The Bronfman Collection 
Virtual Gallery

Masters of the Crafts

Wayne Ngan — Potter

About the craftsperson

Wayne Ngan
"In the pottery of Wayne Ngan we find, perhaps more strongly and consistently than in the work of any other Canadian potter, the presence in form and spirit of Far-Eastern ceramics. Today, Ngan has a firm reputation as a totally committed studio potter. Living and working by the sea, in a house and kiln-equipped studio all of his own design and making, he has achieved an integration of his life and his art that embodies the values of simplicity and wholeness at the centre of his personal philosophy. Ngan's holistic approach to art is neither sought after nor capable of realization by most craftspeople today, but his example has the force and persuasiveness of the committed and productive visionary. Out of this commitment have come works that reassert pottery's fundamental meanings while at the same time they echo some of its great moments in time."

Doris Shadbolt
North Burnaby, British Columbia

Wayne Ngan
Ngan firing his reconstruction of a
Song-dynasty kiln, Hornby Island,
British Columbia, in 1988

The artistic talents of Wayne Ngan were evident to his Canadian teachers shortly after he arrived in Vancouver from his native China at the age of thirteen, and he was encouraged to go on to the Vancouver School of Art. Although Ngan was especially interested in painting, he could not afford the necessary materials and was obliged to enrol in the least expensive studio course, pottery. Graduating with honours, Ngan set up his own pottery and sculpture studio, began to teach, and gave pottery workshops. Later, he settled on Hornby Island, off the west coast of British Columbia. This move signalled a turning point in Ngan's development as a craftsman, since it established his dedicated commitment to ceramics and initiated the process of integrating his craft with his environment.

For four years, Ngan lived in a temporary shelter while building a kiln and continuing to make pots. From the stone and driftwood he collected around the island, he eventually created a house, a studio and a kiln shed. Within this stimulating island environment, Ngan renewed his interest in his Oriental heritage, and began experimenting with raku pottery, salt glazes and Chinese brush techniques.

Later he travelled to China to study traditional pottery styles and techniques and to Japan to work with a master potter. Preferring the spontaneity and directness of ancient Oriental pottery, Ngan was particularly impressed by the pure forms and etched decorative surfaces of China's Song dynasty and Korea's El dynasty. On his return to Hornby Island, he began to adapt these pottery styles and techniques to his own ceramic vessels.
Shrimp bowl
Shrimp bowl, 1978
Stoneware, iron glaze, wax resist image of shrimp
14 in. (diameter) x 3 ¼ in.
Image used with permission of the artist
Archives - Box 607, F1 and F2

Now Ngan often uses a kick wheel instead of the electric wheel, preferring the physical communication between the clay and the potter's hands and feet. He often fires green pottery in a wood-fired, instead of an electrically heated, kiln to produce a soft-hued ceramic glaze. Working in this way, Ngan not only participates directly, that is physically and spiritually, in the firing of his pottery, but also carries on an ancient Oriental tradition.

It is in these ways that he contributes to a wider appreciation of Asian aesthetics in Canada, especially on the West Coast, where the Oriental influence is prominent in architecture, landscaping and the visual arts.

CMC 86-111.1-2 - CD94-689-019
Lidded Jar, 1985
20 cm (diameter) x 15 cm
CMC 86-111.1 to 2 (Bronfman)

CMC 86-109 - CD94-689-015
Vase, 1981
17 cm (diameter) x 31 cm
CMC 86-109 (Bronfman)

Ngan's integration of craft and environment is a continuous process. He intends to further explore local materials, using Hornby Island stone in making glazes and British Columbia clay for his stoneware. He also has aspirations to become better recognized as a painter and sculptor. For the present, though, his contemplation of two interwoven heritages and the integration of local materials into his craft, home and studio have brought a certain elemental harmony into his life.

Reflecting on one of his pots, Ngan recognizes that:

"It's almost like a Song dynasty pot, but somehow it's not the same because I digest those Song pots and ancient pottery and recreate my own liveliness. You can't just copy something from the past — you have to live your own life, living with your forms, and then they become part of you."

Selected Works Choices Continue