MEDICINE HAT, AB – Between the clay, the water, the peaceful silence of the studio, it’s not hard to see how Gary Uchikura loses himself in his craft.
Spending hours behind the potter’s wheel, the Bow Island product said he’s found his calling with the art of ceramic making.
“It's something almost magical bringing up this vessel out of a lump of mud basically,” said Uchikura.
Uchikura is one of six students from across Canada currently living at Medalta as part of the esteemed ‘Artists in Residence’ program.
It’s a complete change in direction for the 47-year-old, who had previously devoted his life to the study of agriculture and agronomy.
“I studied agronomy for many years and worked as an agronomist for a short time, well not quite 10 years,” he said. “But, I always felt the art bug underneath all that.”
A relative newcomer to ceramics, Uchikura has spent the last year diving into the craft and has made roughly 600 pieces over that stretch.
He wanted to test himself though, which led to finding out about the Artists in Residence program in Medicine Hat.
Studying at the University of Lethbridge, Uchikura said the program at Medalta has allowed him to connect with other like-minded people.
“It's like a massive cross-pollination of ideas coming together,” he said. “I don't know if I'll ever get the chance to do something quite like this again.”
The Artists in Residency program is entering its 20th year and residency coordinator Noriko Masuda said it’s been one of their most successful initiatives.
“The residency has been really important in building that artistic community,” said Masuda. “Almost every year we have someone who ends up staying permanently.”
Participants are given 24-hour access to the studios and are encouraged to meet, share ideas, and create pieces of art as much as possible.
It’s a new era for the program however, as last October the BMO Artists Lodge opened at the old I-XL plant to provide a communal living space for visiting students.
One of those visiting students is Halifax’s Emily May, who said she quickly adjusted to her new home and roommates.
“It's a little intimidating to see these artists and you're like, ‘Wow, your work is so great,’” said May. “But, then you're like, ‘Oh yeah, you're just making like your breakfast right now in your pyjamas.’”
Masuda said the time spent at the Artists Lodge helps build relationships between artists away from the studio.
“It's nice to have that space where you're working together in the studios, but it's probably almost more important to have a space where you're not working together,” said Masuda. Where you're actually discussing other things other than ceramics.”
Uchikura’s time at the Artists Lodge and Medalta will soon be drawing to a close.
What he hopes to take away from the experience however is a better understanding of both his art and his ability to create.
“A boost to your imagination, your creative process, add things to the way you think. Education to me is not just a gathering of knowledge, but altering the way you think and approach things.”
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