Nurielle Stern

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Developing Ideas Through Making: A Workshop with Anton Reijnders
By Nurielle Stern and Mary McKenzie

Studio: Craft and Design in Canada (Spring/Summer 2018):

Clay in its raw state is often overlooked by ceramicists, even those of us who enjoy the making process...




Excerpt from Master of Fine Arts Thesis: Stale Rainbows (on a Wednesday)
Nurielle Stern
August, 2014


Ceramic creatures
of liquid and bone stand motionless,
guarding treasures
of eras faded beyond recall.
In those centuries
the primacy of written language,
the craftsmen
were storytellers
and the artists' painterly sleight of hand
the spoils of nature for all to gaze at
and wonder.[1]



Beginning (beginning)



Before language existed as we know it, the earliest humans shaped their world with whatever materials came to hand; carving, shaping, and moulding a place for themselves—a hollow in which to fit. We still do that today, drawing large strokes across the landscape. Highways and cities, industry and farmland, seen from satellites, in miniature, as an imprint scrawled into the earth. Gaston Bachelard writes in his volume The Poetics of Space, “We cover the universe with drawings we have lived.”[2]


Before there was written language, there were the craftsmen recording history in carefully detailed vessels and ceremonial objects. The craftsmen embellished their creations with carvings or images to tell stories of their traditions, to commemorate events, and to strengthen the memory of a culture based in orality. The narrative capacity of an object is therefore not cemented in its role as a prop in a stage-play, or in its history made visible with signs of wear, but in its origins in the hands of the craftspeople throughout history. We tell stories to make sense of the vastness of the world, to interrelate (you and I) and to carve, shape and mould a place for ourselves to fit. And we embellish these stories. We add ornament, we decorate: a whiff of the fantastical, the imaginary, a tall-tale, an untruth. We add mystery through ambiguity, open endings, and layered meaning. Language is built on metaphor. Without metaphor, we could not describe what is and what we are, for we are rooted in the concrete, in the solid, physical, and tactile universe.


Metaphors render the abstract sensible and sensory and give us something to hold onto, to grasp firmly in our understanding. They make language malleable so we can shape it as we have shaped the world. What we can grasp through metaphor versus what we cannot comprehend; that is the dialectic between inside and outside, between the tamed and the wilderness. The borderlands of understanding that lie between us and out there—that is what I seek to explore in my work. That and the formability of our world through language and material and the particular language of materials. And, finally, the narrative capacity of objects themselves.


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As makers we already know the heady, intoxicating potentiality of clay to become whatever we dream of and desire.






[1] Nurielle Stern. Eyes of Metal and Agate, Gardiner Museum, November 2013, Toronto.


[2] Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space: The Classic Look at How We Experience Intimate Places, trans. Maria Jolas (Boston: Beacon Press, 1994), 12.