Born on Salt Spring Island, one of the Gulf Islands in British Columbia and raised on a hobby farm, it took ceramic artist Rachel Saunders a move to Los Angeles before she realised the ‘big city’ life was not for her. Moving back to Victoria, Saunders joined and volunteered at a communal studio where she learned pottery – learning as much as she could and ultimately launching her own business.
Walking from shop to shop in Victoria, you may stumble on a few Rachel Saunders pieces, specifically her well known Woman Vase which has also been released as a pendant in collaboration with Wolf Circus founder Fiona Morrison.
Aleyah Solomon: How would you describe your artistic style?
Rachel Saunders: I would definitely describe it as intuitive, intentional, because function is very important to me and is one of the things that drew me to ceramics in the first place. I always kind of struggled with different artistic mediums just being for viewing pleasure. I like things to have a purpose and substance behind it, and maybe a bit playful, too.
Where do you find inspiration for your collections?
I have come to realize that what I like in aesthetics and environments and art is a feeling of tranquility. This is really important to me because I am a sensitive person and I depend a lot on having a calm and beautiful, supportive environment which is a lot of what Victoria gives to me. I really love making shapes and creations that are not obtrusive and just very sort of elegant and soft. One of the most amazing parts of pottery is that it literally comes from the ground and the earth and that is an attribute that I love to highlight, so I do leave a lot of my pieces unglazed.
Where did you grow up?
I was actually born on Salt Spring Island, one of the many gulf islands. Salt Spring is one of the largest, and is a hippy island. I was raised on a farm just an hour from [Victoria].
What kind of farm?
Just a hobby farm, but I grew up getting eggs from the chickens and had horses and dogs and cats and everything like that. Of course, back then I didn’t appreciate it and wanted to live in the suburbs like all my other friends did, but now, one of the most important things in my life is reconnecting to that and being in nature.
And then you moved to LA.
Yeah, I moved to LA for a little bit when I was 21 or so, because you know, being from a small island, you really want to ‘get the hell out of here’ and I didn’t really have that contrast or that experience. I usually have to learn by doing, it’s how I learned pottery and how I have to learn everything in my life, for better or worse. I somehow magically ended up getting a working visa and moving down there. It wasn’t really for me in the end and I felt inspired to come back and work for myself.
Are there other artists who inspire or motivate your creations?
The next biggest art form I get the greatest inspiration from is music, so that is a huge part of my inspirational and creative process. There are a lot of experimental jazz musicians that I really am deeply inspired by, who are obviously channeling something greater than themselves. So anyone who can just fully get into that creative space where you are able to intuitively channel something, but in a contemporary way, inspires me. I love the artist Ana Kras who uses so many different materials and modalities to make functional, super-beautiful forms and... I guess I like artists who can use what they have in a resourceful kind of way. I am not really drawn to the more glamourized sense of creating, it’s more about function and form for me. Also, I am inspired by my chef friends who make art on the plate – I am inspired by my friends.
What is your ideal weekend in Victoria? Or a leisurely day in the city…
First and foremost, I always try to get to the beach, so walking along Dallas Road, just a couple kilometres up and down that strip, is so magical. Sometimes you can find little nooks where you feel like you are the only one there. It’s super special walking through Beacon Hill Park as well. I always try to incorporate nature in my day-to-day and weekend activities, and then I will probably meet up with some friends for brunch or something like that. A friend of mine opened up a really cool pop-up on Pandora St., called Back In Five, that is a really beautiful space to commune and eat delicious food. Relaxing is such a big thing; food and relaxing are the main things I try and do when I have a day off, so, you know, leisurely wandering around some bookstores downtown, like Russels or Munroe’s, to look at beautiful cookbooks... stuff like that. I would then go out for dinner to maybe Sherwood or Part & Parcel. They are my two favourite go-to restaurants. Both are owned by friends, which feels really special, and they get their food from local farms, which is really important.
How would you describe the art scene in Victoria?
I don’t really know. There are a lot of people who work for themselves here, and, like me, run their creative businesses, which is super cool. There are many great people hosting events and putting on music shows and just kind of trying to fill the gap and void that we do have f when it comes to diversity and multicultural artists and stuff like that. A number of people are putting effort towards that and we try to host that in our space as well, to contribute towards inclusivity. Sometimes I do feel like Victoria is a little bit lacking in that regard but I think we are constantly becoming more aware and getting better and better. Everyday it seems like there is a cool new business or art show popping up.
How would you describe the West Coast, or more specifically, Victoria’s fashion style?
Practical and ethical, too! We have some amazing women who run clothing lines working with linens; we have a great circular economy here, which is sweet. When I am out, I often see people wearing the necklace I made, or my friend’s jumpsuit, and that is really nice. We also have a fairly large vintage scene, with a variety of buyers and sellers. Sustainable fashion is definitely more on people’s minds.
Fan Tan Alley, which is where your studio is, seems to be a huge tourist spot. Do you find that distracting at times?
It can be overwhelming during the peak tourist times. But Victoria is such a special place! It is such a privilege to live here, and obviously people want to see it. So I can get a bit annoyed on a day-to-day level, but, for the most part, it is nice to see new faces and people so excited by the natural beauty of this town. Besides, those are the ones who bring a much-needed diversity into the city. ■
* As seen in the Curated City Guide to Victoria, British Columbia