By Deirdre Dwyer
I first became aware of Iris Patterson’s pottery about eight years ago when I was having coffee and a date square at Dobbit’s Bakehouse in Musquodoboit Harbour. On the plate underneath my date square was a starfish. I quickly learned that the plate came from Iris’ Seastar Pottery studio in Seaford.
So it was a special coincidence for me when I learned that Iris had grown up sculpting and braiding bread dough in her father’s bakery in Ghent, Belgium, where she lived until she was twelve years old. “I was drawn to clay since I was little,” says Iris (pronounced ear-is), and one of her grade school teachers helped her learn pottery. In high school, she started pottery classes, and continued taking classes.
One potter and teacher, Carol Smeraldo, taught her much about the craft of the potter. Smeraldo also taught her to have confidence in herself. “She taught the group to say and believe ‘I am a potter,’” says Iris. Iris spent her teenage years in Brunswick, Maine, where the family sailed. More recently she did some diving. “I liked what I got to see: colours and silence,” says Iris.
Talking with Iris in her Causeway Road studio, we look out over Three Fathom Harbour, and she tells me about watching seals splashing in the water as she worked clay on the wheel. She offers me a field guide to ocean life, and I look up the red seastar, which grows to be twenty inches wide. She encountered this sea creature while vacationing and snorkeling with her young son, Gavin, in the Bahamas.
It was on this snorkeling trip that she found the inspiration for her work and the name for her pottery studio. “The vibrant colors of starfish and the way the seaweed and sea-fans sway in the water were just fascinating to me. I was hooked, and now enjoy making these things come alive on my work.”
Iris has three lines of pottery. The seascape line, with layers of blue, brown and white, is decorated with starfish and other sea creatures. A second line is teal, decorated with peacock feathers, which she once collected in Belgium. She decorates her third line with decals. She makes plates, bowls, mugs, wine cups, butter dishes, garlic jars, and even gallon-size fermenting jars for kimchee.
Iris also makes belly bowls. As she writes on her website, “The belly bowl is a ceramic bowl created from a pregnant belly around the third trimester of pregnancy. Every bowl has its own unique, one-of-a-kind shape. A bowl is such a beautiful, inviting, and comforting shape. It’s the perfect way to celebrate this special time in life.” Iris makes a cast of a woman’s belly from strips dipped in plaster. She rolls out a slab of clay and shapes it to the cast, adds a base or foot to the bowl, and fires and decorates it. “Usually the baby is born during the process of my making the bowl,” explains Iris, showing me a mug she made decorated with a baby’s footprint.
Iris Patterson sells her work at Heather & Teresa’s Country Store, The MacDonald House, and the DART Gallery. Check out her website for other locations where you can find her work: seastarpottery.com. Her Open House at the studio is December 2, 3 & 4.
Iris is also very much a pottery teacher, and offers small classes so that she can learn the students’ goals in an intimate setting. If you want to get on her waiting list, you can reach Iris at 827-3747 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her studio is at 386 Causeway Road in Seaforth.