Brian Wiebe calls his latest vocation his clay epic, although the term hardly covers the all-consuming passion that’s taken over his Glenmore home.
On his walls is a mixture of homemade yogurt—the German kind known as Kefir—a fermented fruit paste and clay dug out of veins in the family orchard.
It melds together to form a solid wall covering, much like greenware pottery or, for those who spend a good deal of time in Glenmore, the clay muck strangling the carrots and creating a mess on the driveway.
“It’s almost like a living breathing membrane in your house that’s modulating all the time. So I found that incredibly cool,” explains Wiebe.
“It’s like a natural heat exchange where it’s always absorbing heat and always releasing it.”
Those who believe in using clay, rather than paint, on one’s walls say the earthen substance releases positive ions into the air and that the fermented mixture of fruit or wine can be used to create a mood in the room.
Wiebe can’t say whether this is true or not—though he is very sold on the final product.
The clay walls aren’t the half of what’s going on in this house, however. The audio engineer’s basement is also filled, wall to wall, with ancient-style pottery he’s made from that same clay he dug out of the backyard.
“It’s about cradling the Okanagan nectar in the very ground that gave it life,” said Wiebe. “There’s something about that I find charming.”
Charming and a little overwhelming at the moment. In preparation for the upcoming Candesca concert at the Kelowna Community Theatre on Oct. 8, Wiebe has produced some 150 pots to be displayed on the stage and sold in the foyer.
Whether one uses his tall pots for wine or water or simply to display, he says his art has little to do with those who will buy it, it’s more like a calling.
Still, he’s looking forward to finding out whether others share his passion.
“It’s kind of a clay quest,” he said. “I’ve always been an ancient stuff kind of guy. I was probably born 3,500 years too late and that’s why I’m drawn to this kind of thing now—or ruined by it, whatever you want to say.”
By and large, most potters aren’t that keen on using clay unearthed in the backyard and Wiebe has plenty of examples of why.
The organic matter, or dirt, that might be mixed in will crack when the product finally makes it to the kiln and, unfortunately, the artist doesn’t know about the fatal flaws until the firing is complete and the giant oven opens to reveal what’s survived.
Wiebe has had a few horrifying surprises. His first ventures were downright traumatic from his description; even getting to the kiln stage was difficult.
“Nobody does old, tall jars and then I realized why—‘cause they’re really hard to pull,” he said. “It takes a tremendous amount of strength and you really have to know how to use your body intelligently.”
Wiebe has a masters degree in ancient languages. His pottery guru is an ancient history instructor named Ken Guenter, who can spend an evening throwing plates and walk away with a complete set.
He’s the one who told the aspiring artist he needed to start with plates and mugs, like any other potter. It took five years before he could pursue his true passion and it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.
Armed with a handful of brilliant YouTube videos and an apparently unending amount of patience, Wiebe set to work learning his craft and said that in some ways, the dreaded cracks became pleasant quirks when the jug is held.
“You can do everything right and there’s still a surprise waiting for you eventually,” he said.
“It’s like learning golf or something. I mean you have your gleaming moments, but at some point you have to modulate your expectations knowing that there is way more to it than it looks.”
Wiebe experiments with the ancient Hebrew and Cuneiform language he studied in school on the sides of his pots, replicating the artifacts he spent more than two years unearthing on archeology digs.
Without millions of dollars or a black market source, this is his best attempt at celebrating those time periods and the civilizations he’s dedicated his life to learning about.
“I knew I was going to be trying to celebrate these forms of life and have them around me. When you live those kinds of dreams—the ancient Mesopotamia, the Bronze Age, those sorts of things—you’re somewhat ruined for life,” he said.
To see Wiebe’s beloved pots check out his web site at www.solarnesters.com.
The pots will be sold in the Kelowna Community Theatre at Candesca’s upcoming concert Oct. 8, 7 p.m.