Arts fest: Potter creates harmony between nature and clay

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The name Jamila Monahan and her beautiful, unique ceramics, seemed to burst onto the Clearview arts scene out of nowhere. I came across Monahan’s work last year at the annual Two Dirty Aprons winter market and from there, I saw her pieces in local stores and as feature pieces in homes across the township. With a raw minimalist aesthetic on the outside, and pops of bright colours on the glazed inside, they are unmistakable.

Personally, whichever piece I picked up while touring her basement studio, I simply did not want to put down.

Getting to know Monahan’s story has added another dimension to her elegant pieces; that her relationship with clay, albeit new, was love at first sight and has deep roots in her family’s history.

Monahan was a teacher and the arts consultant for Simcoe County District School Board. Although passionate about art and also about the natural beauty of Mother Earth, clay was something she knew very little about. Leaving teaching due to medical reasons, she discovered ceramics via another local potter, Colleen Cooey and “was immediately drawn, almost like a visceral need.” She asked Cooey to teach her.

Starting lessons in January 2022, the pandemic forced her into self-directed learning; trial-and-error, YouTube, and research, speckled with science and math to get pieces just right. Like a runner’s high, she says, “the first time I sat down and had that ballof clay spinning in my hands, I knew I never wanted to stop.”

And she hasn’t. Fascinated by the properties of the clay, the feel, the texture, the suppleness but also the “will and language” of the clay, Monahan is constantly learning, tuning in, listening and shaping beautiful pieces that create harmony between nature and clay. She says her hands will touch a finished piece at least 100 times – polishing, refining each piece to have the textural elements that are a trademark to her work.

“Clay has its own tendencies. It’s alive and has a memory. If you try fighting it into what you want, you’ll lose. To work with clay is to uncover what’s already in it. It has a force of its own,” says Monahan.

Love at first sight? Fate? Mohanan’s mother studied pottery at Oxford University, but never continued to work with clay when she moved to Canada. As Monahan says, “Discovering clay was like a cosmic re-connection with a long lost friend; like the clay and I were meant to find each other. While it had always been there, I had to find it and unlock it.”

Recent work has started to integrate Monahan’s outdoorsy personality, combining clay with different components of nature like driftwood and walnut wood, for example, as handles. What remains constant, even as her work evolves, are pieces that are functional and tactile.

Monahan has started to build themed collections, like her earthenware for YF Patisserie or her French inspired pieces for the mother-daughter team of Two Dirty Aprons.

A collection of some of her favourite pieces will be displayed at this year’s Creemore Festival of the Arts.

Jamila Monahan will be at Mill Street Art Studio, 148A Mill St., second floor.

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