This more recent creation by local artist Lyuba Milne is one of the ones on display at the Valley Museum and Archives. She says it took her approximately 81 hours to build, following the construction of the base. This time figure doesn’t include prep, glaze or kiln time. /ANDREA ARNOLD

By Andrea Arnold

The Valley Museum and Archives in McBride has been transformed into an art gallery, showcasing the ceramic artwork of local artist Lyuba Milne. She would like to see more appreciation for those who work with ceramics and thinks that could happen through exposure to the medium.

On Thursday evening, several of Milne’s friends and supporters gathered for a private reception to kick off the exhibit. Attendees had the opportunity to stroll among the sculptures before hearing Milne speak.

“A potter doesn’t only have to create pieces,” said Milne. “The potter needs to know the properties of the clay, what type to use for each specific project, about glazes and specifics regarding firing temperatures and methods.”

As she walked around the room, Milne briefly explained the techniques she used during her creative process, and how many of her pieces are inspired by things she sees in nature or architecture.

“Everything is an expression of an idea,” she said. “I can’t reproduce anything exactly. I can make something similar, maybe in a different size, but not exactly the same.”

In 1981, she emigrated to the USA from Kiev where she had held the position of museum curator of contemporary Ukrainian Art. She worked for many years as a graphic artist in New York City. In 2001 she first ventured into the world of ceramics through courses at Greenwich House Pottery In New York. Four years later, she and her husband Davide moved to the Robson Valley. Here, she was exposed to the art of working with clay by valley resident Stefi McLean and she felt her passion ignited.

“It was the feel of clay in my hands, and the using of my hands to create that left me in awe,” said Milne.
She began to explore ways of creating that would go beyond traditional pottery. She first tried to deconstruct the concept of a vessel. She created bowl shapes and added geometric elements. From there she moved onto creating sculptures by only using the geometric elements, no longer using the bowl shape as a base.

The shelf of sculptures Milne created using a vessel base shows her growth in creativity and height. /ANDREA ARNOLD

More recently, her sculptures have moved away from the idea of a vessel completely, and are now based on abstract sculptural forms.

Inspired by the forms and motion of icebergs, this piece is actually two parts, separated by a narrow gap. Milne says she can imagine the gap to be a passage for small boats to pass through. /ANDREA ARNOLD

“This gave me the freedom to explore a range of ideas outside traditional ceramic, but still made it possible to work within the medium of clay,” she said.

Milne formed all the sculptures on display by cutting pieces of clay from a large slab, and assembling. She begins with the base shape and creates elevation bending and smoothing pieces by hand as she goes.
She does not expect everyone to look at her pieces and understand exactly what she was thinking when she created it, nor does she expect everyone to feel the same or think the same while looking at her work.

“I work with no real references,” she said. “I am inspired and I create a representation. Each piece is open for interpretation. It is abstract art.”

Milne took the opportunity to publicly thank her husband David for all the support that he continues to provide her. He has built kilns and her studio and continues to develop glazes to adorn much of her work. She talked about one of the methods that he uses to help her reach the final look of some of her works. This method, called Western Raku, is derived from a Japanese method of glazing. She said that David will pull a piece out of the kiln while it is still red hot and place it into a bin containing some form of combustible material such as sawdust, straw and newspaper pieces as options. The lid is then placed on the bin, cutting off the oxygen coming from the air. Instead the fire pulls the oxygen from the glaze and the clay creating vibrant and unique colors.

She also described a method used to create two pieces on display: the cracked outer shell of the sculpture gives a scaly appearance, made using a specific blend of clay and through precise timing in the slab rolling and forming process.

Although she loves to share her work, she has no desire to sell a piece to have it sit hidden in someone’s house.

“If you only have one piece, you only have a little part of the big picture, not the whole story,” she said.
She and husband Dave have been trying to create a local gallery or art centre where other local artists could share their work through gallery type shows. In the meantime, Milne is excited to have her work displayed at the museum until January 11th.

The museum is open Tues-Fri 11am-4pm.