Beyond November

I did a double take when I first saw the poppy dish. It is small, fragile and looks like an object that demands my attention and care, just like a poppy. When I finally had the opportunity to talk to the artist who created it, I realized it was called a pin dish. It was a common item in households during the era of the First World War and was used to hold small objects like hairpins, buttons, and other personal items.

This is one of Canadian artist Christian Corbet’s latest works. He is a prolific artist with some very impressive experiences, including working as the Sculptor in Residence for the Royal Canadian Navy. Last year, Corbet worked with the University of Western Ontario in a forensic reconstruction of Scotland’s warrior king, Robert the Bruce, and he has even sat with Prince Philip and done his portrait. With most of his previous work focused on sculpture and portraiture, a small pottery dish seemed almost out of Corbet’s oeuvre.

When asked why he chose pottery as the form to express the idea of the poppy, he replied “the medium chose me.” Corbet’s perspective of the war was formed mostly from listening to stories of his great-grandfather as a child.“He gave me a sense of understanding and a range of emotions of what the war was about.” Corbet always admired pottery as an art form and as a means to connect to earth. One of his great-grandfather’s stories in particular resonated with him. “He was wounded in the field and was tending to the wound by padding it with mud. He realized a soldier mate was killed in action next to him, his blood flowing. To calm himself, he looked up to the night sky at the stars.” Corbet’s pin dish mirrors this event as a powerful symbol – the manipulations of the clay to form the dish, the glazed red poppy in the centre like the blood flowing into mud and the speckled bluish black colour on the dish’s underside represents the night sky.

I soon realized this small object is in fact the embodiment of a very powerful story that demands my attention, not just because of its fragility. Only 50 pin dishes were made, and they were all hand thrown, glazed and fired in the kiln one by one, the same in form but each of them unique. It is almost like Corbet re-telling his great-grandfather’s story with each one of these dishes.

“As time goes on, our perception of war changes, it becomes less and less personal,” explains Corbet when asked about why it is important to continue our work in remembering the Great War. Corbet believes the artist is there to document our time on earth, of the present but also our past. “Through emotion and memory, our work becomes the means for people to continue to remember. Our work is a testament to our awareness of our past and our recognition of its importance.”

Our remembrance of the Great War can go beyond November and beyond the Centennial. Corbet’s hand thrown Poppy Pin Dish does just that. It is available for purchase through special order, at the Centre’s Montréal location, and at any of our pop-up activities. Orders can be placed by phone or email, 514 418 0716 or info@greatwarcentre.com Dishes at $60.00 each, discounts for bulk purchase available.

Addendum
A number of readers have asked about the process of pottery design and limited edition pottery. For this Poppy Pin Dish, Mr. Corbet explains, “The  process for this work was such that I sketched the original designs on paper then after a few variations one was chosen.  Following, I threw the original pin dish (as a maquette) then had another potter throw the series for consistency. Once they were dried and trimmed they were put to fire for what we call a bisque. Then all were hand sanded and on each I drew the designs of each individual poppy (all slightly varied) using graphite. The graphite burns off in the following firing. After, each were hand painted by myself using a glaze and then the backs were also glazed. Then the final firing called a glaze firing happens after which each are all inspected for quality assurance.”

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