Qualicum Beach potter John Shauer displays a vase created using his crystalline pottery technique during last weekend's Arrowsmith Potter's Guild show and sale at Parksville Community Centre.

Latest potter case: The mysterious crystals

Qualicum Beach potter embraces emerging technique to create sparkling vases, bowls

John Shauer admits that part of the fun of creating his crystalline pottery is that even he has no idea what will emerge when he opens the kiln to remove the piece.

“Lots of these go into the garbage because the crystals don’t come out right,” said Shauer, 68. “But when you get one that’s right, they’re beautiful. You open the kiln and go, ‘Oh, look at that!’”

The results, some of which Shauer displayed during  Saturday’s Arrowsmith Potters Guild sale at Parksville Community Centre, can be striking.

The crystals “grow” from a specially mixed glaze. They are activated in the final hours of firing after the temperature of the kiln is reduced from the initial firing heat.

Until they begin to emerge from the background colour, Shauer said, he had no idea how many crystals will appear or what size or shape they will take.

“And with different temperatures, you can get different colours,” he said. “I can apply the same glaze two times and end up getting two completely different looks.”

The crystals form in a kaleidoscope of colour and shape, from circles to streaks to a sort of axe head shape with both curved a straight edges.

The application of additional layers of glaze can cause a halo effect or shadow, with the crystal appearing to have borders of one or more different shades.

But on many of occasions, Shauer said, the crystals simply run together into a blob, or do not emerge at all.

“You have to do it a long time to get good at it,” he said.  “If the glaze is off by one per cent, it doesn’t work. They’re very touchy; you get a lot of disasters.”

Browsers at last Saturday’s Arrowsmith Potter’s Guild sale look over the crystalline pottery of artisan John Shauer at Parksville Community Centre. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Shauer, who also creates “traditional” pottery, has plenty of time to putter with his crystal formulas.

The former owner of a janitorial business in Vancouver, Shauer was a bit of a latecomer to pottery.

Born in Ontario before moving to the west coast with his family at the age of seven, he first took a pottery course in 1980.

But, he said, he immediately set it aside as he focussed on his business and raising a family. In 1995, he joined a potter’s club in Tsawassen as a hobby, “for something to do.”

Now, he says, he creates somewhat more work, but admits he does not make pottery on a full-time basis.

“Now that I’m retired, I don’t want to feel like I’m working,” he said with a laugh. “My partner (Sue Wilkinson) is much more prolific than I am.

“A lot of people are production potters. They have to keep cranking out work to sell. But I’m all over the place; I like experimenting.”

Shauer said he first stumbled upon the crystalline pottery technique in 2005. His initial impression was that the form was garish, but was swayed by the higher prices the pieces fetch at sales and in galleries.

On the other hand, he added, you have to go through a lot of time and material to earn that extra money.

“It takes a bit of luck,” he said. “The first time I did it, I got a beautiful pot. I’m thinking, ‘Oh, that was easy.’

“The next time, it was just nothing.”

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