Signs of Spring
Her brilliant white hair initially catches your eye, but her infectious spirit and wit draw you in. A farmers' market seems an unlikely place to find an award-winning artist and fine art scholar. Skillfully carved platters and pitchers, ornate porcelain sculptures of elephants and horses, high-contrast floral bowls (opposite) and mugs are hobbled together on display under a flimsy pop-up tent surrounded by carrots, smoked salts and the wafting scent of melted butter.
Celebrating the 20th anniversary of her business, Arabesque Pottery, Diane Sullivan initially studied film at Carleton University before hopping from coast to coast to complete an undergrad in ceramics and art history at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, then a Masters of Fine Arts at the University of Washington in Seattle. She thrived in academia — exhibiting internationally, lecturing and publishing critical writing. But that changed one morning, “while walking to my teaching gig, I realized I had been given the great gift of being truly happy doing something,” Sullivan says. “It seemed pretty simple to me then — and I started my own pottery business."
Exercising her creative prowess, Sullivan crafts pottery ranging from the exquisite to the practical — from sculptures and fine-art pieces that have earned her the Canada Council award three times, been selected for display in embassies in Canada and abroad, to popular pieces such as her trivets, bowls and garden signs.
To make the garden signs, Sullivan starts by hand-carving a protype, letters reversed, that can take two days to make before it is ready for a plaster mold (top middle). A slab of stoneware clay, strong and ideal for outdoor use, is gently pounded into the mold (top left) with a rice-filled cloth. After drying, the signs are glazed with bright teal celadon, a traditional ceramics glaze, before being double-fired in the kiln, weeks apart.
As Arabesque Pottery's green-thumbed customers expand their gardening repertoire, so too does Sullivan's ever-growing list of gardening signs. Priced at $6 each, there are currently more than 60 different signs for herbs, fruit and vegetables. And, after listening to countless jokes made by bored spouses waiting for their partners to shop and a few laissez-faire gardeners, she has even conceded and makes a sign for weeds.
4324 County Road 31, Williamsburg, Ont.
Find it: online and in studio, at Originals - The Spring Craft Show, Carp and Lansdowne Farmers' Markets (Easter and May markets only)