Vic Duffhues


I love traditional functional ware. For me it not only holds meaning in our daily lives, but it becomes almost sacred in its use for rites of passage, individual or family celebrations and special events. It’s my goal to create the ultimate functional pottery that provides opportunities for such uses, whether that’s at holiday dinners, for sacristy use, or for commemorations. I believe such functional pottery can transcend the mundane and in itself become art.DSC_4938

Like many before me, I’m cognizant of clay’s unique survivability and the story ancient pottery tells about previous cultures. I recognize the influence of Dutch, German, and British trends, but I’m also a potter of my own time. The development of low-fire lichen glazes in Lana Wilson’s work in the early 1990’s spurred me into my own research and development into the use of texture on functional pottery. With an understanding that what we use and love is as much influenced by texture as by shape, size, weight and colour, I’ve developed a multi-fired, multi-glazed approach to mid-range stoneware that I believe transforms my work from the ordinary to the extra-ordinary.

Vic Duffhues with Vase
Vic Duffhues with Vase. Photo by Teddy McCrea

As a potter, I feel deeply connected to our planet and its rich human history. Many potters will tell you that working in clay is perhaps the first act of creation developed by people. I’m not sure that they weren’t doing some carving first, after all, we weren’t there to see. But I do know that museums around the world have treasured ancient bowls, and I feel a deep connection to each of the potters who found working in clay so deeply satisfying. Clay vessels always make a statement about the culture that was present at its creation. I like to think most of the work has a spiritual connection, it certainly does for me, so yes, working in clay lets me attain my own goals and life purpose in a way that not only fulfills my creative needs, but is spiritual for me as well.

My wife, Josee (Jo) was my first instructor, and I’m delighted that we’ve been able to continue to work in our studio and share our lives for well over 3 decades.

Together in Work, in Life, in Play
Together in Work, in Life, in Play ~ Photo: Teddy McCrea

But I also spent 10 of those first years honing my skills as a production potter. I know my wheel-work is exceptionally well made, and I still love making functional stoneware pottery. It requires repetition and consistency, but offers a rhythm that truly centers me. I take great pride in, for instance, making what are considered to be the most beautiful of mugs, knowing that they are the prized possession of many customers as well as collected by many other potters. People often tell me how important their own mug is to them… and don’t they kiss the rims daily? Whenever I’m at a show, my mugs quickly sell to any of the other potters present. I’ve done workshops where the instructor has purchased my mugs. I’ve had a blind customer who perhaps paid me the greatest of all compliments who described my work as so pleasing to his hand.

While I am considered a production potter, I’m proud to say that I don’t make factory ware, and I absolutely refuse to uses molds or presses. It’s true that a ram press can result in total consistency, but it leaves me cold because it lacks individuality. It’s rather like artificial insemination, it works, but it takes all the fun out of it. In any event, very few of my pieces would physically lend themselves to presses. It’s actually comical that I strive for consistency in dinnerware, while many who operate ram presses use multiple molds to creative slight differences and thus create “faux” hand-crafted works.

I know that my work reaches far back into the past and will live on well into the future. But unlike ancient potters, I have modern technical advantages, like the pug mill I use to make sure my clay is well-blended, and the computer technology that helps me to ensure that my functional stoneware is completely food-safe. Our glazes are the result of many years of testing and development, and they too, are the result of a creative joy, albeit sometimes also frustrating struggles.

As much as I love making stoneware, like my wife, I do love to create special one-of-a-kind pieces. Funeral urns, ginger jars, vases, lamps, even special series,

Series Vases
Photo Credit: Edward McCrea

like the vases drying here. They’ll receive different treatments during glaze application, but come from a theme, much like the Myanmar Ring-necked Vases I made after seeing a documentary and some amazing photographs… each of these can transport me to a place beyond simply being centered. It’s often nature that inspires me, but as in the case of these stretched necks, inspiration proves to come from the unusual at times.

I admit to experiencing a sense of euphoria that comes from making pieces that transcend the purely functional, and that’s most certainly true when I create and fire raku pieces.

alcohol reduction process

Hunter Thompson once said something to the effect that working with your hands makes you a laborer, adding your head makes you a technician, adding your heart makes you an artisan, but adding your soul to that mix makes you an artist. After over three decades of working with clay, I can truly affirm his theory.

I’ve had the pleasure of learning from some great potters, but for me the real joy in the development of my career in clay stems from the fact that I am now the Master Potter, offering courses and workshops and inspiring others the way that Tom Coleman, Mick Casson, and so many others have inspired me. It has been many years since my first formal training began at Sir Sanford Fleming–more than 3 decades have passed. With a little luck, I have a few more of those decades ahead.