By Dee Dwyer
Blue Lagoon, Snapdragon, Titanic Wave, and Indigo Float--these are only some of the names of the glazes on the studio shelf of Jo-Ann Shaw, an extraordinary potter, sculptor, and miniaturist who lives in an old farmhouse on the Meagher’s Grant Road. In a recent interview at her studio, she showed me menageries of drawings, sculptures, and amazing miniatures.
She makes mugs, plates, bowls, necklaces with ceramic amulets, Christmas ornaments, and much more. She shows me two memory jars with portraits on them of two cats she had, Orphan Annie and Max. Inside the jars are their favourite toys.
On her kitchen counter, Jo-Ann is repairing miniature furniture from her princess chamber-- in this case an old-fashioned bed with starched curtains, silk mattress, tassels, and headboard with a gold edging. Nearby are two miniatures of an artist studio and a sculpture studio, complete with tiny desks, easels, a briefcase, canvasses, a sink, a stool, and a loft with a tiny bed. Slats of filigreed fans have been transformed, painted black to look like steps in a wrought iron staircase. In another miniature, Jo-Ann has made a Fairy Tale Cottage, what looks to me like a hobbit house, with twig furniture, a fireplace, a birchbark roof, a pond, and small mushrooms.
Jo-Ann is a member of the Miniature Crafters of Nova Scotia and the International Guild of Miniature Artisans, which holds a week-long workshop in Castine, Maine every year. She attended workshops at Camp Mini Ha Ha in Cornwallis in 2016 and 2017, and went to Castine on scholarship in 2014, and returned in 2018.
She shows me a miniature pair of delicate snowshoes, which are 3 1/2 inches long, with intricate, interlacing threads. “I was the only one to make two,” she says. “I worked outside of the class because otherwise I wouldn’t have finished them.” I imagine the gnomes who could walk in these shoes.
“I was born into a military family, so we moved around,” says Jo-Ann, who has lived in Quebec, New Brunswick, Saskatchewan, and Germany before she came to the Eastern Shore in 1978. She graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Interior Design in 1987. “I didn’t realize there were whole clubs devoted to miniatures,” she says, when referring to a miniature store she saw in Winnipeg.
Jo-Ann is also a member of the Nova Scotia Potters Guild and has given workshops where participants made hand-built plates patterned with doilies and oak leaves. She gave a mug workshop in October 2022 and will be doing more in the future.
Jo-Ann is also a sculptor and has made bronze and clay horses. She brings out catalogues showing sculptures that were in a silent auction at the Calgary Stampede in 2005. She has sold three bronze sculptures at the Puffin Gallery in Halifax. “I worked at a foundry in Calgary,” Jo-Ann says. She describes the long process of making molds, working with silicon, liquid slurries, wax, molten bronze, and then buffing and polishing the sculptures to bring out the beautiful details of the horses.
Jo-Ann also tells me of a trip to Sable Island in July 2019 to draw the ponies. “We almost didn’t make it, because of a massive fog bank.” With a close encounter with a pony only fifty meters away, Jo-Ann was able to make drawings and take photographs, that could lead to more drawings. “I heard the singing sands and saw seals.”
Jo-Ann sometimes comes to the Musquodoboit Harbour Farmers’ Market with her large sketchbook and her latest pencil drawings—detailed portraits of dogs and cats that were often commissions for pet-owners.