Over the past thirty years, The Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery has transformed alongside the ever-changing cultural landscape of art and craft in Canada. Situated in the growing city of Waterloo, Ontario, the Gallery’s history is imbued with strong cultural ties, pushing the envelope, and endurance in the face of adversity.
The story starts with a woman named Ruth Gowdy McKinley. McKinley, a ceramic artist who specialized in functional ware, was one of the founding members of an organization known as Ceramists Canada. McKinley was a highly dedicated asset to the group, and spent much of her time cementing and pursuing the goals of the organization through her work. When McKinley passed in 1981, members of Ceramists Canada conceived an idea for an art gallery promoting works based in clay, glass, and enamel with the intention of honoring her memory.
With support from Ceramists Canada and the Glass Art Association of Canada, what would become the national gallery for ceramic and glass art was incorporated as a not-for-profit in 1982.
After a feasibility study and architectural design competition, the ground was broken for the construction of the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery in Waterloo, Ontario on September 16, 1989.
The prime location was donated by the City of Waterloo and the Gallery’s distinguished design was developed by Patkau Architects of Vancouver. The architecture of the Gallery is now recognized for its Governor General Award-winning design.
Through several campaigns organized to support the Gallery’s endowment fund, staff, volunteers, board and committee members participated in a regional canvass of business and met with individuals interested in art. Most notably, the persons who spearheaded the vision and development of the Gallery were the late Winifred Shantz and former Board Chair, Ann Roberts.
Ann Roberts, known for her figurative works in ceramic as well as her long-standing career as an educator in the Fine Arts Department of the University of Waterloo, strongly believed in the necessity of the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery as a hub for arts and culture.
“In Canada, potters, glassblowers, clay sculptors, stained glass makers, and enamelists continue to create some of North America’s finest work. They have achieved artistic excellence and international recognition. Yet, nowhere in this country is there a gallery of national stature especially designed for us to experience and appreciate their art – no centre for the collection, documentation, and display of their work. The Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery, to be built in Waterloo, will be that place.”
– Ann Roberts, Campaign for the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery, 1989
Ann Roberts, June 1993.
Ann Roberts and Winifred Shantz, June 1993.
Crucial support for the gallery’s success also came from the late Keith and Winifred Shantz – two local philanthropists who continue their legacies through a variety of initiatives in the arts. As a lover of the arts with a particular passion for pottery, Winifred Shantz became deeply involved in the arts community of Waterloo. It is because of her that the Winifred Shantz Award of Ceramics exists and persists to this day; allowing emerging artists working and living in Canada to undertake a period of independent research, or other activities that advance their artistic and professional practice.
Keith Shantz, her husband, became involved with the Gallery’s formation, and not only funded the largest gallery space at the Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery, but also acted as the Honorary Campaign Chairman during the initial funding stages of the gallery’s inception.
On June 19, 1993 the Gallery had its official opening with a “hands-in-clay” ceremony which replaced the traditional ribbon cutting. Over the past thirty years, the Gallery has exhibited numerous ground-breaking and well-received exhibitions such as Chicago in Glass (2007), Voices (2022), and Confined (2022). It has expanded its programming to engage a variety of community groups through Sharing Experiences, Gather at the Gallery, and countless visits from schools across the region. It has presented awards to emerging talents, dedicated space to hundreds of artists, and created an ever-growing community of artists, educators, and those appreciative of art. By exhibiting and collecting contemporary works in ceramics and glass, the Gallery inspires dialogue, critical discourse and new ways of thinking. Through exhibitions that address issues relevant to our times, an impressive selection of works in our Gallery Shop and intriguing public programs that engage, educate, and inspire, we are accessible to all.
Robert McMane, Chair, Board of Directors at the ‘Hands in Clay’ Ceremony on June 19, 1993.
Canadian Clay & Glass Gallery*
In October and November of 1986 a limited national competition was held for the design of a new gallery for the display of contemporary Canadian clay and glass art. This gallery was to be located on a site adjacent to the Seagram Museum, donated by the City of Waterloo, Ontario. Funding was to be provided equally by the Government of Canada, the Government of Ontario, and private donations. Due to delays in the release of certain components of this funding, development of the competition design was postponed until the beginning of 1989. By this time construction costs had increased to such a degree that it was necessary to substantially reduce the scope of the original building program.
Revisions to the Program
To reduce the scope of the original program to bring the 1990 costs of the project into line with the original 1986 budget approximately one-third of the original area of 2500 square meters had to be eliminated. To this end the glassblowing studio and lecture theatre were deleted and components within the support areas were reduced substantially. Architecturally the deletion of the glassblowing studio made the direct expression of the process from making, through collection and selection, to the display of art no longer appropriate. The irregular central space of the original design within which this process was made evident was therefore eliminated to further reduce and simplify the final design. The revelation of this process of ‘certification’ of the art object provided a basis for the critical understanding of institutionalized culture. In the revised final design the actual manner in which the gallery spaces were developed would have to provide this type of critical context. Provisions for substantial future expansion were also deleted from the program although limited additional support facilities are projected for an area to the west of the present building.
The Nature of the Gallery Space
The modern stereotype of the art gallery space is the white cube; a pure white space, lit artificially, with no connection to the world beyond. The stereotype has arisen naturally as a response to curatorial interests as well as to the drive toward abstraction characteristic of avant garde painting and sculpture of the post-war period. The fundamental difficulty with this view is the tendency of this type of space to place ‘art-on-a-pedestal’ – in a sense to turn works of art into pseudo-sacred objects divorced from everyday life.
The design of the Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery challenges the extreme isolation of this stereotype. First, the gallery interiors are strongly connected to the outside world: Natural light from skylights and windows articulates the order of the gallery spaces. An exterior courtyard brings daily and seasonal cycles into the gallery interior. Stained glass is displayed against the background of exterior views so it may be animated by changing light and movement. Second, the construction of the gallery interiors is not abstract: building materials are directly expressed; details reveal layers of construction – the building up of roof and wall assemblies – and articulate the relationships of materials to each other. In this way the art objects which are displayed (as well as the architecture within which they are displayed) are connected to normal experiences, so that they may be understood to be part of everyday life.
The construction of the gallery reveals a simple hierarchy of building materials: Totemic elements – the courtyard, small works and tower galleries as well as the gas fired light columns – are reinforced concrete. The roof and second floor of the surrounding construction consist of a heavy timber deck supported by steel beam and purlin framing. Concrete masonry bearing walls, exposed to the interior support the roof and floor assemblies. On the exterior, these walls are clad with brick veneer, detailed at door and window openings to express the composite nature of the wall. Door and window frames are stained wood. The main floor is a reinforced concrete platform, left exposed, supported by a reinforced concrete grade beam and pile foundation.
*Patkau Architects, Patkau Architects: Selected Projects 1983-1993, ed. Brian Carter (Halifax: TUNS Press, 1994), 71-72.