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Egyptian exploration of Canadian industrial ceramics

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Mel Fords Medalta Artist Residency in Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada

mel 1

When North American born Ceramics tutor Mel Ford, went on a five week international ‘artists in residence’ programme to Canada it was with a clear goal in mind. To explore Egyptian paste as a material: a) to get to know it, and b) to use it as an adhesive to glue her found ceramic shards together to create new forms.

Set against the cliffs of the South Saskatchewan River in Medicine Hat, Alberta, the 150 acre district was historically once home to some of Canada’s most important clay factories: Medalta Potteries, Hycroft China, National Porcelain and Alberta Clay Products. It also had a rich tradition of clay making by the indigenous people long before the industrialisation of ceramics.

Mel meldelta

Mel was appointed the Medalta Artists Residency Award through The Portage Ceramic Awards (known to identify New Zealand’s finest ceramic artists). The selection process for the awards was a two-stage process and is unique in that each year, rather than a panel, a single judge’s aesthetic chooses the winners. Winners receive a travel stipend, 24-hour studio access, accommodation and facilitated access to the entire Historic Clay District.

Excited to be selected by judge Amy Gogarty as an artist and maker of interesting things; Mel has been entering the Portage Ceramic Awards over the last 6 years. For her “the act to show ones work is something that is still scary for me”. She is an emerged artist who feels that she is still emerging.
Mel’s Canadian ceramic journey began in New Zealand with a gift on her 30th birthday from filmmaker and writer friend, Barry Barclay — a tiny ceramic piece wrapped inside a beehive matchbox. It was an 800yr old shard from a Native American Indian tribe. Barry had received this piece when he’d attended an indigenous peoples conference in North America. He knew it would be of great interest to Mel as a ceramic artist.

Mel looked at this fragment and began to wonder: “What was it part of? What brush made those decorations? Who had eaten off of it? What were the rituals and routines of the people that lived around it?”

Her art making became the physical act of collecting and fusing together found pieces of the past to make new vessels and forms. The pieces she started collecting were from different times, places and lands. She was interested in what happened to discarded or cast off pieces within the natural world. If something breaks, what happens to it? Does it lose it’s meaning? If it breaks, does it not still exist?

mel shards

During her Canadian residency Mel worked with found industrial ceramics. She received two of boxes full of props, by one of the resident kiln factories. These props were multiple ceramic shards -– all the same colour and type.

Mel took these shards, made 7-8 different Egyptian pastes and played with how she applied it. She enjoyed playing with the thick, sticky material, using it as a way to glue and fuse the ceramic pieces together. She experimented with various viscosities, dribbling and oozing, capturing the moment of a drip.

Mel egyptian paste

A particular highlight of the residency for Mel, was exhibiting in the kiln gallery. She would often bike up in the morning to simply sit within this space. Much of her work during the five weeks responded to its chapel-like environment and she left behind some of her site-specific work within it.

On leaving Canada, Mel gifted two pieces of her ceramic art to Medalta’s permanent collection. She also gave pieces to people that had helped her along her creative journey. Despite this, she still managed to come home with two large 23kg travel bags packed to the brim. Full of ceramic shards for use in future artwork, as well as some of the finished pieces she’d created whist on residency.

Interested in trying ceramics yourself?
Create a ceramic sculpture and learn construction techniques using clay to explore and express your ideas. This class runs every Saturday from 13th Feb – 3rd April. Learn more


  • Kirsty Gardiner
    24/01/2016 6:43am (8 years ago)

    So nice to read about the residency, I have always liked Mel's work and this is just stunning

  • wonderful work
    21/01/2016 11:28pm (8 years ago)

    would love to expierence this, but body won't allow this