CAVE DUST MEETS ARTISAN POTTERY: CANMORE’S QUIRKIEST SOUVENIR
We’re pretty sure you won’t have heard anything quite like this before!
If you’ve experienced Rat’s Nest Cave with us, you may have noticed some dust on the ground and on your gear at the end of the day. In the past, the dust residue that collects on your coveralls during the experience would have been discarded after the cleaning process. Now, we’ve discovered a very unique way to repurpose this natural byproduct of our adventures – collecting the residual cave dust and using it to create artisan wine tumblers, right here in Canmore.
We’re excited to announce this as part of a new collaboration with our neighbours here at our Canmore HQ; 'of Cabbages and Kings Pottery', a working studio with two generations of potters behind it. We caught up with Katie Borrowman, one half of the studio’s father-daughter team, to hear about their story, and how she came to use unusual materials such as cave dust in her work.
Read on to find out more about these new and seriously unique souvenirs – and, how you can WIN a Canmore Cave Tours experience, plus a set of our new Rat’s Nest Cave tumblers!
KATIE BORROWMAN’S STORY: A NEW GENERATION OF CRAFTSMANSHIP
For of Cabbages and Kings, handcrafting unique pieces for Canmore Cave Tours is all in a day’s work. Studio founder John Borrowman has been making his living with clay since 1974, and he was joined by his daughter, Katie Borrowman, in 2005. Together they work on several studio lines, each producing their own distinctive and colourful lines of functional and one-of-a-kind ceramics.
John is now in the studio on an occasional basis, spending the majority of his time serving as mayor of the Town of Canmore. Katie, who now runs the studio as a full-time production potter, says that the passion for pottery runs in the Borrowman bloodline. “Dad was a full-time studio potter from 1974 to 1997. He and my Mom relocated from Ontario to Canmore in 1975. Back then, there was a collective pottery studio in town called Stonecrop Studios – where Rebound Cycle is now, in 2017 – and he worked out of there for many years,” says Katie. “In 1991, Dad launched of Cabbages and Kings, partnering with a local builder. They bought one of the little mining houses in town, and built a second floor inside. This second floor housed individual studios, while the main floor was the pottery studio, and Dad had a little gallery space in the front.”
Although Katie grew up immersed in the pottery trade, post-secondary studies cemented her personal passion for ceramics.
“After I graduated high school in 2000, I left Canmore to study at Alberta College of Art and Design, and one of the classes I enjoyed more than anything was ceramics. So when I returned to Canmore in 2005, I decided to try my hand at pottery with my Dad,” says Katie. “When I started with of Cabbages and Kings, I had little pottery experience other than odd jobs at the studio during high school. Growing up, I’d only learned a small amount from Dad. Understandably, it wasn’t ideal to have kids running around the pottery studio, and in the late 1990s, he had purchased and operated two local galleries, so he had been on a pottery hiatus for a while. Discovering my own passion as a young adult and coming back to learn from Dad, from scratch – it was really rewarding.”
For Katie, the family business feels like home – making a living from her creativity and craftsmanship, and enjoying variety as well as a good challenge. “It’s always rewarding to hear that people have enjoyed your work, and the pieces they own hold special meaning for them. In terms of the process, it’s the throwing that I enjoy most; creating the forms of the different pieces – especially when I get to play a little bit,” she says. ”Some days, the clay doesn’t cooperate – it just doesn’t want to be a mug, or a bowl, you know? So you just take a break from those pieces and work on something else for a while.”
CAVE DUST MEETS ARTISAN POTTERY: THE IDEA
When the Canmore Cave Tours team moved into the space above of Cabbages and Kings’ pottery studio in 2013, little did the two businesses know that they would bring a small piece of the cave, and their craft, together in the future.
“We started making standard mountain-style coffee mugs for Adam [Owner & Head Guide of Canmore Cave Tours] and the team in 2015,” says Katie. “About a year ago, we got talking about how this clay was coming out of the dust on the caving coveralls. Then we had this quirky idea: could we use it as a material in our studio?” While the idea was a novel one, it required some trial and error to make it viable.
“When Adam brought us the first bucket of clay collected during the coverall cleaning process, we ran a few tests. Unfortunately it didn’t contain enough pure clay body, so we decided that the cave clay alone wouldn’t be suitable to construct the main body of a functional ceramic tumbler. So we started testing the clay as a glaze instead – and it looked pretty nice!” Katie says. “It’s a lot of fun that we’re able to use such a unique material from the cave. Adam had ideas for some small tweaks to the original Canmore Cave Tours mugs, such as featuring the previous mountain design, flipped upside down to look like the Rat’s Nest Cave stalactites, and to include some little bats as details. We can’t wait to see how the first batch of tumblers turns out.”
CAVE DUST MEETS ARTISAN POTTERY: THE PROCESS
1) Clay Mixing
“We take raw clay which comes to us from Medicine Hat, prepared and ready to go, and combine it with different kinds of clay body to create the perfect consistency,” Katie says.
2) Weighing & Throwing
“Next, we weigh out to the appropriate amount of clay for each tumbler. Then we throw the clay mix onto the pottery wheel to create and shape the form of the piece. Generally with tumblers, we’re working on batches of 80 to 100 – a larger than average quantity – so we’ll work on throwing for two to three days.”
3) Covering & Preserving
“Then we take them out to the back and cover them in plastic so they don’t dry out too much.”
4) Handling & Detailing
“To create the extra details, such as the little bats for the Canmore Cave Tours pieces, we carve them into plaster. We trace the design on tracing paper, place the design on reverse on the plaster, then hand-carve it. This creates a stamp which we apply directly to the tumbler.”
5) Drying & Firing
“Once the details are finished, we let the tumbler air dry, which can take two to four days. Once they are fully dry, we sand them smooth to remove any sharp edges or imperfections. Then we fire them inside a bisque kiln, which we heat to about 1,700°F (927°C). This takes about seven hours to temperature at a medium speed. Then we wait about 12 hours for the kiln to cool down enough to open and take the pieces out.”
6) Glazing & Firing
“To make the custom glaze, Canmore Cave Tours supplies us with a bucket of the Rat’s Nest Cave dust, which comes to us in the form of clay. This is because it mixes with water during the cleaning process to extract it from the coveralls. So we allow the clay to dry, straighten it to remove any stones or debris, then add water until it’s thin enough for use with our glaze spraying apparatus. “Next, we apply the cave glaze to each piece. Then we fire them again, this time at about 223°F (106°C) in the glaze kiln. It takes 14 to 16 hours to reach this temperature, then 24 hours for the kiln to be cool enough to open. Then the tumblers are ready!” Katie says.
HOW TO BUY
We’re confident that our Rat’s Nest Cave tumblers will be one of the most unique souvenirs you will ever own. They will be available from September 1, 2017 for $20.00, and a portion of sales will be donated to the good folks at Canadian Cave Conservancy - an organization dedicated to the conservation of Canadian caves, karst and related resources through understanding, education, stewardship and support. To purchase your tumblers, visit us at Canmore Cave Tours HQ (129 Bow Meadows Crescent #202, Canmore).
HOW TO WIN
We love sharing our passion for Rat’s Nest Cave, and we love connecting with our supporters before, during and after our tours! For your chance to WIN a Canmore Cave Tours guided experience, plus a set of our cave tumblers, all you need to do is connect with us on social media! Just follow these easy steps:
- Like us on Facebook
- Answer this question: Why do you think exploring Rat’s Nest Cave with us is a “must-do” Canadian Rockies adventure? Comment your answer on our Facebook post here
- Follow us on Instagram
- Follow us on Twitter
Contest Details: submissions will be accepted until [Nov 30, 2017]. Winner will be contacted via Facebook. Prize: one (1) adult admission for winner’s choice of one (1) Canmore Cave Tours experience (Adventure, Explorer, or Discovery Tour); subject to availability, AND a set of our new Rats Nest Cave wine tumblers.
If you have any comments or questions, or if you would like to reserve an adventure with us, we’d love to hear from you! Contact Us today!