Manning’s work shows a rich emotional and metaphorical register while drawing deeply upon his personal experiences and knowledge of Canada’s lands. Juxtaposing forms, textures and colours, Manning evokes the monumental reach of modernism as an artistic endeavour. Playful references to the humble objects of everyday lighten his sophisticated and contemporary appreciation of the more base aspects of nature, to reveal the rich and contradictory poetry of our ordinary world.
Les Manning's artistic career spans over 40 years, from studio potter to senior arts administrator. He is one of the founders of the Alberta Craft Council, he ran the prestigious Banff Centre ceramics program and was an active member of the International Academy of Ceramics. Les also coordinated the ceramics residency at the historic Medalta Potteries in Medicine Hat, where he still maintains his studio. His visually complex and technically sophisticated landscape pieces are exhibited internationally. Les was honoured with an Alberta Centennial Medal for his contribution to fine craft in Alberta.
An abstracted vessel … of the Rocky Mountains … or is it the open prairies? … thrown and altered clays manipulated by the artist's mind … like land forms eroded by ice and water … river stones or distant landscape views … simultaneously massive and intimate …
"My work is strongly connected to the landscape; I find elements in these surroundings which I bring to the ceramic process, so that it becomes easily accessible to the viewer," says Manning.
Les Manning interacts with the actual landscape, during his daily activities or when running, climbing, and cross-country skiing, increasing his awareness of light and scale.
By throwing cylinders as "working blanks," Manning alters conventional forms, inspired by the patterns of colored clay revealed by trimming. "On making these vessels, the main concept is to capture the larger space of the landscape and have it contained in the smaller space of the vessel," he says.
Sensitive to the dangers of illustration that is too literal, he adds, "The forms need to remain small and intimate, so as not to seem in competition with the environment." (Catherine Merrill. Studio Potter Network Newsletter, Autumn 1996).
Born in Provost, Alberta, Les Manning has lived and travelled across Canada and many parts of the world. He studied at the Alberta College of Art in Calgary and majored in Ceramics in 1966. Since that time, Manning has been the recipient of many scholarships, awards and honours for his work in ceramics. Manning enjoys working as an independent studio artist and is currently the Vice President of the International Academy of Ceramics.
Canadian ceramist Les Manning began a long association with The Banff School of the Arts in 1970 when he entered a one year artist-in-residency and became a community class instructor. When the Ceramic Studio was founded in 1974 he became its program director, a job he continued until 1994. Throughout that 20-year period, Manning worked closely with artists of all ages and diverse approaches. His unflagging love of the ceramic medium and his commitment to the fulfillment of the artist’s vision in the studio made him a unique and remarkable administrator during an important period in the transformation of Canadian ceramics from a craft to an accepted art form. His commitment to bring the best of international ceramics to Canada and to send Canadian ceramics abroad furthered the art in a fashion unlike that of any other individual or institutional program.
When the opportunity arose in 1994 for a one-year senior artist-in-residency at The Banff Centre for the Arts, Manning was able to focus full-time on his own creative endeavours and concentrate on individual pieces and technical adjustments. The body of work he produced formed the exhibition Nordic Ode, presented by The Banff Centre in 1995. In 1997 he was granted a Canada Council Artist ‘A’ Grant to complete a cycle of work that has been in production for over 20 years.
After a period in Ontario, where the Alberta landscape continued to be strongly reflected in his work, Les has returned to Alberta and is now Artistic Director for Medalta, a National Historic Site, in Medicine Hat.
I choose to work the way I do in order to produce an abstraction of the Rocky Mountain landscape. I create work that plays with space, light, and shadow within the sculptural landscape. The dark base clay of granite and perlite animates the surface as foreground. The lighter stonewares give a sense of midground and offer a transitional area from dark to the lighter porcelain. This last surface is the background / distance of snow and high elevation. Included are punctuations of color: pink – like the edges of the snow in the winter sun, green – like the color of the lakes and streams, yellow – for a touch of the fall Larch colors, and blue – for reflections on the snow and the transition of water colors. The celadon glaze is used, as it is the color of the lakes and streams. The sand blasted surface makes the clay more responsive to light change and animates the surface of the works. Gathered together and placed right these give a landscape that you can visually walk into.
Technically, this work goes against the conventions of clay practice since the clay bodies shrink and fire differently. In a practical sense the technique is over challenging and complex, much in the way the landscape itself was formed. I also reference an age-old way the Chinese and Japanese used to support valued pieces through the use of silver amalgam in the stress fractures that form from the test of the firing – these are not structurally problematic. So, something borrowed.
Each piece offers an area vista in its character as well as a more intimate space that has you closer to the work’s face itself.
2011 - Les Manning appointed to the Order of Canada.
Independent Studio Artist/Curator/Art Consultant/Teacher - 1995 to present
Twenty-five year development of Ceramics at the Banff Centre for the Arts:
Summer School and Winter Community Class Instructor - 1970-2
Founder of Stonecrop Pottery, Canmore, AB - 1974-9
Director of Ceramic Studio - 1974-94
Senior Artist-in-Residence - 1994-5
Founder of Manning Ceramics, Allied Arts Centre, Calgary, AB - 1969-74
Resident Artist and Ceramic Instructor, Allied Arts Centre, Calgary, AB - 1968-9
Ceramic Arts Apprenticeship, Calgary, AB - 1966-8
Alberta Foundation for the Arts Collection
Alberta Potters Association, Glenbow Museum
Jean A. Chalmers National Craft Collection
Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, PQ
Peter and Jeanne Lougheed Collection '85
The Tennessee State Arts Board Collection '85, USA
Siklos, Baranya Creative Colonies, Siklos, Hungary, '89
Koffler Collection, North York, ON
Massey Collection, Museum of Civilization, Ottawa, ON
Pecs City Museum, Hungary
The Appalachian Centre for Crafts '85 Collection
Aaron Milrad Collection, Toronto, ON
The Claridge Collection, Montreal, PQ
Bechyne International Symposiums Collection, '94 Czech Republic
The Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff
The Banff Centre for the Arts, Banff
Canadian Clay and Glass Gallery
Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seoul, Korea
Fukaoka National Museum, Saga prefecture, Japan
Private collections worldwide.
Alberta Craft Council
Alberta Potters' Association
Canadian Craft Council
National Council on the Education of Ceramic Arts, USA
World Craft Council
International Academy of Ceramics
Advisory Board, National Council on the Education of Ceramic Arts, USA
Ceramics, Art and Perception, Australia, International Ceramic Publication
Zhujiajiao Art Center, Shanghai, China
Jingdezhen Sanbao Ceramic Art Institute
Scholarships, Awards, Honours:
2002, 75th Awards of Excellence, ACAD-for 1966 Alumni Outstanding Career Achievement
1999, Runner-up, Craftsman of the Year, Saidye Bronfman Award
1997, Canadian Council A Grant
1996, Alberta Potters' Association, "Honorary Membership"
1985, 4th International Ceramics Symposium, Toronto, ON, Award for outstanding contribution to International Ceramics by the Institute for Ceramic History
1984, Alberta Achievement Award for long standing contributions to ceramics in Alberta
Canadian Craft Council "Honorary Membership"
1981, Alberta Potters' Association "Long Service Award for Development of Ceramics in Alberta"
1974, Canada Council Artist-in-Residence Studio Grant
Work Featured in the Following Publications:
Books: Ceramic Spectrum, Robin Hopper, Canada
Ceramic Technology for Potters and Sculptors, Yvonne Cuff, Australia
Forward: Made of Clay-Ceramics of British Columbia, publishers of the Potters Guild of British Columbia
Periodicals: 1982-95, Ceramic Monthly, USA (National)
1985-95, Contact, Ceramics from a Canadian Perspective (National)
1995, Ceramics, Art and Perception, Australia (International)
2002, Contemporary Ceramics, China (National)
Ceramic National, Korea (National)
Ceramic Review, Taiwan (National)
Ceramic Art, Taiwan (National)
1998, "Insideout" - four installation works for the George R. Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, Toronto, ON
Over 120 workshops and lectures throughout Canada, USA, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and Europe
1988-9, Australia, Thailand, China, Korea, Japan, Hungary, Italy, Switzerland, Austria
1981-2, California, Greece, England
Participation and study in ceramics in thirty-four countries worldwide
1962-66, Alberta College of Art, Calgary, AB, Ceramic Major
"New artists from different places are always coming to Banff, and their ideas tug us ahead," says Les Manning, an acclaimed ceramic artist and activist for the ceramic community at the provincial, national, and international level." (Thompson, Banff Centre, 53).
"...his name is to ceramists
as cornflakes is to cereal enthusiasts."
(Deborah Forbes, "International artists strut their stuff at Medalta," The Medicine Hat News, 17 June 2000, B2)