Ken Wilkinson: Founder’s Interview

In 2015, the SCC is celebrating its 40th anniversary. In 1975, fifty-seven Saskatchewan artisans organized themselves into a determined force with a single voice and a common purpose. That purpose was to promote and raise the profile of Saskatchewan artisans, improve the quality of work produced, and facilitate communication among the membership. Each of these people donated just $5 to this cause and the Saskatchewan Craft Council was born. You can read more about our history here.

Our board members and staff have come together to conduct interviews with as many of these founding members as we can, in celebration of this milestone. We are interested in these founders’ thoughts around why we came into being and their insights for the future.

Ken Wilkinson

ken-wilkinsonKen Wilkinson has lived the life of an artist for forty one years. He began working in pottery in 1974, the year before the SCC was founded. He is known as one of the province’s best “throwers,” creating exquisite bowls, tea pots and goblets. Ken also does larger work such as ceramic tables and pedestals. Ken served on the Board of the SCC from 1992 to 1996 and again from 2003 to 2009. He served as Chair of the Board from 2004 to 2009, and worked on many other committees for the SCC during his time on the Board. He lives and works in Saskatoon with his wife Sally, and currently has a couple pieces for sale in the SCC 40th Anniversary Show & Sale at Affinity Gallery!


What compelled you to throw your $5 and yourself into creating a new organization dedicated to supporting craft?

I began my academic endeavours at the University of Saskatchewan in the College of Engineering.  After a couple of years, I switched disciplines and went into Computer Science. During this time I took my first class in pottery and that was the turning point of my life. I knew I wanted to be a potter.

I first heard about the formation of the Saskatchewan Craft Council from weaver Lucretia Umholtz in Saskatoon. I don’t actually believe that I was a founding member, but I was a part of the very early discussions. I took my first pottery class in 1974 and was just getting started in 1975 as the organization was being formed. I do remember attending the firstWintergreen at a church in Regina where there were about a dozen booths. I studied with well-known potter Jim Thornsbury in Saskatoon at a time when the University was bringing individuals up from the United States to help teach classes.

What are you most proud of over the last 40 years?

I am most proud of the increase in general and professional knowledge of pottery in the province. When I started, the average person on the street had no idea what a potter was. Craftspeople began to band together to teach the public about Craft and I jumped in because I believed that more could be done with artists working together. I knew I wanted to make a living being a potter and so knew that I needed an informed market. Today’s public is better informed about clay work in general. Saskatchewan now has a body of collectors and generally more discriminating buyers.

Saskatchewan currently has a lot of potters. It seems that if you kick over a rock in Saskatchewan, you will find a potter beneath! There is a very strong potter’s community in the larger centres in Saskatchewan and there is work here that is known as the best in Canada. I believe that the high numbers of people working in the field is because it is easy to get started in clay. Schools seem to have equipment so that students can have an early introduction. Martin Collegiate in Regina had several potters’ wheels when I attended high school there.

What has disappointed you?

I find it disappointing that public recognition and monetary support for pottery is not what is found in other countries like Japan and Korea. Even in the USA, potters do not usually need to work out of their garages. I am proud that I’ve been able to make a living as a potter without having to teach. I’m very happy sitting at my wheel, with control over my own time and not having to think about the need to retire at 65.

What are your hopes for the future?

My hope for the future includes increasing the time I devote to creating new innovative work and doing larger scale commissions. My wholesale work has allowed me to increase this focus and to hire an assistant. I do participate in discussions with my 330 Design Group colleagues. Each member benefits by learning about how to look at pieces and how to talk about them. This increases our ability to give kind and constructive critique to others. I believe that we learn from each other and that the collaborative work between artists is crucial. I am also a member of the Mudslingers Group, who meet every three weeks to critique and support each other.  I also recently took a painting class that helped with my surface decoration. I hope to continue moving closer to the art end of the functional-art continuum.

What are you doing to celebrate Craft Year 2015 and our 40th anniversary?

I plan to just survive another year.  My wife Sally and I took a trip to Europe and England this spring.  I got some new ideas for clay pieces after five weeks of looking at art in Barcelona, Avignon, rural France, Paris, Amsterdam and England.

Any other thoughts?

To beginning makers/artists:  just keep going down your chosen path. It will lead you into all kinds of places that you wouldn’t have thought to go.