From a light-filled studio on the top floor of her Fairfield home, Samantha Dickie sculpts clay into textural, organic forms that beg fingers to run across their tactile surfaces. Multiple windows and skylights flood the studio with natural light, and the dance of leaves and branches outside impart the feeling of being in a very well-designed treehouse. Along with Dickie’s sculptural work, the studio is layered with ephemera from her life. Vignettes ranging from collections of natural materials such as driftwood and barnacles to rusting bits of industrial metal, vestiges of the Yukon Gold Rush, keep the eye traveling throughout the spaces.
Dickie is attracted to these remnants from the past that are “rotting back into the earth, and tell this story that is no longer there. The objects are so beautiful when they stop being functional. They become sculptural.” Along with these vignettes are mementos from her travels — strung shells from Nicaragua, brushes and ancient ceramic pieces from a residency in China — and projects crafted by the children who frequent her studio.
Of the space, Dickie says, “I have set up things to be inspired by the stories of my life and my experience. I buy art when I travel, so I have pieces from all over. When I look at them not only am I in the experience of the picture or sculpture, but I’m totally drawn back into that place, that time, that experience.” The studio came into being after an extensive home renovation project.
The original plan had been to add an extension to the existing house, take off the roof and build up to create a studio with the best possible light and square footage. However, after discovering significant rot, the decision was made to demo the house and rebuild the old house with the new additions. As a result of rebuilding the downstairs, and building a new upstairs with different setbacks, her home has qualities unique to a renovation, despite the fact that it’s rebuilt framing.
The home boasts tall vaulted ceilings and extra rooflines. The upstairs studio was designed with industrial capacity. As each box of clay weighs 50 lbs, there is enormous weight in a small area. Double floor joists bear the load and plans allowed for drains, clay traps, steel doors for the kiln rooms, and specific ventilation. The biggest challenge of having a ceramic studio on the second floor is carrying weighty materials and sculptures up and down the stairs. Dickie does not, as some visitors have asked, have an elevator.
For Samantha Dickie, the main impetus for carving out studio space at home was balancing family life with the demands of her ceramic work. Though she can finish her work at a reasonable hour, she often needs to fire a kiln overnight, and be present for the firing. Says Dickie, “Sometimes I set my alarm for twelve, two, four in the morning and toddle up in my pyjamas and check the kiln. I would never be able to do that otherwise.
”Dickie’s introduction to ceramics came when she signed up for a night course intended to provide creative relief from the demands of her academic coursework in Women’s Studies and Native Studies. She fell in love with the tactility of the material and went on to study sculpture full time.
On connecting to her creative side and shifting her career path, Dickie says, “When I was doing my undergrad and looking at the trajectory of working in social politics, in fields like social work and community politics where people are serving other people all the time, the burnout rate is really high.
People that are dedicating their lives to the greater good really need to find a place to refuel, so I wanted to develop that part of my life. I think that as adults we really need that, whether it’s visual art, dance, writing, hiking or gardening. That’s why I decided to change from my undergrad path to a really a different path, to art. You need to fill the well, and it’s harder as you get older to figure out how to do that, so they’re good skills to learn when you’re starting out.” Dickie describes the majority of her work as organic, textural pieces with a raw natural feeling.
Her newest work, titled Urban Scape, stands in contrast. The pieces are bending, organic forms of unglazed porcelain with photo transfers depicting scenes from her life and travels. Images vary from her daughter on a trampoline at Mt. Washington, to a lone tree on a Chinese mountaintop, to old wooden doors from Italy; windows into the images and textures encountered in her frequent travels. Dickie characterizes it as “a melding of architecture and landscape; organic, urban and natural.”
This more modern aesthetic informs her latest creative outlet, a collaboration with Adam Nagasaki of MADA Construction. Their new co-venture, modernNest Development, sees Dickie applying her aesthetic to home design, creating spaces that highlight “function, style, integrity of material, artistic flair, and yet are really cozy. The building that we’re designing has that feeling of having corners where you can do many different kinds of things.
A vista for doing your work at your desk, a corner with a big wall of art, and little pops of all the things that you want a house to be. You want it to be cozy, you want to be able to entertain, yet you also want it to be your retreat. It should serve all these different functions.” Of her sculptural and home design work, Dickie notes that “Everything melds. Doing the sculpture work, building design, interiors, and landscape design, all interact with one another. They’re all different expressions of the same way of thinking.”
When it comes to seeking out inspiration, Samantha Dickie is a decidedly offline person. Rather than falling down the internet rabbit hole, she seeks connection with the creative community. Such connection recently led to Dickie hosting an event for Club Kwench — a dinner with Danielle Krysa, aka The Jealous Curator. Dickie notes that “Victoria is full of people making ideas happen. It’s so dynamic; I’m very inspired by the people here.”
Her art has also benefited from creative connections. A conversation with a peer artist-in-residence at the Banff Centre changed the trajectory of her sculptural work, shifting her focus to working in multiples, which she says is “so accessible. You can create a sense of narrative with the work, and that narrative can change with different installations. You can do that when you work in multiples in a way that’s so continually creative and inspiring because it can really shift.”
Dickie asserts that “It’s a privilege to receive honest feedback, not to a detriment. It pushes your work forward. Someone just saying ‘that’s really great’, doesn’t do much for your creative process. But the people who will sit down and say ‘I love this, but I’m not sure about that, or have you thought about this?’ That is gold, for someone to take their time and dedicate their focus to you, so I think feedback is a great thing. Your work becomes stagnant if you do not have those exchanges.”