Discovering a Foundation of Civilization
The wonder, practicality and beauty of ceramics never grows old for Selkirk College Instructor Robin DuPont.
Now a valued mentor at Kootenay Studio Arts faculty on Nelson’s Victoria Street Campus, the 43-year-old thinks back to his student days at the Alberta College of Art + Design (ACAD, now known as Alberta University of the Arts) when his creative energy was funneled into ceramics courtesy of influential instructor Tom Rohr.
“When you think about how much clay has played a role in shaping humanity, it really blew my mind,” says DuPont. “I started to think about how these ceramic objects have helped piece civilizations together from an anthropological perspective. If you break down the role clay has played historically with culinary development, plumbing, architecture… there are so many different applications throughout time. It shows the diversity of clay.”
From those early days at the Calgary-based art school, DuPont has gone onto a career in the field that has included completing his Masters Degree at Utah State University, traveling the globe learning and teaching, artist-in-residence stints, celebrated exhibitions, successful retail sales, numerous awards, sought-after expertise in kiln construction and his current post at Kootenay Studio Arts. As he provides knowledge, teaches skills and helps student’s hone techniques, DuPont is spreading his affection for clay to a new generation.
“It’s our mission at Kootenay Studio Arts to provide students with the knowledge of how to operate in the marketplace,” DuPont says. “It’s about finding a balance of living a creative lifestyle, but exploring it from a way that you can support it financially and put food on the table.”
Growing Up with a Mix of Athletics and Artistry
Calgary-raised, DuPont grew up in an active blue-collar family playing competitive hockey and enjoying outdoor recreation like skiing and mountain biking. He loved the physicality of competition, but was equally taken with drawing and painting.
Coming from a long line of firefighters that includes his dad, grandfather and uncles, when it came time to make decisions about his future after high school, DuPont was torn between following in footsteps or forging his own pathway.
“When I told my dad, he said it was a no-brainer to pursue a path that would lead to being a firefighter,” DuPont remembers. “My mom gave him a swift elbow and told him that going to art school was something that I wanted to do since I was a kid. My father didn’t see it and for years he was passively supportive. Just before he passed away, I will never forget him standing in front of the kiln during that primal moment. You could see the wood ash flying through and landing on the pot and melting like snow on concreate. He looked at me and the look in his eye told me that was the moment he got it.”
After his first year at the ACAD, the same instructor that stoked the fire of interest in ceramics also told him about a little arts school in British Columbia nestled in the mountain community of Nelson. DuPont’s love of the outdoors prompted him to take his second year of studies at Kootenay Studio Arts in 1997 where he felt an immediate connection to the community. He spent a year developing his craft in the Victoria Street studios and when he left, was pretty sure he would one day return.
A Ceramics Wonderland in the Valley
As he was wrapping up his formal education, DuPont and his wife decided their future was in the West Kootenay. In 2003, they purchased an undeveloped piece of land in the Slocan Valley with the intention of creating a family home and a functioning studio complete with a variety of kilns.
With roots now firmly planted in his mountain paradise, DuPont’s property is a bustling hub of creativity that features four kilns that include a fast fire catenary arch kiln, soda fired gas kiln, ancient anagama wood kiln and a contemporary train wood kiln. All four are creative works in in their own right, making DuPont an authority on the construction and function of these essential tools of the craft.
“The physicality of process is something that has always been important to me… it’s a great way to get outdoors,” says DuPont. “As a result, my investigations in clay are about utility and the alchemy of using the flame as vehicle to distribute glaze.”
DuPont’s creations have a feel of substance with a utilitarian edge that creates unique beauty. The variety of work produced and its continued growing popularity has enabled the goal of working artist to be realized. Ultimately, DuPont brings it back to the basics and his earliest inspiration to choose clay as his creative outlet.
“We have to nourish our bodies regardless, we need drink and food,” he explains. “We go through these rituals every day and we use these utensils to serve the food and drink to our bodies. Those things can be anything, but when I was introduced to them being more meaningful with ceramics, it changed my life.”
With his Slocan Valley homestead well established, his finished works now paying the bills and his deep knowledge of ceramics coveted by those similarly passionate about clay, DuPont is excited to be passing on his gifts to learners at Kootenay Studio Arts.
“We are the logical place to start,” he says about Kootenay Studio Arts. “We can give you the tools to make life out of clay and support yourself where you can live a creative lifestyle.”
Programs of study at Kootenay Studio Arts that include ceramics, jewelry, textiles, blacksmithing and sculptural metal at: https://selkirkcollegearts.ca/
Find out more about Robin DuPont at his website.