His work is part of a collection at the Winnipeg Art Gallery and for Inuit raku artist Basil Webber, that distinction is something he holds dearly because the Parksville resident who suffered a stroke three years ago has mustered up the courage to once again create the clay masterpieces he was famous for in his youth.
Webber who was born in 1953 in Happy Valley, Labrador had his first encounter with clay as a young boy on the banks of the Hamilton River in Labrador.
His experience on the wheel began with private lessons from Colleen Black Semelka in Winnipeg. His friend Dr. Richard Semelka helped to steer him towards creating Inuit images and masks with raku.
Webber also took pottery classes in Winnipeg with nationally known artist Valerie Metcalfe.
Now in his rehabilitation from his stroke, Webber is being mentored once more, this time by raku artists Dee and Larry Aguilar. The pair have taken Webber under their wings and made him an integral part of Larry Aguilar Pottery in Qualicum Beach as well as the community of artists at the Qualicum Beach Artisans Friday Night Market.
The card carrying Inuit raku artist got the courage to ask for help from Larry back in February and according to Dee, since then he has made huge strides in his recovery.
“He was a commercial painter in town and after his stroke he couldn’t paint so he was in a depression for over two years. Then he started pulling out and he had the courage to come and ask Larry how to get back into clay. He has been an integral part of our studio for the last four months,” explained Dee.
She said although they have been guiding him, Webber is the one who has shown the initiative.
“He is at the studio all day… sometimes until 8 p.m. at night and he is loving it. Ever since he started working with us full time his speech is getting better and better every day. He keeps working at it and he is going to be a permanent member of Larry Aguilar Pottery,” she declared.
Dee said working in clay has been good for him.
“He has something to do and he is working in a direction. So many doors were closed because he had a stroke. Some people have trouble getting past the language barrier, but you can get past anything you just have to have your heart in it,” Dee agreed.
The Aguilars have not only opened up their studio to Webber they have also taught him new ways to manipulate the clay and work with different glazes.
Webber’s first post-stroke raku piece of a native mask was part of an art exhibition at the McMillan Art Centre (MAC) in Parksville recently which highlighted work by artists who used their creative process of art as a healing force and Dee said Larry was the one who encouraged Webber to create some work for the show.
“Basil said he needed clay because he wanted to put work in the show. He had his first mask in there and then he came back to us with his pieces he made and we fired them for him.”
Dee said Webber’s work depicts his native heritage.
“He really likes that crackle look and it is very indigenous. When you look at his work it is very primitive … but compelling. We call Basil the face man because if you look closely at his pieces they have hidden faces in them,” stated Dee.
Larry who is internationally acclaimed for his raku work said Webber mostly hand-builds his pieces but he is pushing him to step out of his comfort zone.
“Now that he is with us we are trying to direct him with more vertical pieces,” confirmed Larry who also added that Dee won’t accept it when Webber claims he can’t do something.
Webber said he will try to get back to doing more work on the wheel but because of his stroke he doesn’t have full mobility in his hand.
As for being part of the Qualicum Beach Artisans Market every Friday Webber admitted he is thrilled to be a part of it.
“I love being out there and meeting the public,” he said confidently.
Dee said she just wants to get the message out there that there is life after a stroke.
“Basil is an inspiration. He’s only got up to go and he is incredible.”
The Qualicum Beach Artisans Market is held every Friday from 3 to 8 p.m. in Qualicum Beach, right beside The Old School House on Fern road until August 31.