Dahlhaus ceramics’ name is a fitting play on the words dollhouse and Bahaus: the fresh-looking pottery, emblazoned with abstracted flowers, makes an unexpected marriage between tea-party ware and sleek architectural design.
But that may stem from Vancouver artist Heather Braun-Dahl’s own unique combination of influences. She trained in painting and ceramic sculpture at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, but she also has an old-fashioned love of home entertaining. Her approach isn’t just aesthetic: it’s philosophical, too. As the mother of two young boys puts it, she’s interested in connection and community in an urban setting.
“We don’t have those meaningful encounters in our houses as much as we used to,” says Braun-Dahl, sitting in the East Side studio where she makes all her pieces. “Maybe it’s nostalgic, but I still like to have people over and use handmade pots.
“I wanted to make something so pretty you want it out—you think, what can I make that would be great in that bowl? But at the same time it will go with your plain old white IKEA dishes. All of a sudden your table looks really lovely, and you didn’t have to bring out your grandmother’s china and risk breaking it.”
Braun-Dahl’s mix of old ideas and new design seems to be hitting a chord. She’s developed a following through markets like Portobello West (when the Straight meets with her, she’s just shipped a load of wares to the Portobello show in Calgary), and she’s set to work on a big summer solo show, from July 4 to 28 at Granville Island’s B.C. Gallery of Ceramics.
The artist traces her interest in connections back to Emily Carr, where she began painting a series of abstract, gestural, circular forms that symbolized chance encounters on city streets. Braun-Dahl graduated in 2001, but between travelling, having kids, and other work, she didn’t get back to ceramics until about five years later. That’s when she pulled out her potter’s wheel again and became focused on creating functional pottery that incorporated her painting techniques. She started experimenting with clay, and particularly glazes.
“There were so many potters doing one-dip-wonder glazes and it was all about form, and then there was silk-screening too,” she explains. “But I really wanted to make something different from the new, younger, fresher, hipper works out there and play with the glazes. I originally wanted the forms to be elongated, simple surface areas for the painted shape to sit on—modern and minimalist.”
Braun-Dahl developed a method of separating colour on the ceramics to make the hues more intense than they look in traditional layering of glazes. Her circular painted forms developed into bright red and peach poppies set against a pure, crisp white—her “canvas”.
The artist still hand-paints those poppies onto pieces like her elongated mugs, bowls, vases, and both tall and round teapots. Now they sit against a varied background of white and pale celadon, or white and turquoise. “I’m always thinking about colour combinations—that comes from my painting background,” says Braun-Dahl, whose business also encompasses her abstracted architectural paintings.
She’s also ventured into yellow blooms with hummingbirds, as well as purply delphinium shapes, but always simplified. No two are alike.
One of her most unique pieces is an oval vase with holes in the top. On this day, on a table in her studio, red poppylike blooms stand at attention out of a piece emblazoned with almost the exact same painted flowers. (Sample prices include $16 for small tea bowls, $22 for latte mugs, $30 for larger coffee mugs, and anywhere from $45 to $110 for bigger bowls. You can find her pieces at the B.C. Gallery of Ceramics [1359 Cartwright Street], Favourite Gifts [Lonsdale Quay Market], or Feast! in the Village Gallery [3183 Edgemont Boulevard, North Vancouver].)
All dahlhaus designs are dishwasher-, oven-, and microwave-safe. “They won’t ever fade because it’s a glaze,” she says, again showing you can be painterly and practical at the same time.