By Carol Sutherland-Brown
I first met Kathrin Von Dehn at a party in the Glebe. What I remembered of that evening was the magnificent view of a snowy Patterson’s Creek, delicious Venezuelan arepas and a conversation with an artist so passionate about her work that I was determined to seek her out again.
On a cool, rainy morning in November, I walk to the home studio of the long-time Glebe resident, a potter, jeweller and mixed-media artist.
I enter a vibrant household, busy with children, relatives, husband and dogs. Von Dehn offers me a berry cobbler and we sip coffee from her handmade mugs. I admire their weight, grace and cheerful pattern of playful birds in jaunty top hats. Her dining-room table is covered with succulents in graceful pinched pots; hand-painted tiles grace the kitchen.
Von Dehn loves finding objects to recombine in her artistic practice. She was a forager, a collector, a reclaimer of discarded objects long before recycling. Her kitchen counter sits on a base of reclaimed wood; her mismatched dining room chairs are all found objects. The effect is one of harmony and individuality, reflecting Von Dehn’s design aesthetic.
She tells me that after earning a BA in German from Guelph University, she realized that her interests lay in a different direction. “All my life I loved to make things,” she says. “My first earrings were made of orange peels.” She completed formal training as a goldsmith at Toronto’s George Brown College, where she mastered the technical aspects of jewellery design, and then augmented her skills with a residency at Toronto’s Harbourfront.
Her experimentation with ceramics began with components of her jewellery. But about five years ago, she shifted to working largely with clay. “I love it. I am continually surprised by what emerges.”
Given her hospitable nature, I am not surprised that Von Dehn is a strong believer in functional pottery. Her pieces are used for serving, receiving and sharing food and drink and for housing flowers, cacti and succulents.
We go downstairs to her studio where she works from early morning to late afternoon, with breaks for lunch and the occasional game of Scrabble with her husband Sebastian. It is a large, well-organized space, divided into separate areas, each reflective of her artistic interests.
Her pottery tools are grouped together. There are many surfaces for the rolling, pinching and cutting. Art canvases line one wall. Vintage suitcases are neatly stacked above cabinets of art and shelves lined with reference books. A sewing machine sits next to an armoire replete with bolts of fabric – cozy woollens, warm plaids, shimmering silks. Wreaths hang on the wall, ornamented with ceramic buttons.
“I like to take anything I can find and use it in my design,” she says, lifting a feather reclaimed from the garden and placing it gently on the wreath, looking thoughtful and pleased with the result.
I am drawn to the ceramics on display. Von Dehn produces “families” of mugs, bowls and receptacles. One collection comprises of a pattern of circles, another of dots; some feature exotic birds. There is a playful quality to her work, with colours reminiscent of a sunny Mexican palette in greens, yellows and blues.
I pick up a small white bowl with an almost iridescent green interior, one of a series commissioned by a Glebe spa. I make out Von Dehn’s signature on the base – the profile of her beloved dog Ziggy, a long-haired dachshund.
Ziggy is close by while she works in the studio and accompanies her on her exploratory walks and regular visits to the pottery studio at the Glebe Community Centre. Von Dehn has taught pottery workshops there for children and adults and relies on its kiln to fire her pieces. She also teaches at the Hintonburg Pottery Studio and is an active member of the Ottawa Guild of Potters.
She produces hundreds of pieces every year and exhibits her work regularly. “It is the doing for me that is really important – I am a maker. I am happy to have things move, let them out in the world to be enjoyed by someone else.”
I am amazed to see I have happily spent four hours in Von Dehn’s welcoming studio. Before stepping back out into the rain, I note the details of the upcoming Ottawa Potters’ Guild show, December 13-15 in the Horticulture Building at Lansdowne, where I hope to pick up a few of her pieces for the enjoyment of my friends and family.
You may follow her work on Instagram at kvondesigns, and on Facebook at Kathrin von Dehn Designs.
Carol Sutherland-Brown moved to Holmwood Avenue in 1987 after years of travel, work and study in the Middle East and Europe. Since her retirement from Health Canada, she has been writing memoir and short fiction.