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Visitors to the Craft Galleries on Granville Island in Vancouver are becoming familiar with Gillian McMillan’s jugbirds. These colourful clay creatures are practical pitchers or supervise kitchen events. They have been Gillian’s main focus for several years now with two solo shows: “Ornithikos: Gk. birdlike” at the Gallery of BC Ceramics in 2003 and “Rara Avis: L. rare bird” at the Circle Craft Gallery in 2007 featuring only wheelthrown birds.

Gillian Taylor was born in Dorset, England in 1943 and spent her childhood there and in Somerset, aware of deciduous trees, rolling hills, stone and brick houses, thatched roofs and farm animals. She was always drawing and painting.

Art School was not considered a practical option so she spent 3 years training to be an elementary school Art teacher, in London. With painting as her major pursuit she included a year of pottery study. Later, while teaching in Bristol she continued taking pottery classes (West of England College of Art) and back in London studied graphic design at St. Martin’s School of Art in the evenings.

In 1967 Gillian emigrated to Montreal, Canada and taught there for one year, and took a painting course at Sir George Williams University (now Concordia). By 1970 she had moved to Vancouver, married archaeologist Alan McMillan and was again taking pottery classes when not substitute teaching. The next year she and Alan bought a 1914 cedar-clad house in Port Moody, a few miles east, and are still living there. She took credit courses in pottery, glaze calculation and ceramic history at Douglas College (now Kwantlen UC), started a career as a pottery teacher, sold her pottery and produced two sons.

A summer workshop back in England in 1984 with Douglas Phillips in Somerset was an important opportunity. Students were taught by a master thrower who used local stoneware clays. They raw-glazed and once-fired the work in wood-fired kilns – one with glazes and the other with salt. Douglas suggested Gillian visit John Leach and other local potters and plan to get to La Borne pottery village in France one day.

For some years Gillian organised a Port Moody Craft fair, sold from her home studio, taught wheelthrowing at Coquitlam’s Place des Arts and built a natural gas fired kiln in her garden. But by 1991, with the boys almost grown up, Gillian was encouraged to achieve her dream of an Art School education. Three years full-time and earning a BFA at Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design proved to be stimulating, influential and the beginning of a new phase of her career. During that time she also had the chance to visit La Borne and other potteries in France, appreciating both traditional and contemporary pottery practices there.

For two years she shared a studio in Vancouver. Then, after helping to establish the Port Moody Arts Centre and its clay programme she was an artist-in-residence there for three years. Since that time she has re-established her studio in her home and relies on an excellent electric kiln to fire the earthenware work. Birds and flowers are encouraged in her garden where evergreen trees try to grow very tall in the coastal rainforest.

To see Gillian’s work go to the galleries mentioned first. Email Gillian if you have a specific idea or commission. Her studio is open by request and for the annual Port Moody ArtWalk in April. (www.artsconnect.ca)

Gillian will present a workshop on throwing, assembling and decorating her jugbirds, or on the use of coloured slips with leather-hard tiles. She and Alan are also willing to give a power point presentation on a tour of the West Country of England’s Potteries and Archaeology in 2005.


Pottery and Archaeology Tour

Gillian and Alan have taken potters on a tour to meet potters in England, to visit county Guild shops and walk in castles and ruins. We travelled north to see the fascinating museums and the few remaining factories in Stoke-on-Trent. If you and a group would be interested in having us arrange a similar tour, or would merely like advice on the many places of interest to clay addicts, in England, contact Gillian.

Contact Gillian McMillan:  gillianmcmillan@shaw.ca