by ROSS BALLARD
VACS and the Valemount Public Library are proud to present the earthen art of local potter Bryan Hannis. Like many folks in the Robson valley I have truly come to appreciate Bryan’s work, whether enjoying the warm colors and texture of my coffee mug or admiring the glaze on a steaming pot of roast vegetables. The simple beauty and functionality of Hannis’ pottery cannot be denied.
In June of 2015 Bryan traveled to Victoria to partake in a mask making workshop where he further explored and honed his craft, learning how to shape and build facial features and expressions that are truly lifelike. Hannis took the training to heart and came back to the valley inspired with fresh ideas. The result is a stunning collection of 14 larger than life masks!
With a 50 cm diameter, the centre piece of the display is the only mask made pre-2015 and the only one that is fired with a glaze in a wood kiln. Bryan poured salt on the fire at various intervals throughout the kilning process to create a beautiful shiny coating on the sunny face which is one of only three round masks in the collection. The other round masks are styled after First Nations’ carvings; one the face of an owl (my favourite!) and the other resembling a copper moon. Their lips and chin clearly forming a traditional “whale’s tail.”
When asked about the shaping process Hannis says “I simply turn a large bowl in reverse.” He says as far as he knows, he’s the only potter who does it that way. He initially had trouble with the masks drooping under their own weight, but eventually learned to stuff the masks with couch foam before they dry, then simply pull it out before firing.
Resembling characters like Jack Sparrow, Bart Simpson and the dwarves from the Hobbit, the other 10 masks are shaped around large pieces of plumbing pipe cut at an angle. They were gas fired and have no glaze; instead Hannis opted for different types of clay and a light coating of iron oxide. Pouring rust on the finished facial features and wiping it off with a wet sponge the masks are fired at 2400 degrees turning the rust to metal and creating amazing contrast in the “skin color” of each face.
“Different clays produce different colours and textures” says Hannis and the proof is clear as he shows me where he used jet black clay that is rich in coal. The coal burns off in the firing process leaving the clay a rich creamy white. Amazing! Each mask is unique with stunning facial features and eyes that seem to look right at you with a ubiquitous gaze that only great art can produce.
Sharing the spotlight with his masks are a selection of eight teapots, most of which were crafted around the same time as the masks. “This one is my baby!” Bryan says of one particular teapot. Made nine years ago it is one of two glazed pots on display. Hannis used different metal powders in very small quantities to create stunning color; Titanium for green and cobalt for lovely shades of blue. Seven more teapots span a diverse variety of styles including one which closely resembles a teapot that Bryan entered in the 2016 Texas Teapot Tournament; a juried International competition where his teapots were judged along with 40 others. He entered two teapots this year, one of which nabbed second place out of 29 competitors earning Bryan a cool $500!
“I would like to thank the Valemount Arts and Culture Society for their ongoing support; the Robson Valley has such a wealth of talented artists that no one knows about. We need all the help we can get,” Bryan says.
Bryan’s display will be at the Valemount Public Library for the next few weeks. If you would like a sneak peek you can visit justearthpottery.com