By: Marjorie Simmins
JANVRIN’S ISLAND: High atop a hillside on Janvrin’s Island, in the archipelago that surrounds Isle Madame, is a place of artistry and magic.
Welcome to White Turtle Pottery, a business created by Gina Cloud, on a 23-acre property that she and husband Brian Rose, call “their spiritual home.”
“Fairies, mermaids, and unicorns – I believe in them all,” laughs Cloud, 49, who confesses to being “obsessed” with creating art, which she does each day.
“I think I failed at being a little kid. So I am one, now.”
Cloud’s work is displayed in the storefront of their home, which re-opens in May, afternoons and weekends. The work can also be viewed on-line via Facebook.
“It’s endless what you can do,” she says. “I started on a potter’s wheel, and now I hand-build the pieces. I just started to like the shaped object, better than thrown.”
Obsessed, indeed. In 2017 alone, Cloud created 608 mugs. Many of the gleaming, white-glazed receptacles have stylized stamp-work on the exteriors, and jewel-hued interiors. Cloud also makes juice cups, candle sticks, chowder bowls, fish plates, pasta bowls, salad and dinner plates, trays, cheeseboards, and serving dishes.
Also last year, Cloud custom-made 98 whimsical and charming wind-chimes – in a region where it’s mostly too windy to hang them outside.
It was that same wind that really surprised Cloud and Rose when they first came to Nova Scotia 18 years ago.
“The winters are nothing here,” smiles Cloud, who along with Rose was raised in Indiana, and understands extreme cold and heat. “But the wind! We couldn’t comprehend it.”
At first, it was the real estate prices in rural Maritime Canada that caught their imaginations. Then it was the people they met that confirmed to the couple they had made the right choice to emigrate.
“People on the island, and in the larger community, were so amazing and supportive when we came to Janvrin’s,” says Cloud. “Here, we know our neighbours. People are real. They look you in the eye. It’s like going back in time.”
As for the decision to buy land in a new country, far from the American Mid-West, “We said to ourselves, let’s be happy,” says Gina.
For the adventurous couple, this meant creating an active, resourceful, and creative life, by the sea. From their first days, the couple lived off-the-grid on their property.
“We started out staying here during the summer, in a camper on the beach,” says Cloud.
They later built an outhouse, sauna and small “barn,” or original homestead, now used for visiting family and friends. Water comes from a well, via an “Amish bucket,” which brings up two gallons at a time, and is then put through a purifier. An organic garden feeds them throughout the year.
It’s not just the wee folk and mythical creatures who wander the lands around them. In the barn yard in front of their current house are two donkeys, a goat and a sheep, “who are friends.”
Inside the energy-efficient home, Jack Russell terriers rule the roost.
“The house is made of straw-bale construction,” says Brian Rose.
Energy sources include solar panels and batteries, he says. Rose, 50, has a background in business, organic farming, carpentry and general construction. In 2008, he and neighbour Ross MacDonald co-founded Appleseed Energy, a solar energy and contracting company.
Cloud’s artistic route was slightly unusual. She didn’t attend art school. Instead, she went to cosmetology school, was a hair dresser for 10 years, and then worked in organic farming.
But a love of beautiful art was in her blood.
“I grew up in a family that loved dishes,” she says. “We had china sets for every holiday.”
Cloud eventually started to think about making her own pottery. She decided to take her first art class.
That was 14 years ago.
“Then I started to see shapes everywhere,” she says. “You think, how does that happen, how can I create that? You make mistakes, but you keep on. I also need time to let things soak in, before I start working.”
Cloud kept things simple at first, starting with only four colours: red, blue, orange, and green, “for the seasons.” Then she bought stamps. Eventually she wanted more colours, adding yellow and indigo/cobalt.
“That gave me the rainbow,” she says.
She has now added violet and teal.
Naming the business was easy.
“White is my favourite colour,” says Cloud.
The turtle, she says, is her “spirit creature.” Nor is her medium one that can be rushed. (Each mug takes six days from start to finish.)
“I find it soothing,” she says, of working with clay, which she fires in a kiln fueled by propane. She also strives for originality.
“I like to make what I don’t see.”
Once a turtle gal, always one.
“I want people to be in the moment when they are using one of my mugs,” says Cloud. “You’re making something because you have to create, not because you want to sell it. You make what you really like.”