Potter and Pioneer: Emma Smith
By Kathy Renwald
When Emma Smith and her husband Jesse Black bought their house in Jerseyville three years ago, they were attracted to the big backyard and the commercial zoning designation of the ground floor. Both of them needed work space, Smith is a potter and Black is a carpenter.
“We learned a lesson though”, 26-year-old Smith says, “do your research.”
The only permitted use of the ground floor commercial space was as a general store. “Dry goods and house wares, that’s what we were allowed to sell,” Smith says.
So the young couple, Burlington natives, eased into the idea. They spruced up the ground floor, started contacting Canadian artisans and less than a year ago opened Black & Smith Country General, as Smith describes it, a country style general store with a modern twist.
Inside the warm and cozy space, hand made goods line shelves and rustic tables. Linen tea towels from Nova Scotia are on display along with pillows, wooden animals, cards, bags, books, soap, scissors and jewellery by CP Metal of Dundas. Several sets of shelves are devoted to pottery, including Smith’s wood-fired porcelain and stoneware.
At the back of the ground floor Smith has her pottery studio where a wheel is set up to catch the natural light from a window and shelves are lined with bowls, cups and jugs waiting to fired. Between customers, Smith may do some studio work, but the general store, at the crossroad of Jerseyville Road and Sunny ridge Road has been busy. “It’s been building slowly,” Smith says. “The community has been so supportive, but people are coming from Toronto and as far away as Barrie.”
The path to pottery has been an intriguing one for Smith. A good science student, she was thinking of a career in medicine before a Rotary exchange to Thailand changed everything. “I lived with a family above a convenience store, they had very little but they were so happy. I wasn't sure I was choosing medicine for the right reasons.”
She came home, and learned pottery at Sheridan College and Haliburton School of The Arts, attracted to the craft by its complexity. “In my studio I’m in control, but once it gets to the kiln it’s out of my control.”
Smith’s jugs and bowls, expressive and somehow yearning to be touched, are fired in a wood kiln, a process with deep mystery and magic. The kiln must be stoked with wood for hours and hours to get it to 2300 F. Different types of wood mark the clay in unpredictable ways finishing the pieces with surprising color and pattern. It’s a process she loves, being out somewhere in the country where the wood kilns waits to be loaded.
“The four in the morning shift, when no one else is awake and it’s just you with the kiln and you can hear all the animals waking up, the sun is coming up, it’s quiet and you have this roaring fire, that is what I do it all for.”
That romance blends in with the hard work of creating the ceramics, participating in shows, teaching courses at her studio and Mohawk College, and running Black & Smith Country General(blacksmithcountrygeneral.com), where the unpredictable happens too according to Smith.
“People still come in once in awhile and ask if we sell cigarettes and milk.”