We met Sandy Jo Lewis in her lovely, brightly lit pottery studio and gift shop attached to her house near Doukahbour Beach.
As we chatted, her hands were busy folding and kneading clay, finishing up some details on some pieces she’s ready to pop in the kiln for baking.
All around us were lovely and elegant dishes, mugs and even necklaces. She talked about her journey as an artist from watercolour and painting to working with clay, and how much delight she feels over using new textures and designs.
She’s been in Grand Forks for a while now, and her expertise shows in the gorgeous designs and colours she’s put together on her serving plates, the little details she spends hours perfecting, even the tiny bee you’ll find on the bottom or inside of what you buy as her signature.
Here is our interview with her:
Tiff: Tell us a little about you and what inspired you to start creating pottery?
Sandy Jo: I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t drawing something. Drawing, painting, anything creative. But it was painting with watercolours that really set me on a more serious and confident path. I continued painting for the next 12 years while living on Gabriola Island. There was so much creativity on the Island, it was hard not to be involved in other art mediums. I belonged to a group called the Palette People, and after moving to Osoyoos hoped to join another such group. The Painters and Potters met in a building shared with the Art Gallery there. On a field trip with my sons class, I thought it a great time to do just that. Join another group! I became the newest member of the Osoyoos Potters Guild that day. 18 years later, still love getting my hands mucky.
Tiff: Do you have specific styles you love most when you are creating things? How would you describe your style and why do you love it most?
Sandy Jo: Hmmm. Most of my pieces are hand built, not thrown on the wheel, creating my technique. And even though I enjoy working on the wheel, I find hand building more creative, more satisfying. Then again if I put more time in on the wheel I may say the same thing about the wheel. If delicate is a style, I think that would be mine. And yes, I love how light my pottery feels in my hands. Incorporating my love for painting, this time using underglazes instead of watercolours, some of my pieces are adorned with birds, dragonflies, and maybe flowers – chickens even! I make my glazes and choose them for their versatility. I wanted glazes that not only compliment each other, but also go well with my hand painted pieces. And then there are the textures. The glazes, I think, are beautiful on their own. But, throw a texture or two in and it’s a brand new look! I love how you can take a piece of clay and turn it into art, functional art. The creative possibilities are endless and I love that if I break a mug or a bowl… I can go make another one.
Tiff: What are some of the different pieces that you typically make? What are your most loved pieces?
Sandy Jo: I like to make multi-functional pieces. Large, small, medium trays. Large fruit bowls or the tiny bowls. I really enjoy making my wee plates. I end up with a basket full of these different hand painted designs (most of which are only for the wee plates) and a magnitude of wee glazed plates. Kinda fun watching people search through them for that specific one. Mugs are a must! Again, big and small. Wine coolers, apple trays, utensil holders, spoon rests, plant pots, bird houses and feeders. Just to name a few. Making pendants for the first time this year… we’ll see how they go over.
Oh gosh. My most loved pieces?! That’s almost like asking which child I love more. They’re different, with different personalities. I love most of what I do because of the differences. Just when you think, “Im going to make another just like this,” It comes out slightly different, maybe more beautiful, maybe not. But even the imperfections are what make that piece perfect. Don’t get me wrong though, there are times I open the kiln and wonder what the heck I was thinking. I have my very first pieces in my home. Using them every day. I love them the most I guess. if I have to. Because they are where I started.
Tiff: How is pottery different from the dishes that we find at a big chain store like Home Outfitters?
Sandy Jo: Some years ago, before moving to Grand Forks, I had a table set up with my pottery for sale. A woman looking over my pieces, commented on a particular pot. “I can get this same thing at Walmart for half the price.” The first thing out of my mouth was that she was wrong, because I don’t supply Walmart with my pottery. I should have said nothing. It is true, you can find some lovely pieces in big chain stores like Home Outfitters. But they are usually shipped from somewhere overseas, and mass produced in factories. Potters, like myself, produce unique, original pieces made by hand in their studios. The time put in is priceless.
Tiff: Tell us why you’ve chosen to live and work in Grand Forks.
Sandy Jo: I was born and raised in Edmonton. I moved out to BC at the tender age of 23, where three years later I met my husband. We have been blessed to live in beautiful areas of BC. White Rock, Gabriola Island, Osoyoos, Summerland and now Grand Forks. For us, small town living is the ultimate. Some of these places were a bit hard to leave at first, because of what they offered, and their beauty. But Grand Forks has pretty much everything we have looked for in a small town. Coming home and rounding the corner as the valley opens up always makes me smile. Some of the friendliest people live here. The beauty, the rivers, Christina Lake, but mostly its the people we have met here, in our church and around the community. There is the pace of a small town. Its slower and easier to breathe (not counting the wildfires). It’s not for everyone, but since we’ve been here, my sister-in-law and her husband have moved here, my step daughter and her family, and good friends have also fallen in love with our little valley. Of course, nothing and nowhere is perfect, but this is our greener grass.
Tiff: What is your favourite part about living here in GF?
Sandy Jo: First, I love running into people I know. I can walk, or ride a bike pretty much everywhere here. Oh and you can’t forget the Grand Forks International. So much fun. I love that my family and friends love to come visit and float the river and experience our little town. Sometimes there is so much going on in this valley that you just can’t do it all. A good and bad thing. But location, location location. That’s a pretty great thing too.
Tiff: Please tell us how someone can purchase your work for themselves, or as a gift this Christmas
Sandy Jo: I work from my home. I have a studio I show from and work in. I don’t have regular hours, so the best thing is to phone first if you’re interested in coming in to take a peek. You can reach me at (250)442-5583. I’m also in the gift shop at the Art Gallery.
Stay tuned on Saturday for our next entrepreneur!