Student Success

Uchikura nurtures passion for ceramics at Medalta

Ceramic artists from around the world are drawn to the prestigious Medalta Potteries facilities in Medicine Hat for the opportunity to study and practice at the Shaw International Centre for Contemporary Ceramics. After receiving the Faculty of Fine Arts Medalta Residency Award, Gary Uchikura, a third-year art student at the University of Lethbridge had the rare opportunity to join emerging and established artists for a month-long intensive residency.

The Faculty of Fine Arts Medalta Residency Award provides a month-long opportunity to a third year, returning art student.

“Gary is an emerging artist who has shown a profound interest and material engagement with ceramics in his studio practice in art,” shares Annie Martin, art faculty and member of the award selection committee. “Gary's art practice is far reaching, traversing painting, performance, and ceramic art, and drawing inspiration from the discipline and forms of martial art practice and his deep interest in and connection to Japanese-Canadian cultural heritage.”

Uchikura’s fascination with ceramics began last summer after taking a class with instructor and ceramic artist Tanya Doody. Over the next year he threw upwards of 500 ceramic vessels from four inch tall cups to 15 inch platters, vases, teapots, bowls and other sculptural forms.

“The Medalta Residency presented a huge chance to expand on my ideas about ceramics, pottery and sculpture,” explains Uchikura. “Having had only a year of exposure to a legitimate ceramic practice has allowed me to approach all aspects of my work in a fresh way, but learning from many people involved in similar work is the true key to unlocking the sculptural potential of clay.”

The Faculty of Fine Arts Medalta Residency Award provides a month-long opportunity to a third year, returning art student. The award is supported by Medalta and the Faculty of Fine Arts through funds provided by donors to support student enhancement initiatives. Award recipients receive 24-hour personal studio access, firings, use of shop glazes, accommodations at Medicine Hat College, a stipend of $1,000 and exhibition opportunity in the U of L Art Department.

The Medalta International Artists in Residence Program serves artists at all stages of their careers including students, emerging and established artists working together in spacious, semi-private studios. Recipients of the award are not only inspired by the setting and scenery but by the other residents from all over the world and all forms of artistic backgrounds.

“Any time you enter a program alongside other accomplished artists, the resulting cross pollination of technique, knowledge and aesthetic ideas is that like no solitary practice could ever hope to achieve,” says Uchikura. “There is both a competitive and nurturing vibe at the Medalta residency that fuels enthusiasm and focus for the people involved.”

Uchikura spent the month of May in the Medalta studios building the confidence to create larger vessels, prepare glazes, test different kilning processes including salt, soda and wood firing and the many preparations needed to make them successful.

“Clay resonates with me as a material like none other,” says Uchikura. “Something in its texture and mouldable consistency transports me back to my youth. Ceramics is also an artisanal skill from Japan that carries strong associations with household object of my daily life.”

Uchikura, a second-generation Japanese-Canadian, martial arts enthusiast, and mature student with a previous degree in agricultural science says that returning to the university to study art has been a source of liberation for his imagination.

“This creative outlet has been the most satisfying I have ever known,” shares Uchikura. “I chose to study at the University of Lethbridge because the number of accomplished artists that have come out of and teach at the University was quite astonishing. The enthusiasm for innovation in teaching and nurturing art practice such as the Art Now talks and the Crossing Boundaries Symposiums makes me very proud to be part of its educational tradition.”

Students interested in the Medalta residency opportunity are encouraged to apply by March 2020. Students are selected by art faculty members based on a demonstrated excellence in art, and a strong interest in ceramic art and in experiencing an intensive artist residency.

For more information about the Department of Art, and the Medalta Residency Award, visit