and impurities in the clay. So the iron oxide loses its oxygen and leaves the iron behind to interact with the clay. The same thing happens with other minerals (magnesium or copper, for example) which may be found by chance in the clay or wood ash.
Using these techniques also satisfies Frieder's aesthetic sense. "I'm crazy about ancient civilizations and their pots, and primitive things." The result is a style of pottery which could indeed come from thousands of years ago.
Frieder Hermann's pottery has also come to the attention of Gil McElroy of the Confederation Centre of the Arts. He selected a number of Frieder's pieces to be included in "A Hundred Pounds of Clay," an exhibit now on display in the Concourse Gallery of the Confed' Centre.
Frieder came to Canada from Germany in 1959 and took a job at a Royal Bank in Montreal. His pottery career got its start a couple of years later when he began visiting a couple of potters he had read about in the newspaper. He continued at the bank till 1967 when he finally left to devote himself full time to making pottery and teaching others. He was very also very involved in the Montreal Potter's Club. By 1970, he had moved to rural Quebec, built a studio and begun producing pottery for the big Montreal shows. Prior to coming to PEI, he and his wife had lived on a farm in Lakefield, Ontario since 1981.
Since settling in Malpeque, he has established a successful tourist business. Frieder says that at this time of year his stock is pretty low, but he has some work for sale at the Island Crafts Shop in Charlottetown. And don't forget the exhibition at the Confed' Centre.