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Gisele's Journey to Pottery

I was one of those lucky people that met the love of my life in high school. Greg and I were in the same art class, and got to know each other traveling back and forth to the cubicles. When we started pottery lessons with Mr. Jarecki, I was assigned to this big awkward kick wheel that you kind of have to ride like a tractor. Greg got the easier electric pottery wheel. Clay wasn’t his thing, but art—drawing and painting—was definitely his calling. I didn’t really have one. Not yet anyway.

After high school, Greg went on to become a pioneer in the video game animation field, for companies like RockStar Games, where he worked on one of the earliest versions of Grand Theft Auto. By then we were living in a house in Mississauga by the escarpment, and I started to mess around with paper maché sculptures. Noticing this, Greg gave me the best birthday present ever, a huge hunk of clay and some pottery tools. It felt good to get my hands into clay again.

Around that time, my sisters and I went on a tour of local art studios and I came across the work of Barbara Van Sickle, whose pottery was bold and interesting, inspired by the natural world along the escarpment. AND she was offering pottery classes, starting six weeks away! Now that our kids were 8 and 10, I could steal a little more time for myself, and get back on a pottery wheel—not a kick wheel. 

Then tragedy struck. On a snowy day in March, my husband Greg died of a massive heart attack. The rest of that month was a hectic blur. The funeral, figuring out our future, I had big decisions ahead of me but one thing I did stick to was taking that pottery class, despite the fact that I was in the depths of despair. Or maybe because I was. All I know is when I sat down in front of that wheel, I heard a voice inside me say, “I love this. I am going to do this forever.”

Barbara really took me under her wing and showed me everything she knew about the art of pottery, including raku firing. Throwing myself into pottery helped me heal more than almost anything else. For sure there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed. But pottery forced me to get back into the rhythm of life again. You can’t do pottery and not focus 100 percent on what you're doing. How you feel shows up in the clay.

For the next few weeks, when I wasn’t with the kids, I’d be in Barbara’s studio, cleaning out buckets and learning how to mix glaze. (Quick aside, I’ve never purchased store bought glaze in my life. Since day one of my reintroduction to pottery, I’ve made my own, and might offer a glaze mixing class in the future.) 

One day, back in my hometown, Belle River, where we eventually relocated to be closer to my family, I heard about a big auction going on featuring all this pottery equipment. I couldn’t go, so I sent a friend to bid on a wheel and a kiln, only finding out later that this equipment had come from my old high school. 

With my own kiln, I started to take pottery more seriously. I sold little pieces here and there, nothing crazy. Then I joined the Walkerville Artist Co-op and began to teach. I didn’t really know what I was doing, business-wise, but I loved when the light went on in some of my students’ eyes. You can actually see someone fall in love with pottery, with the things they make with clay—even the pieces I know they’re going to find ugly later. That’s such a great feeling.  

My home business was thriving when COVID hit. So I had to adjust to one on one classes. I think people craved working with their hands and a feeling of community after all those years of isolation in front of computers. I think they still feel that way.  That’s what this next step, Ford City Potters, is really all about, where our tagline, Crafting a Community, comes from. I had to do that myself after Greg died, craft a community around me and my kids, who helped me finish the job of raising them on my own. And I love that we’re opening it on the same street my dad walked for 37 years, on his way to the old Foundry, as Windsor Casting was called back then.

Greg never got to see what became of that hunk of clay he gave me. But it’s in our kids who work in the same industry he helped pioneer. And it’s in my little home practice that’s now grown into Ford City Potters. If you visit us you can even sit at the old kick wheel, which has a place of honour in the studio. 

Pottery didn’t just help to heal my life, it changed it. It gave me back my laughter and joy and pride in myself. It gave me strength, inspiration, community and hope. And it’s given me this next chapter, which I’m so excited by.

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