What is unique to a country’s culture? Do you wonder if moving to another country might significantly change your life? The inspiring story behind the enchanting Jardin de Silice illustrates how a change of country can have a positive cultural impact for the migrant and their adopted community.
My first glimpse of this unique garden was while walking along rue de l’Église in the Laurentian town of Val David. Unfortunately, a thick wall of cedar hedges blocked all but the garden’s vine and branch covered roof structure from my curious eyes.
Serendipitously, when back in Val David a few weeks later to visit the 1001 Pots Exhibition, I learned the garden belongs to the founder of the exhibition, Kinya Ishikawa, and is open to visitors during the show. Isn’t it an incredible space?
As you enter the Jardin de Silice, look up and you’ll see a delicate figurine tenderly watching over the courtyard. Lanterns hang from the roof beams. Vines twist themselves over the twig roof.
Ahead, fragrant branches burn inside a rustic clay oven. Through openings in pottery-filled walls, you catch views of lush ferns and giant Butterbur. Figures floating in the clouds at the far end of the garden and other metal sculptures lounging about add to the enchantment.
What makes this garden a hybrid of cultures? The Jardin de Silice embodies Japanese and Canadian aesthetics. The Japanese concept of meigakure (to hide and reveal) is evident in the exterior fence, openings in the interior walls and in the alcoves scattered throughout the garden. The garden doors, create a symbolic division between the busy outside world and the peaceful inner garden. The division reminds you to leave your worries outside. The dry garden, with its carefully placed rocks and pebbled grounds is reminiscent of Japanese temple gardens. Yet, the structure’s layout resembles that of a church. If you stand in just the right spot outside of the garden, you see garden’s roof line captures the outline of a nearby church steeple. The innovative and creative nature of the structure conveys a modern Canadian Québecois influence. The garden’s hybrid of cultures reflects its Japanese-Canadian roots.
Kinya Ishikawa came North America in 1969, as a member of Japan’s bobsled team, to compete in a race. Curious to learn more about North American culture, he decided not to return to Japan after the race. Eventually, landing in Montréal, Québec, Canada, he found a job at a pottery studio, exchanging janitorial services for room and board. While working at the studio, he took an interest in and began to explore the art of creating pottery.
During this period he met his now wife, Marie-Andrée Benoit. She worked at the local library Kinya frequented. Today, Marie-Andrée Benoit makes pottery alongside Kinya.
Kinya Ishikawa’s artistic and entrepreneurial talents led him to open a pottery studio in Boucherville, Québec, Canada. Galleries in North America and Japan soon displayed his work. Awarded a Québec Arts Council grant in 1984, he chose to spend a year practising his craft in Japan.
While there, he observed how one of his friends, a cabinetmaker, collaborated with other artists. After returning to Canada, he thought of ways to connect with other potters. Then, in 1989, he invited 50 artists to take part in the first 1001 Pots Exhibition. Now one of the largest annual pottery show and sale in North America, attracting about 200,000 visitors each year.
A number of years ago, Kinya began to create the Jardin de Silice. Artists and artisans help him to build and expand the garden. Their ongoing donations of pottery and ceramic discards fill its walls. He views the garden as a gathering space for and a tribute to the community of potters he helps bring together.
At the garden’s entrance is a whimsical metal cart created by Val-David artist Jean Bisson Biscornet. It houses an enchanting moss and fern-filled miniature garden, yet another nod to the Japanese aesthetic.
The broken pottery and ceramic fragments create new works of communal art.
A small circular room is placed, much like a chapel, to the side of the main structure. As I stood in this room, the sun broke through a large cloud. The movement cast enchanting patterns on the rusty steel walls. Do the shadows look like a dream catcher to you?
Would Kinya be a potter today if had returned to Japan in 1969? I imagine the disciplined-nature of Japan’s apprenticeship process, one which demands pottery students master basic tasks such as sweeping the floor and weighing clay before being permitted to do creative work, may deter those who thrive on learning through discovery and experimentation. However, Kinya Ishikawa finds the creative and inclusive culture of Québec a supportive environment in which to realize his passions and visions.
How fortunate for the 1001 Pots community of potters and the thousands of people who visit the show to see and collect the works art created by Kinya Ishikawa, Marie-Andrée Benoit and many other talented potters, Kinya made his way to a new country. How fortunate the country welcomed him to stay.
If you could freely move to another country, where would you go? How do you think the change would impact your life?
Kinya Ishikawa and Marie-Andrée Benoit’s studio gallery, at 2435, rue de l’Église, Val-David, Québec, Canada J0T 2N0, is open year-round by appointment. Be sure to ask about visiting the Jardin de Silice while you are there.