As the pandemic rages on, creative industries are continuing to adapt in innovative ways. Let’s shine a spotlight on one intricate and diverse art form – pottery! The Northern Kiln is a brand new platform that just launched to offer local potters an opportunity to sell their work. Many makers rely on in-person sales, which has now been drastically limited. Through The Northern Kiln, you can safely support local at any time. Not only that, but the platform allows for local makers’ work to be showcased on a national level. They are currently featuring potters from Brantford, Burlington, Haliburton, Hamilton, Oakville, Ottawa, and Toronto, with plans to grow and welcome potters from every province.
The Northern Kiln’s founder Rhiane Heslop was born and raised in Hamilton and is now based in Guelph. Her passion for pottery, in addition to her extensive experience in retail distribution and web design, led her to launch this new platform. I spoke with Rhiane to learn more!
I Heart Hamilton: Pottery is such a beautiful art form that I don’t know too much about! Can you tell us about when you first got into pottery and what drew you to it?
The Northern Kiln: The first pottery show I attended was hosted by the Hamilton Potter’s Guild at the Dundas Lions Memorial Community Centre. It was down the street from my office where I worked at the time and it was more of a reason to take a break than anything else but I fell in love right away. I was really drawn to the beautiful mix of colours in the glazes and how unique each piece was. I was also impressed by the fine details of the designs. The sale was in November and I ended up buying at least half of my Christmas presents right then and there.
Before the pandemic, were there events, markets, or shops in Hamilton that were favourites of yours to shop pottery?
Definitely the in-person sales hosted by the Hamilton Potter’s Guild every spring and fall. I used to live in the Durand neighbourhood so I would often walk down James St N to pursue the shops and STORE on James carries some fantastic Hamilton potters.
This is an amazing initiative that you started as a fan, wanting to support makers! How did you come up with the idea?
Back in early Spring during the first lockdown, I was browsing online trying to find new pieces of pottery to expand my own collection (I love serving platters for hosting) and I was having trouble finding my favourite local potters. I wondered how they were faring without in person sales and without an online presence. I wondered if I could help but didn’t give it much more thought until October. The Hamilton Potter’s Guild was able to host a small, outdoor sale the first weekend of October and they had posted on Instagram that Saturday of the long line winding through the Ancaster Fair Grounds. It was an hour and a half wait to get in! I attended on the Sunday thinking that there wouldn’t be a line because of the rain. I was wrong! As I stood in line for 45 minutes in the pouring rain, 2 metres apart from those in front and behind me, I started to formulate the idea that would become The Northern Kiln.
When you began building the platform, were you surprised how many Ontario pottery makers were out there?
Shocked! Literally shocked. The Hamilton Potter’s Guild has almost 400 members themselves! And almost every city in Ontario seems to have their own Guild. Not all of the members make to sell and often potters are members of multiple Guilds but I was still surprised by how many were out there.
What has the response been like from makers as you connect with them?
The response has been fantastic. The potting community has been absolutely welcoming, friendly and enthusiastic. Even the potters that have declined to join for their own reasons have been incredibly kind, complimenting the site and wishing us all success.
Can you tell us a bit about makers from the greater Hamilton area you have lined up on The Northern Kiln? It’s always great to learn about local entrepreneurs and creatives!
Actually, our very first potter to join The Northern Kiln was from Hamilton, Sandra Zuidema of aSpire Pottery. I had seen her work at the Guild show in October and reached out with my proposal. She responded very quickly and signed up almost immediately. Her amazing response to the platform really encouraged me and provided the reassurance that what I could provide was needed. Now we have over 20 potters from across Ontario.
It’s unfortunate that we don’t see the end in sight for the pandemic at the moment, so it’s an important time to have a platform like this. Do you have plans for the future of The Northern Kiln?
Absolutely! I plan to add potters from every province to the collective. I’ve already had a few from Alberta, BC, and Quebec sign up and they will be going live in February. On the other side of it, I intend to continue improving and streamlining the software and processes for the potters so that selling online is as easy/accessible for them as it possibly can be.