Fanciful fine ceramics and artisan offerings at Dupas Designs in Procter
Michele Dupas is a playful storyteller and artist who expresses herself in clay
The motivation for any artist—whether it’s a potter, fabric artist, writer or poet—is to express themselves creatively.
Meet whimsical ceramic artist Michele Dupas. She is the owner of Dupas Designs and Gallery 229, located in a shared space in the old Procter schoolhouse. Dupas Designs offers handmade ceramic decorative and sculptural work while Gallery 229 sells paintings, jewelry, handmade cards, photography, felted products, mixed media assemblages and pottery made by local area artisans.
Dupas’s playful ceramic designs are full of fantasy and imagination. Platters and vases are delicately designed with beautiful botanical patterns that are hand-drawn and etched; planters are painted with bright, vibrant style and colour. She gets much of her inspiration from the natural world.
“I am constantly surprised and amazed by nature—those crazy colour combinations and shapes really inspire me,” she said, “I have always had a very animated view of the world. I love a good story.”
Speaking of stories, many of Dupas’s designs feature charming little characters with tales to tell: two bug pals sitting down at a table to a shared drink, or colourful bubbly fishes swimming around a vase. Her sculptural flower renditions, entitled “Alien Flora,” are an otherworldly (and somewhat dangerous) creation straight from her imagination, based upon how plants might evolve after a post-apocalyptic event.
“Some of my clay flowers are slightly malicious—they would probably trip you in the garden and snicker as you limped away,” she said, “I like to think that I am a botanist coming up with new and weird species of plants of my making.”
As the youngest of nine children, it’s quite probable Dupas came by her expansive imagination honestly.
“Hand-me-downs are a fact of life when you are the youngest—lots of games and puzzles with missing pieces,” she said, which means having to fill in the blanks with a little necessary creativity.
Her creative aspirations may also have been sparked by her mother, who gave her the life-changing book Play-Dough-Clay-Dough when she was a child.
“My siblings graciously received various snake and snowmen fridge magnets for many Christmases!” she said.
KootenayBiz chatted with Dupas about her background, how she decided to take the plunge and start a business in the middle of a pandemic, and her future plans.
Why did you decide to open your business?
I was working as an office manager for 14 years and I felt really disconnected to my creative life. I was too tired and busy on the weekends to go to the studio. I graduated from the Red Deer College Visual Arts program in 2003, and my dream was to be a full-time practicing artist. I took the leap and, with help from the Community Futures Self Employment program, I opened Gallery 229 and launched Dupas Designs on July 4, 2020.
I believe the pandemic has brought about a larger appreciation and value for the arts and the creative process. There have been some challenges: not being able to have events at the gallery, to teach group clay classes or to participate in craft markets. But there have been advantages as well—customers recognize the need to support local businesses and the Harrop-Procter community has been so encouraging. It has not been the ideal time to start a business, but you have to take the wins wherever you can.
Describe a typical day in your studio.
I take my long 50-metre walk from my house to the Procter Schoolhouse—wild turkey traffic can be very heavy! I open the gallery and head to my studio right next door. I turn on some music or a podcast and figure out what to work on first. I tend to work on multiple pieces at one time. Creating in clay is all about timing, so I may roll out clay for the next day, begin assembly on some pieces or move on to surface decoration for completed pieces.
My breaks often include a visit from some of the neighbourhood kids who are always curious about what I am creating. The great thing about having my studio next to the gallery is that I can work on my ceramics and man the gallery at the same time.
Customers are genuinely interested in my process and love coming into the studio to see what I am working on. My day ends with cleaning up my work surface and mopping the floor. I leave feeling very lucky to have such a great studio and the opportunity to create.
What is your biggest strength that you bring to work each day?
I have previously owned a travel agency and a bed and breakfast, so I know the hard work and perseverance that are required to run a business. I think my strength is to be able to translate my creative vision into a physical form—from idea to sculpture.
We all have hard days from time to time. On a rough day, what inspires you to keep going?
On a tough day, I take a deep breath, grab some chocolate, remind myself that “this too will pass” and then watch the neighbourhood kids play with wild abandon. I have a close friend who is also on the same path of making art and we commiserate. It is important to have someone with the same vision to put things back into a positive perspective.
Do you have any future plans for your business that you are particularly excited about?
I am excited to expand my visibility and explore new production line options. Many of the images that I create for my functional ceramic ware—mostly floral images—would lend themselves to be printed on fabric. I am currently exploring the logistics behind the printing and design process. Having some printed fabric houseware items, like tablecloths and napkins, could be coupled with my ceramics.
In addition, I have an upcoming group show with fellow artists at the Hidden Gallery in New Denver from August 24 to 29, 2021.
Outside of your business, what are some of your favourite activities?
Travel. My best holidays are those that include great food and amazing art. Due to the pandemic, our travel has been more local in our retro trailer, “Betty”—it is fun to explore Kootenay parks and local art galleries. Camping gives me time to relax, read a good book and immerse myself in nature. I always return home with fresh ideas for the studio.