Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Secret Life of Pottery
 - Hedwig Koleszar


As published by The BUZZ - November 1998
The Secret Life of Pottery


Profile: Hedwig Koleszar

by Jane Ledwell

From her workshop on the Gairloch Road, near Belfast, potter Hedwig Koleszar tells the story of a Torontonian friend who visited an aunt in New Zealand and was surprised to stumble across a lamp Hedwig had sold to her aunt without ever knowing the connection with her friend. Often, Hedwig hears stories about her pottery. "People are very appreciative," she says. "They tell you where they are going to put your pottery. Then they come back the next year to tell you where it is."

Hedwig Koleszar's pottery graces houses around the world. Her customers are attracted to her distinctive pottery's clean, simple shapes and spare, beautiful decoration: pale reds and greens and dark blues evoke birds and reeds, sprays of flowers, and the occasional dragon in smooth-gestured, near-transparent brush strokes inspired by Japanese art.

Hedwig herself lived in houses in several parts of the world before finding her home on PEI. Born in Hungary, she moved to Toronto as a child, and then to Quebec as a young adult. A Quebec neighbour was a potter, and watching him work, she knew immediately that she wanted to learn the craft. Twenty years ago, she visited friends on PEI, fell in love with the province, and moved here soon after and began to make pottery. Her career has developed here, as she learned her techniques from books, from hard experience, and from friends and fellow Island potters.

While learning pottery independently helped Hedwig avoid "falling into a rigid mould," she admits, "There wasn't as much experimentation as if you went to school and had more time and freedom." When she experiments now, Hedwig works on sculptures: one a flower-bordered clock with the clock face imposed on the face in the sun, with a woman holding the sun in her bare palm. She says, "Action interests me," and is being inspired by primitive art. She has made personalized pottery; in these pieces, instead of people telling her stories about her pottery, her pottery tells the story. In one bowl, she painted the story of a friend's house and family. For a wedding gift, she painted a bowl with an image from a dream: "Two tiny people in a boat with a tiny sail. On a windy day. In a small cove, with waves furling around them."

In the future, we can expect more of the simple, beautiful pieces she is known for, traditional pots, bowls, and vases and less traditional ikebana (small wide-lipped bowls for spare flower arrangements with "about two flowers and a leaf"). We may see experiments with brighter colours than are typically found in PEI pottery's subdued palette. As Hedwig notes, the only season the island's natural palette really explodes is in the autumn, when potters are busy preparing for Christmas craft shows and when Hedwig herself, who is a "huge gardener," is "torn between shop and garden."

These days, Hedwig prepares for the PEI Crafts Council Christmas Craft Fair and looks forward to winter, when she will, "Sit in the house with feet up, by the stove, reading books." What books? "Anything from the library, from philosophy to murder mysteries." She admits she "chooses books by their covers," and especially likes "adventure." After twenty years, she is still learning, still collecting stories. In her pottery, it shows.

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