On the junction of highways 9 and 48, just north of beautiful Kenosee Lake and west of the charming village
of Wawota, a whimiscal collection of silvered and weatherbeaten buildings house the life -- and art of
one Gerald Morton.
Morton has been working with clay full time for nearly 40 years. Eccentric, outspoken and talented, Morton's sense of humour and strong sense of self comes through in his earthy, practical, yet aesthetically satisying creations.
Self-taught Morton turned his back on the conventional art world some time ago. He once taught art at the University of Regina, but dismisses the experience with a wave of the hand, which is strong and gnarled after years of working the heavy, wet clay.Morton's work is unique in one aspect; the potter mines everything from the earth himself.
"I'm a self-taught geologist", he says, "which means I know almost nothing".
During the seventies, a friend of Morton's drew his attention to the fact tha t Saskatchewan is home to some of the only clay deposits in Canada suitable for firing and glazing quality ware. In fact most of the clay sold in Canada is mined in the south western corner of the province.
Morton has transported well over a hunred tonnes of three different grades of clay. "This is a life time supply; more than a life time he said almost sadly, looking at three hills; one black, one brown and one red, each from different deposits in the vicinity of Assiniboia.
"One thing I've learned is how careful i need to be with the blends," said Morton. "It took about twenty years to get the receipe right."
Every summer Morton carefully blends the clay, then sends it through a home built cleaning system featuring a propeller from an outboard motorand a water bearing from a John Deere tractor. The tailings that are washed from the clay include everything from plant material to fossils.
Examples of some of the hundreds of pieces of pottery
Morton then lays the clay out in huge troughs until enough water has drained or evapourated to make the
material suitable for working and firing. Morton has seasons of his own; generally he makes and
fires things through the long winter months, and spends the summer glazing his creations
and mixing the clay for the next winter's work.
"I didn't get to be really uncompromising about digging stuff up until about 1990 or so", says Morton, fingering a peice of pink and gray rock. "Feldspar", he said holding up the shard for inspection.
In addition to harvesting and blending his own clay, Morton also creates his own glazes. they are truly beautiful, and almost ethereal sometimes; black coffee mugs with metallic, coppery sheens, huge serving bowls in rich chocolate and delicate pinks, plates decorated with graceful depictions of flowers and leaves, in blue the colour of a summer praire sky.
Morton creates all of these glazes from rocks and minerals he collects, grinds and blends himself.
"The clay and rocks have their own self-expression", said Morton. "This is work worth doing".
The Japanese probably value the art of pottery more than any other culture at this time, and Morton quoted a respected critic when he said, "Whatever positive qualities pots have is a direct result of the material from which they are made".
If that is so, Morton satisfies his own muse by his through, almost obessive committment to finding and processing his own material locally. It may be fair to describe him as the only truly local potter in Canada.
Visitors to Moose Mountain Pottery will probably find Morton at home, listening to jazzy piano or tape recordings of his favorite CBC broadcasts. His pottery is of excellent quality, vast selection, and surprisingly affordable. It is a unique opportunity to take a real piece of Saskatchewan home with you.