Therapy in clay

November 2016

3 Local Potters speak about their refreshing one-of-a-kind creations

There is something to be said about the creative process and while interviewing three of Thunder Bay’s finest potters I learned that their craft provides more than aesthetic appeal: it offers natural therapy.

Noël Keag of Stone Circle Pottery believes that creating pottery is extremely therapeutic. After closing her studio several years ago due to health issues and undergoing a myriad of medical interventions that were mostly unsuccessful, she returned to her clay and hasn’t looked back since. While diving into the creative process her health improved dramatically. “There is something wonderful about working with clay,” she says. “It could be the tactile nature or the connection with the earth or simply the satisfaction of creation. Whatever it is, it is amazing and a force not to be ignored. I have a very strong belief in this particular therapeutic intervention.” The art rejuvenates Keag. While working on a piece she is totally focused. “I’m not worried about the sink full of dishes, the children I must pick up, or what is for dinner... nothing. Just the clay.” She admits she has never felt such peace in her entire life.

Brad Hominick, a potter of ten years, speaks of a constant “hunger” that burns inside him, wanting to create, wanting to take that lump of clay and turn it into something beautiful. “There is an immense feeling of self gratification that I get when all things come together and a piece is finally finished and I love it.”

He adds, “I need to love the piece first before it is revealed to the public.”

Joanne Kelly of Joanne Kelly Pottery was inspired to try pottery in the mid eighties when she attended a Thunder Bay Potters’ Guild sale. She discovered that working with clay satisfied her need for perfection and that need to be surrounded by things that were larger than herself. While immersed in creating her pieces, Kelly admits she is ambivalent to the outside world. Her studio has become a place of refuge, a place she finds herself being drawn to over and over again.

While Keag, Hominick, and Kelly share this same passion for creative therapy, their pieces are unique in process, style, and function.

Keag follows a very unconventional style in creating her works. She pulls the clay until it creates its own motion. Then she freezes this motion with a blow torch, allowing the clay to have its own “voice” and thereby creating luscious movement in the pieces. She describes it as “groovy, swirly and inviting,” an art that a person can “touch and use every day.”

Amongst Keag’s favourite pieces is a teapot entitled “Arabian Knights,” a pot finding its place in Lark Publications book, 500 Teapots. The piece itself is groovy and sexy while the clay speaks for itself with the rippling movement of the work. Another piece that shows a whimsical side of Keag, and also one of her favourites, is her wonky “Who House” from the Doctor Seuss books.

Hominick’s favourite pieces in his creative works are his wine goblets. These white stemless goblets boast a raised pussy willow pattern created from the application of a liquid red slip trailing followed by a white glaze that reveals a raised grey pattern after firing. His honey pots, another of his favourite pieces, take on a more complicated process. After the base is established, the piece remains on the wheel to have its ridges carved, then the bees and twig style handle are hand crafted and attached. As far as Hominick knows, no one produces honey pots in this way.

Although Kelly likes to throw on the wheel, she finds that sculpting birds is more natural to her. Each of her pieces is individually formed and decorated by hand. From the chickadees to the woodpeckers and robins and cardinals and ravens, Kelly has magically transformed grey lumps of clay into almost living pieces of art. Her favourite piece was created from salvaged pieces of bird heads from past firings, fancifully fit together in a straw basket, as if riding in a speeding motorboat. The result gave Kelly and her partner a good laugh. Another piece, perhaps Kelly’s most unusual, is a
2 foot pileated woodpecker that is now resting somewhere south of the border.

There is something quite refreshing about these potters’ creations. Whether it is Keag’s tea pots, Hominick’s wine goblets, or Kelly’s birds, each is unique in style and form. There are no replicas. Each has used a piece of its creator’s soul as it turned from a lifeless ball of clay into a wondrous work of art. In a day when many things are mass produced and dispensed to the public at warp speed, it is nice to know that some things still embrace good craftsmanship and artistic inspiration.

Something to keep in mind when you’re doing your Christmas shopping. A handmade creation from a local artist would be very well received by anyone on your list.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Thunder Bay Potters’ Guild. Guild members are involved in over 100 community events each year.

For more information on the Guild, contact chairperson Brad Hominick at or visit their facebook page for coming events and workshops.

To see more of Noël Keag’s creations go to
To contact Brad Hominick email him at
To see more of Joanne Kelly’s pieces go to

Donna White is an accomplished author and Jubilee Medal winner for her volunteer work with World Vision. Visit her website at

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