Abbotsford potter retires after nearly 50 years, leaves behind legacy in local art community
After more than 50 years of teaching, a beloved Abbotsford, B.C., potter has retired and closed his studio last weekend, leaving behind a legacy of creativity and support for his students.
Established in 1973, the Herman Venema Pottery Studio is located in Abbotsford's Matsqui Prairie, a small historic village, and has been the only one of its kind in the Fraser Valley. Potters flocked to the studio to use the kilns and to be part of the local creative community.
Herman Venema, 82, has lived in a heritage home on the property for as long as the studio has been open. He's leaving it to care for his wife full-time, and says he has mixed feelings about closing the studio.
"I wish I were 20 years, 40 years younger. But it isn't so and there's no choice but to adapt and to adjust and accept a new reality," he said during an interview on The Early Edition.
It's not just the space and tools that will be missed, but Venema's mentorship as well.
Cathi Jefferson took her first class with Venema almost 50 years ago, and has since become a full-time potter.
She describes him as a man of few words, whose technique involves "teaching by doing." She says she had almost unlimited access to the studio, where she learned the craft through Venema's coaching and got her hands in the clay to experiment for herself.
Venema has worked a variety of jobs, from carpenter to history teacher, but has always returned to the arts. After graduating in 1970 with an MFA in ceramics, he began teaching at his studio full-time and producing his own work.
The city has recognized Venema's impact on the local art community, with the Abbotsford Arts Council Lifetime Achievement Award in 2018.
Now the studio's kilns and other pottery materials are being sold to other artists, many of whom are Venema's former students.
The decision to let go of the studio's contents wasn't easy. In fact, Jefferson and a group of former students formed a legacy committee, to secure funding to buy Venema's home and studio.
They hoped to turn it to an arts centre to honour his impact on the local arts community and help ensure it continued as he retired, but they ultimately run out of time. The home and studio will soon be put up for sale.
Despite this, Jefferson says Venema's legacy will live on in the Fraser Valley pottery community.
"The space and kindness and support that he's provided for people who love clay over 50 years is phenomenal."
Venema says he is proud of what he has left behind. One of the biggest changes he has seen in his career is the influx of talent in the Fraser Valley.
"I take pride in the fact that some of those [potters] are [students] who came through here," he said.