An artistic tour de force
Pulling up the long driveway of Ted Baker’s South Langley property, it’s quickly apparent that the potter and retired graphic artist has a fairly diverse set of interests.
From the standardbred mare and foal grazing in a field at the front of the property, the yearling frolicking in a paddock next to the barn and the rooster pecking its way around a coop full of hens, to the grapes, hops, kitchen herbs and Christmas trees growing in various corners of the property at the foot of 256 Street, Baker clearly has plenty to occupy his time.
Here, almost everything has a role when it comes to generating income.
The horses are bound for a race track one day, the chickens for dinner tables, the hops for someone’s home-brewed beer.
And the pottery? Well...
“I’m never going to make any money with pottery,” says Baker. “You go into art for the love of it. I give a lot of it away as wedding presents.”
But for two weekends later this month, Baker’s focus will be firmly on his studio, with hundreds of visitors expected to drop in as they make their way along the fourth annual Langley Art Studio Tour.
This is Baker’s first time as a stop on the tour. He was invited to join in last year, but because his studio was still a work in progress he had to decline. In fact, he’s just lately got it up and running after a four-decade detour into graphic design.
“It’s taken 40 years to get back to being a potter. I’m looking forward to throwing again,” he said, standing inside the rustic wooden building that serves as his studio.
Now that he’s retired, and with the kids grown and on their own, it was time to once again set up the pottery wheel he’s been carrying around since he graduated from the Vancouver School of Art (now Emily Carr).
Inside the studio he shares with his wife — a stained glass artist — the wheel sits idle at the moment. Just outside, the hand-built wood-fired brick kiln is empty and cool. A smattering of green (unfired) pieces — mostly tureens and escargot dishes — line the shelves of a small storeroom waiting for its next firing, which will happen during the studio tour.
It’s important to Baker that his Asian-inspired pieces are functional — that they are used as crockery rather than sit as decoration on a coffee table.
But there are one or two whimsical pieces in the collection, too. Working from a newspaper image, the artist has recreated — of all things — an HIV virus, roughly the size of a volleyball.
“I saw it and thought, ‘I could turn all those (pieces),’” he said.
Once glazed and fired, it would make an ideal piece for a hospital or doctor’s office, he reasons.
If they can put in the time, visitors will be able to watch Baker go through the entire process, beginning with the wedging of the wet clay. He will throw a few pieces as well, turning and shaping them on his wheel.
But the highlight, the artist knows, will be the firing.
“Not many people have seen a wood-fired kiln. It’s so exciting,” he said.
“Flames shoot out and it makes a sound similar to a steam locomotive — you’ve got this breathing dragon of a kiln.”
Baker is just one of 43 artists participating in the tour, which returns on Sept. 22, 23 and 29, 30 featuring 21 studios, along with several more ‘stops of interest’ along the way.
Visitors will have four days to pop in on potters and painters, glass blowers and jewelry makers all over Langley, with one or two jumps across municipal boundary lines.
In addition to studios this year, stops include wineries, country stores an alpaca farm and an artist-run gallery.
Langley is home to dozens of professional artists who have small studios tucked away all over the place. But because the community is so geographically spread out, it is easy to overlook them.
“You hear people say, I had no idea this was here or that was there,” said tour co-founder Deborah Strong, a silk artist whose own Langley City studio is located north of Newlands Golf and Country Club.
Art making is an isolated, solitary pursuit,” said Strong. “There’s no natural place where artists gather. This allows artists to connect with each other.”
“That’s the reason we wanted to be involved,” agreed Jeannette Parkes, who along with her husband Robert, operates the Loafing Shed, a glass blowing studio just across the border at 90 Avenue and 184 Street in Port Kells — the opposite corner of the Township from Baker’s studio.
That, and to take a bit of the load off the artists who have been organizing it each year since 2009.
“I want to make sure this keeps going. It’s a lot of work,” said Parkes.
With about a 50-50 split between new and returning artists, visitors will be able to check out old favourites and meet a few potential new ones. Visitors have ranged from young children to seniors — often they’ll get carloads of women out for an adventure or families spending the day together.
And everyone has their own way of taking the tour, said Strong.
Some people buzz through their list, ticking off each stop — getting in and getting out in a race to make it to every stop.
Others find a medium that intrigues them and hang around for a while, wanting to know more about the artist’s techniques and processes.
The artists will once again give demonstrations, but this year’s schedule won’t be quite as structured as it was last autumn.
Instead, they will be offered on demand — whenever there is a full studio — or even if there is just one person who is super keen, said Strong.
In addition to focussing attention on the individual artists, the tour also helps raise awareness about just how much work goes into a piece of original art, said the women.
“People like to have that connection with the person who made their art,” said Strong.
“They want to know who I am, why I made it, what makes me tick.”
Studios will be open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each Saturday and Sunday. Maps can be downloaded at langleyartstudiotour.ca.
This year, for the first time, a bus company is on board offering tours each day. Enjoy Tour and Travel has two routes planned — one will run on both Saturdays and the other will run on both Sundays.
The bus will visit four studios and two stops of interest each day, with pick up and drop off at the Langley Events Centre.