NewsThis Artist has an Eye for Potatoes 

This Artist has an Eye for Potatoes 

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A Manitoba-based artist gets a spud-tacular response to her potato-inspired ceramics.

How much more appealing is your morning cup of Joe when sipping it from a handcrafted potato mug? Considering the number of people picking up their own one-of-a-kind ceramic potato mugs at Manitoba Potato Production Days (MPPD) in January — much more.

Manitoba artist Jillian Sareault uses sculptural techniques to create potato-like ceramic vessels, such as cups, bowls, large dishes, shot glasses and, of course, mugs, which can be used every day.

To the touch, the outsides of the vessels feel authentic — like a potato just picked from the soil. Sareault spent months creating this finish. “I had to find a way to create it without making it look fake. The trick was finding a second dark-brown clay body and layering it on top, so it still had that gritty texture. Any other way and it was looking too smooth,” she says. “It took a bit of time to perfect that very real, gritty, dirt feeling on the outside.”

Sareault came up with the idea when her mother, MaryAnn Sareault, who is the MPPD conference coordinator, was looking for unique gifts for guest speakers attending the annual conference in Brandon, Man.

The first spud mugs made their debut at MPPD 2019 as gifts presented to guest speakers. Because they were such a huge hit, Sareault was invited to bring her potato ceramics to the 103rd Potato Association of America Annual Meeting at the Delta Hotel in Winnipeg, Man., in July 2019.  She was also commissioned to create mugs for select delegates attending the conference, and one of the artist’s potato-shaped chip bowls was part of the event’s silent auction.

This past January, Sareault had a booth at MPPD so conference attendees could purchase their own unique potato vessel, and her ceramics were presented to guest speakers once again. The mugs continue to be the most popular item, she says. “People like being able to hold them, and they’re functional. People were picking them up for themselves and for gifts.” Other potato industry stakeholders continue to inquire about additional commissions.

When a Colorado potato beetle on a potato is a good thing. Photo: Jillian Sareault

While creating potato ceramics is rewarding and the mugs in demand, Sareault has also ventured into other vegetable as well as fruit crops, such as eggplants, carrots, asparagus, strawberries and most citrus fruits. She’s also just finished a fruit medley of cherries, Saskatoon berries, raspberries and strawberries. And other grower associations are taking notice. “Other corporations, like the Prairie Fruit Growers Association have ordered mugs and Mayfair Farms order strawberry mugs for gifts,” she says.

People who fancy some fruit- and vegetable-inspired ceramics can also visit the Stoneware Gallery and other Winnipeg-based venues. All of this is a dream come true for the artist. “The fact that it’s happening and it’s growing is, honestly, amazing. It’s just so exciting.”

This spring and summer, Sareault says she’ll be working on creating stock for fall markets as well as looking for a larger studio space.

“I want to work with community engagement, such as teaching classes, and also having my own space where I can do that,” she says.

Currently, Sareault creates her art in the heart of potato country — Portage la Prairie, Man.— which is the perfect setting for her russet ceramics. You can find her work at http://jilliansareaultceramics.ca.

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