- The Beginning of our Club -
BMPCC 2017 CONVENTION SPEECH
Looking For An Echo - Bruce Dyer
When Grant Currah asked me to speak about the founding of our club, I think he thought it would be a simple and straightforward thing. It wasn’t. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen the way you might have expected. In fact, it took about 5 years to put the club together the way we would recognize it today...
Have you ever stood on a rock near a lake and called out across the water to the height of land on the other shore, only to hear your own voice come back again moments later? Where did it come from? You are here, but it came from there. You use logic to make sense of the echo, not knowing exactly how it worked, but realizing it is somehow tied to that distant shoreline and to your own voice bouncing back from it. The same sort of logic could also be applied to the start of the Blue Mountain Pottery Collectors Club as we know it. When did it begin? Like the explanation of the echo above, the answer is both clear and nebulous. Did it begin when Mrs. Heenan started to pick up pieces of Blue Mountain Pottery and became the first real collector? Did it begin when Pat Pitcher started to list the pottery on Ebay and develop contacts with people such as Linda Auderer and Stanley Hicks and see that Blue Mountain Pottery could actually develop a following and bring in money? Did it begin when Stan Hicks created his influential web site, the Canadian Pottery Identifier full of Canadian pottery information and quality photographs? Did it begin when I sent the email “Blue Mountain Pottery: Collecting Alone?” on September 21st, 2000 [based in part on Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone and the social disconnect of the late 20th Century to a group of then active Ebayers who regularly bid on the pottery*? In that email I wrote, I wish I could say that these are all my ideas, but they aren’t. My message is a little philosophical, but it again pertains to my idea for forming a Blue Mountain Pottery Collectors Club. Over the last 30 years, according to a book by Robert Putnam called Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, North Americans have significantly changed their lifestyles based on such things as time pressures, two-career families, more people living alone, suburban sprawl, and electronic entertainments such as VCRs and computers. As a result, people are not playing bridge together, not participating in civic groups, or joining churches, or becoming members of a vast array of other social groups and organizations in the way they did in earlier generations. He goes on to relate this disconnection and singularity to the living of our lives in terms of healthy physical and mental well-being.”
I continued, noting that I tended to agree with Putnam and that was one of the reasons why I was advocating a collectors’ club, for being part of an organization where we have similar interests and a unifying agent in the form of the same hobby we could learn and grow, expand our collections, our knowledge, and the hobby and enrich our lives personally and socially. I noted my involvement in the National Fishing Lure Collectors’ Club and how, by having joined it and having gone to conventions, my knowledge had grown, I’d received shared knowledge, I’d made plenty of new friends, and I’d made lots of new finds that I could never have found on my own. I added that all of these had strengthened my enthusiasm, too, and so I called on the recipients of the email to start thinking about a club and how it might operate.
Or did the club begin when the first convention was held, and an executive chosen? Well, technically, the last question is the correct answer, but that would have been impossible without all of the former contributing factors being put into play. A club is only born when there is interest and when there are people who see it as a way to meet their needs and develop that interest.
As contacts were established, collectors began to share information, writing each other about what they knew or had heard about the pottery and sharing pictures of their collections and copies of known catalogues as well as news from the factory as production was still ongoing in Collingwood. Essentially this communication was an information exchange, and, for most, an eye-opener as to the length and breadth of production by Blue Mountain Pottery. Naturally, there was also misinformation that passed between collectors based on the inaccurate recollections of some who had originally acquired and sold the pottery, or on unsubstantiated rumours and stories about the pottery and its relationship to other companies. Over time the collector contact yielded a sort of “straight stick” based on known facts against which the “crooked sticks” of misinformation could be tested, as well as a thirst to find out more about how the pottery was made, what colours were used in glazing, and how to tell the general time frame in which pieces of Blue Mountain had been made. Collectors became interested in knowing not only these things but also in meeting each other.
In the Summer of 2002, I began to look around the Collingwood area to see if there might be a place that could host a get-together for Blue Mountain Pottery collectors. Then, as now, there were few places that offered a self-contained facility at a reasonable price. The Best Western, however, did have a small conference area, plenty of rooms, and the advantage of being across the road from the Blue Mountain Pottery factory and showroom. By March of 2003 plans for the first collectors’ get-together were well underway and everyone on the email list was contacted. The meet was scheduled for Tuesday July 8th and Wednesday, July 9th for very pragmatic reasons: to take advantage of lower mid-week hotel rates and the nearby Keady Flea Market which was open Tuesdays, plus the Elmvale Flea Market which it was assumed collectors would want to visit on their way home Thursday. The actual meet featured a visit to the factory on Tuesday as well as shopping for bargains there among the “Factory Seconds”, and in-room trading back at the Best Western. Many of the attendees went to Tony’s Iron Skillet, a popular local restaurant.
The next day we convened in the hotel’s conference room for talks by me (swan planters and signature jugs), Linda Auderer (colours of her favorite jug, the variously numbered 25, 33, and 513 over the company’s production period) and Pat Pitcher (identifying various potteries, mould marks, and Blue Mountain Pottery’s history), a show and tell, and a swap meet featuring buying, selling, and trading. We had coverage by a reporter from the Enterprise-Bulletin and the company of four guests who had heard about the meet and came out of curiosity. Two of these people had taken pottery classes from Jozo Weider and were able to give us some insights into what the factory had been like in the 1950s and 60s. A business meeting was scheduled for after lunch with the topic being to either create a club or figure where we go from here. Unfortunately, the best laid plans had not accounted for room check-outs and so many collectors had left by 1 P.M. that there would have been no quorum to do anything! Those who had stayed, however, felt the experience had been worthwhile and should be repeated.
Blue Mountain Pottery, which at first had been somewhat reluctant to encourage a club [it had its own registered collectors’ list for sales of ROMAR items] quickly got on board, not only providing a special factory tour led by Robert Blair, the company president, but also producing a special souvenir piece for the club. The souvenir was “The Bat Boy” as it had been known, depicting a young boy seated on a rock, holding a baseball bat, and gazing somewhat pensively towards the sky - an item that had seen only limited production. Human forms were very uncommon in Blue Mountain Pottery’s production. In November 2002 I’d seen this item in the factory showroom and had bought it. A photograph was taken and mailed to some interested collectors and the response had been great. Everyone who saw it liked it and wanted one, so when the factory had approached me, as the meet organizer, about a possible souvenir, that was the logical choice. It took the company a whole week to search the master mould room to find it, and I think that unlucky job had fallen upon David Bennett. When mounted on an oval mahogany block it was renamed “The Dreamer” and given a number, #899. Special numbered certificates were printed for this piece which was only made in the company’s traditional green glaze and sold for $44.95. Originally 50 souvenirs were to be made, but it is unlikely that that number was reached. Many who did not attend personally, however, ordered the souvenirs from Blue Mountain Pottery.
The attendees at the first get-together were: Erv and Linda Auderer, Diana Buckley, Gord and Yvonne Dowling, Bruce and Heather Dyer, Mike and Doreen Heenan, Roger and Irene Klatt, Todd Milks, Pat Pitcher, Joan Silver, and Lorna Sommers.
In November 2003 planning began for a 2004 summer Meet. Before the end of February, I had written to the previous year’s attendees and others interested in B.M.P. and called for suggestions re: accommodations, a souvenir, as well as passing along passport information, a list of local attractions, restaurants, Georgian Triangle tourist information, antiquing and flea market sites and the Tourism Ontario contact information for any unfamiliar with the Collingwood area. We had hoped to return to the Best Western but renovations were underway, and the Georgian conference room was eliminated in the process. That motel would shortly become the Holiday Inn. The Cranberry and Vacation Inns were considered too expensive by members and Diana Buckley, who lived reasonably nearby, was able to help us out by finding the Thrift Lodge which had some larger rooms, one of which could be used to set up displays and host our talks and auction. The facility also featured a pool, games room, and outdoor barbecue. Pat Pitcher volunteered to look after the programme schedule for the meet. The meet was scheduled for Monday-Wednesday, July 14-16, 2004, again during the week when rates were lower.
Before the meet I sent emails requesting that collectors come prepared with ideas about how to promote collecting the pottery, and, if we were to formally establish a collectors’ club, what would be necessary in terms of a formal executive, annual dues, a newsletter, a web site, convention planning, etc. Other pottery clubs, such as McCoy, Redwing, and Frankoma had sites and were examined as possible models. Don Neary recommended the North Dakota Pottery Collectors Society and Linda Auderer and John Dicks also provided helpful insights into organized pottery collecting. One item which helped to stimulate interest in collecting Blue Mountain and which did lead to a greater turnout of collectors at the July meet was the publication of the first article about collecting B.M.P. which appeared in The Wayback Times in its May/June issue. The story mentioned the upcoming convention and showed 4 pictures, one of which was taken of Mr. Blair addressing collectors at the 2003 meet.
Many of those who attended fondly remember this meet. Diana Buckley and her partner Eric Nagler did a super job organizing things. The Monday evening featured a barbecue with Eric demonstrating his chef skills and collectors having good fun and fellowship. We then moved into the large room which was set aside for displays and talks. There was considerable discussion about whether or not we should formalize ourselves by creating a club. Don Ashbridge, who was a carnival glass collector, and Brian Musselwhite spoke about their experiences collecting glass and the value they found in getting together regularly and sharing knowledge. Eric Nagler played a key role when he pointed out that we were here again, we seemed to be enjoying the experience, and called for us to make the decision. The decision, in my recollection, was unanimous. The group decided to call itself the Blue Mountain Pottery Collectors Club - with, the people stressed, no apostrophe with the “s” in Collectors. I was chosen to act as President, Diana Buckley as Secretary-Treasurer, and Gord Dowling as Web Site Administrator. I was to continue to link with other collectors and formalize those connexions in the form of a quarterly newsletter. Terms of the President and Secretary-Treasurer were to be staggered as 2-year terms. I would continue as President until the 2005 convention, having effectively started the ball rolling the previous year while Diana would serve until 2006 to supply continuity. Gord created our first website oldfriends.ca. Dues were set at $20 per year per family. The remainder of that historic evening was given over to room trading.
On Tuesday, some people attended the Keady Flea Market while others went to the Blue Mountain Resort or the Scenic Caves in the morning. Room trading was also possible after the rooms had been made up, or later in the day. The afternoon featured a talk by Pat Pitcher about Jozo Weider’s and Dennis Tupy’s relationship at B.M.P., the locations of factories, and what we knew of the history of the potteries and the mould marks B.M.P. used. Don Cross distributed copies of his Data Base which listed all the item numbers discovered as of that point in time, and an approximation of which years each piece had appeared in catalogues. Linda Auderer showed her collection of mini animals and left the display available for all to see for the remainder of the convention. John Dicks had a display of the Noah’s Ark animals complete with the plastic Ark in his room. Most people had never seen this before and were very impressed. Show and tell was also done, with members talking about recent finds or unusual pieces or seeking information. That morning I had received a phone call at the motel from Mr. Blair at the factory. The message was simple, straightforward, and sad. I told the collectors what I had been told, the news that Blue Mountain Pottery was closing. Mr. Blair had wanted the club to be the first to know before the press were told later in the week. Many of the attendees again went to Tony’s Iron Skillet for a group meal. That evening an auction was held of items donated by club members to raise money for the club. Everyone was encouraged to donate at least one item. Eric Nagler acted as auctioneer and Pat Pitcher served as handler and commentator.
On the Wednesday morning, club members gathered at the Blue Mountain Pottery factory at 10 A.M. for the factory tour led by Mr. Blair. As was the case the previous year we got to see all aspects of the pottery-making process and all departments in the plant. Mr. Blair spoke at the end of the tour about why the pottery was closing and answered questions**. He showed a find he had made while going through the factory’s old moulds - a nice piece in the mocha glaze which had been kept in one of them! John Dicks acquired that one for his collection! Mr. Blair also told us that they were running out of the green glaze and basically continuing firing in blue only, which was why our souvenirs (a stele featuring Blue Mountain’s registered logos, again with a limited number fired, and assigned #900 by the factory) were that colour [though two prototypes were made in green]. He also said that he was ensuring that all of B.M.P.’s master moulds would be smashed*** to ensure the integrity of the pottery and prevent it from being copied. It was great to see the factory and to know that we had been told first about the company’s fate, but it was sad to learn that the company which produced the pottery we collected was closing its doors forever. Blue Mountain Pottery was and is recognized in many countries around the world for its distinctive styling and glaze. To lose a national icon like it was painful for club members and, as media reports would soon indicate, for the Canadian public as well. Following the tour members went to the factory showroom and went on a major buying spree.
The year following the 2004 Convention was a very busy one. The club produced its quarterly newsletters filled with news, research articles (e.g., the ROMAR Collection, Canadian Wildlife Collection, Robert Wilson Collection), announcements of special events, want ads, and copies of the membership roster. Membership certificates and membership cards were produced and sent to members. Lapel pins, found by Mr. Blair when cleaning an area of the factory were given one to each family membership in the club. Fairchild TV aired an interview with Mrs. Heenan about collecting Blue Mountain Pottery and newspapers were filled with retrospectives of the pottery as the countdown to its year-end closing approached only too soon.
One of the attendees at the 2004 Convention had been Conrad Biernacki, an employee of the Royal Ontario Museum and the partner of Brian Musselwhite. Conrad had seen the Wayback Times article and become an enthusiastic collector. He became very involved in club affairs and hosted a Meet at the R.O.M. on November 14th when club members gathered and made a special gift presentation of 17 items of BMP to the Royal Ontario Museum’s, Canadiana Collection. Tricia Walker, the R.O.M.’s Canadiana Registrar accepted the gift on behalf of curator, Dr. Russ Fox. Food and refreshments were available, a “show and tell” was held, and Brian Musselwhite, the European department’s assistant curator, gave us a tour of the European department’s storage vault, a real treat since this is normally a restricted area. Donors were Diana Buckley, Don Cross, myself, Doreen and Mike Heenan, Pat Pitcher, Lorna Sommers, Howard Winfrow and Conrad Biernacki. Howard Winfrow’s donation of a plum and turquoise tulip vase (BMP #76) will surely be the stellar attraction in its collection of Blue Mountain Pottery.
By the spring of 2005, Conrad Biernacki had written an article in the Antiques and Collectibles Trader, a popular publication readily found at antique malls, and featuring the Dennis Tupy-designed “Angelfish”, prompted considerable interest in both the pottery and our club. On Sunday, April 17th, Conrad again hosted a Meet at the R.O.M., this time to celebrate and accept the generous gift to the R.O.M. by Mr. Robert Blair of the items that had been in the company’s museum case in its showroom. Notable items included an early decorated vase done in white clay and signed with the early “3 Mountains” mark, a Petun creamer, and a Grecian Marble jug. The spring also saw preparations for the 2005 Convention. Mark Dynes, a fine arts dealer from Hamilton specializing in Canadian art and pottery, provided welcome assistance to Diana Buckley and I with the location, programme, and logistics of the meet. The meet was scheduled for July 19th to 21st at the Sheraton Fallsview Hotel & Conference Centre in Niagara Falls in the hope that we might increase attendance from American members who would come not only for the pottery but for Niagara’s many attractions. Todd Milks, acting for the club, was able to persuade former B.M.P. master mould maker and designer David Bennet to design our souvenir. It was a wolf’s head vase made in brownish grey, blue, and green - 25 of each. Since that time Dave has continued to produce our yearly souvenirs. A “Convention Special” Newsletter was emailed to members with information about the meet, area facilities, antique malls, etc. I drew up a draft Constitution, Bylaws, Standing Rules, and Code of Ethics to give the club structure. These were created with input from the membership and the models of other collectors’ organizations. So, basically, by 2005, we had the club pretty much the way we know it today.
*At the time you could click on a seller’s or buyer’s ebay name and that person’s email address would come up, so that is how names were located and contacts were made.
** BMP closed for a variety of reasons. The SARS epidemic had meant fewer tourists coming to Canada, and tourists crossing the border were usually good spenders since the American dollar was high at the time. At the same time a low Canadian dollar meant Canadians had less spending power as imported items cost more and impacted discretionary spending. Additionally, the lease was running out on BMP’s factory (February 2005) and, while Mr. Blair owned a piece of property in the area near Pilkington’s, a costing analysis indicated that the move, construction and setting up of a new factory would be revenue neutral rather than profitable. That, along with the fact that Mr. Blair was in his late 70s, had had cancer, and that his children had no interest in taking over the business - plus that there was no prospective buyer for the company all suggested that the pottery had had its day and that closing at the end of 2004 made the most sense.
*** Mr. Blair had devoted much of his working life to Blue Mountain Pottery. He was afraid that, when the pottery closed, the moulds might be sold off and end up in China or a Third World country where they would be used to turn out an inferior product. He did not want the reputation of Blue Mountain Pottery to be degraded so he determined the moulds had to be destroyed so that they would not fall into the wrong hands.