House Beautiful: Potter moulds French-country retreat in Strawberry Vale

With unique glazes, flowing sculptural forms and colours that evoke the ocean, forest and desert, Meira Mathison makes her artistic statement in clay.

But when it comes to her house, the renowned local potter — who has taught workshops in England, the U.S., Canada and Mexico — has created a French country look to suit the bucolic Strawberry Vale setting where she and her husband live.

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Whereas in her pottery she pushes the limits, throwing vessels then adding pieces to them, or pushing them in and out like pillows, in her home, she has created an atmosphere that is more traditional, graceful and elegant.

“I love the French country look with mullioned windows and the warm patina of wood, because I’m a country girl,” Meira explained. “I grew up on a farm, and I don’t like the sleek look of many modern houses.”

She and her husband, Logan, started building their dream house a decade ago, and the structure was finished in less than a year, but work inside has continued as they waited to choose ideal pieces of furniture and art.

Landscape designer Twyla Rusnak has also created a 20-year plan for their rolling half-hectare property, and the owners are working on it, arranging broad swaths of plantings to outline natural terraces and contours.

Island Keystone Landscape Solutions is building stone patios, walls and sitting shelves down by the horse barn, “and it will be fabulous when it’s done,” said Meira, who hopes it won’t take quite that long.

The Mathisons’ home is designed for one-level living, with a suite upstairs for family or future caregiver, and it was clearly built to display art, of which they an abundance. That’s hardly surprising since she has been a potter for 30 years, was executive director of the Metchosin International School of Art for 25 years and now directs its ceramic program.

She is also currently preparing, along with a dozen local ceramic artists, for the upcoming Fired Up! show being held in Metchosin on the May 25 weekend. (See seidebar)

Her studio is brimming with work and throughout the house are numerous alcoves and shelves that highlight pieces ranging from tea bowls to large vessels, made by artists around the world, many of whom traded works with Meira.

Ceilings on the main floor are close to four metres high except in the kitchen where it is almost five, and they are fitted with recessed wall washers and eyeballs to focus light on paintings and sculptural pieces.

Meira pointed out she and Logan weren't looking to build a new house when she spotted the property one day while driving to work at Pearson College. “We were looking at buying a rental home which at some time, way in the future, we would downsize and retire to.”

But after spotting this idyllic property, she told Logan they had to see it, and by 9 p.m. the next day, the deal was sealed.

“And because we loved the property, we sold our totally renovated house, where we had planned to live until we could no longer do stairs, and began to build on the new property.”

Before starting to design it, they spied a gorgeous Heartland stove on sale for half price, and it reminded Logan of an old fashion wood stove in his family’s Welsh kitchen.

His father was born in Wales and some years ago the couple visited the house where he had grown up. “We knocked on the door and when we asked to see inside, the owner invited us in for a cup of tea,” recalled Logan.

“She showed us around and we took some pictures, and that old kitchen is very much like ours is now. The one in Wales was bigger by about a third, but it had a sunroom on the side, a voluminous ceiling — and a big store.

“It was very special to see. We designed the house around this stove,” said Logan, who owns Saanich Rentals and handles equipment for contracting, gardening, home maintenance and more.

While Meira did the interior design and concepts, “I did as much of the bull work as I could. Our builder, Colin Wilson, was very good and Rick Koome was an excellent finishing carpenter who did all the crown moulding and laid the floors.”

The Mathisons lived on the property during construction, in an existing modular home that they later removed, and the owners did a lot of sanding and finishing.

“I’ve done a lot of floors over the years but the German product we used, Hartwachsol Hard Wax Oil, was excellent,” said Logan. “It was worth its weight in gold.” Their walnut floors, from Westwood Hardwood, have stood up “absolutely amazingly” considering their large dogs.

Logan also did a lot of repairs to an old horse barn.

“It was falling down so I re-erected it. Jacked the walls up, got ride of the rotting wood and added a tin shed at one end for Meira’s kilns.”

She loves her new studio, as pottery has been a huge part of her life.

“When I was a young mother, living on a boat, a friend and I took a course in clay at a rec centre, not because I thought I had talent, but it was a way of getting out.” At first, they did hand building, which she didn’t like, but one day, she threw a pot on a wheel.

“I still remember the feeling of falling in love with it.” Within a year, she was teaching children, and a year later, she was teaching adults, while also working as a secretary for several Victoria mayors and then, as personal secretary to former B.C. premier Mark Harcourt.

“I don’t need to be in that world anymore,” she explained, looking around her home.

 

WHAT: Fired Up! Ceramic Artists: Contemporary Works in Clay

WHERE: Metchosin Community Hall, 4401 William Head Road.

WHEN: Opening gala 6 to 9 p.m. May 25, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. May 26 and 27.

NOTE: Free admission

INFO: firedup.ca or 250-590-5744

The 34th annual show and sale features more than a dozen ceramic artists including Samantha Dickie, Sandra Dolph, Mary Fox, Gordon Hutchens, Cathi Jefferson, Beth McMillin, Kinichi Shigeno and Pat Webber. Guest artists are Vin Arora, Louise Card, Susan Delatour, Fredi Rahn and Craig Rogers.

The event will boast an array of exceptional ceramics made by this professional group of clay artists who have shown their works from in various parts of North America, and beyond.

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