Husband-and-wife pottery team guest artists at Arts on the Avenue

Jo and Vic Duffhues have participated in every Arts on the Avenue since it began, and they will be the guest artists at this Sunday's event.

Vic Duffhues does a raku firing at the JoVic Pottery studio on Shell Beach Road. Vic and his wife Jo are the guest artists at this year’s Arts on the Avenue festival Sun.

Vic Duffhues does a raku firing at the JoVic Pottery studio on Shell Beach Road. Vic and his wife Jo are the guest artists at this year’s Arts on the Avenue festival Sun.

How do you stay excited and passionate about your work after more than 30 years?

For Jo and Vic Duffhues, the secret lies in variety.

The Duffhueses own JoVic Pottery, and, together, they create functional stoneware, raku pottery, clay art and more at their Shell Beach Road studio.

Jo and Vic have been creating pottery together since 1979. They’ve been living and working in Yellow Point since 1992, and they have been mainstays at the annual Arts on the Avenue one-day art festival. This year, they are the guest artists at Arts on the Avenue, which takes place this Sunday (Aug. 26) from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. along First Avenue.

“Our work, it has an incredible variety to it, but it’s what makes us have fun out here,” says Jo.

The Duffhueses both enjoy raku pottery because it is unpredictable.

“With raku firings, you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out, which is part of the excitement,” said Jo, noting there is a 40-per-cent or more failure rate in raku.

With raku, pots come out of the kiln at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, and they go through an intense post-firing cycle that brings out different colours in the glazes and also creates crackling, black lines where smoke blackens parts of the pots that don’t have glaze on them.

“It’s a really interesting thing; with raku, we actually hope for a crackle with the glaze,” explained Jo. “We look for that because we want to see that contrast. It’s always been true with modern technology with electric kilns that you can end up with a rather bland product if you are not careful; whereas, potters of eons ago relied on ashes and fire and didn’t know what they would get, so you have that excitement.

“Vic and I try to recreate that excitement in our electric kilns with three glazings. We find it especially powerful with raku when we still don’t know what we’re going to get after doing this for 30 years. There’s that element of surprise.”

After more than 30 years making pottery, Vic and Jo are both still very passionate and excited about their art — and they feel that may be because they never let themselves get bored.

“It’s always experimenting,” said Jo. “It’s really a love affair with clay.”

“I think of it as many years ago, Jo and I entered into a relationship with clay, and as with any relationship, you have to keep it interesting,” added Vic. “We do so many different things. There are potters who stick with a tried and true formula, and that’s what they do, but I couldn’t do that myself — there are just too many things that excite me.”

Vic first became interested in pottery through Jo.

“Jo had taken it up as a hobby, and as newlyweds, we did everything together,” he said. “Myself, I had not much interest in it because I thought it was clunky and overpriced.”

But that all changed when Vic and Jo, who were living near Lindsay, Ont., at the time, attended a workshop in Waterloo, Ont., and saw master potter Mick Casson.

“He made these huge vases and pitchers, and what really intrigued me was he had such enthusiasm and passion,” said Vic. “I’d never seen anyone so excited about their work, and I thought ‘I want to be a potter.’ In the next week, I made more pots than I had in a year.”

That was about 33 years ago. Jo and Vic have been making pottery together ever since.

“I think the real privilege for us is we can do this together,” said Vic.

Unlike Vic, Jo always wanted to work in clay.

She recalls that in high school, her fine arts teacher always promised her students that if they got an A on a project, they could try the potter’s wheel. Jo created a handmade quilt and got her A, but her teacher just handed her a lump of clay with no instruction, and when she tried the wheel, the clay flew right off.

When Jo was in her twenties, she found a potter in Ontario who gave private lessons, and she started taking lessons.

“I loved it so much that I had a wheel and a kiln, and I started teaching Vic and it became our life,” she said.

“I love clay and it lets you do things; it lets you push it and pull it and imagine with it and grow it, and you can fire it and create these things that can last thousands and thousands of years,” she added. “To me, it’s just instinctive. I don’t think I can escape it if I wanted to — and I don’t want to.”

Jo and Vic have participated in every Arts on the Avenue since the event started 14 years ago, and they are excited to be the guest artists this year. Vic will be demonstrating throwing pots on the wheel throughout the day.