Building skills and confidence – PotteryWorks helps disabled artists develop their craft

The third and final piece in a series about art and disability in Metro Vancouver.

Artist Deidre Blackmore opened a studio 23 years ago with the hope of giving artists with disabilities an opportunity to pursue their passion. Now operating out of a ground-floor studio in New Westminster, the PotteryWorks program, supported by the B.C.-based Community Living Society, is home to over 40 artists who are encouraged to learn, create and eventually sell their pieces of art.

“To give them a platform into the community with their work, that’s the core of what we do,” says Blackmore.

An atmosphere of community

Dr. Datn Tell is one of many artists at PotterWorks who has improved their craft with the organization. | Dr. Datn Tell is one of many artists at PotterWorks who has improved their craft with the organization.

After being a professional potter for nearly 20 years, Blackmore opened the PotteryWorks studio in 2000 with the intention of passing on her skills as an artist. Working with people with disabilities, Blackmore says the idea to open the studio came from a change she felt within herself, in which she began thinking about what she had to offer to the field. “The only thing I had to offer was my experience as an artist,” she says.

What began with “six individuals and some supplies in a closet”, now has over 40 artists who use their facilities. In addition to pottery, the studio also has programs in painting and photography.

The classes are taught by their own artists, some of whom have been with the studio since its beginnings. Blackmore explains that the development of skills is a goal they strive for their teachers as much as their students.

“They should progress, so that teaching also means that the staff are constantly learning and upgrading,” says Blackmore.

Overcoming self-doubt

Blackmore says she realized the importance of establishing self-esteem early on when working with artists. Blackmore explains that for some of the studio’s artists, feelings of self-doubt as a result of their disabilities are something they contend with when beginning to make art.

Artists in the studio are encouraged to sell and make money from their work. But, according to Blackmore, many want to showcase their pieces to family first.

“When they started to produce high-quality work, I would say, ‘I can sell this for you and make you some money.’ Invariably, they would say, ‘No, I want to give this to my mom,’” explains Blackmore. “Now they’re out there in the community and they want to sell and make money. But first they had to show people that they developed these skills and they could make these beautiful things.”

One of PotteryWorks’ artists, Dan Tell, comments on the sense of community that is present in the studio and the friendships he has formed there.

“They all make me happy,” says Tell.

According to another staff member, Lisa Tougas, Tell is known around the studio as “Dr. Dan.” Regularly wearing a doctor’s jacket, Tougas says Tell is often “complimenting everybody on their work and telling us we’re doing a good job,” which adds to the inspiring atmosphere.

A source of income and pride

The studio’s artists are encouraged to develop retail skills by selling their pieces of art. They currently operate two retail locations, one out of their studio in New Westminster and the other at River Market. According to Blackmore, one of PotteryWorks’ roles is to act as an agent for their artists to sell their art. She note how important it is for them to be able to sell their work as a source of income.

“Because many of them are living on disability allowance, which isn’t very much, so it just helps them,” she says.

Sheri Lynn Seitz, who has been with the studio since 2000, has been successful in selling her art. She is both a photographer and potter, who finds inspiration from phones and music. Blackmore, says that the studio regularly participates in painting, pottery and photography shows and competitions. In a recent open call with the City of Vancouver, Seitz was one amongst 36 artists selected for their photograph submission, which Blackmore says was a “highlight.”

“Our artists, they often buy their lunch out in downtown New West and the restaurants all know them by name and know what their favorite meal is,” says Blackmore. “They’ve become part of the landscape…we’re in a community here.”

For more information about PotteryWorks, visit