Robin Hopper Remembered (1939-2017)

Internationally accomplished potter, teacher, author, garden designer, and arts activist, Robin Hopper passed away on April 6, 2017. The potter’s art is one of the few in which the connection between creator and appreciator is so intimate and integral. The process of creation, the resulting object, and its use by others represent a unique interrelationship, too seldom explored. If not for multi-faceted, generous, and curious imaginations, like Mr. Hopper’s, the potter’s work would be a lonelier and more narrow calling than it is today.

Robin’s personality and style were larger than life, and his heart was soft and sweet. He was passionate about his art, his garden, and sharing his experience and knowledge. Robin could be gruff and rude. He was impatient with carelessness and negligence. His style could be curt and abrupt but this was his way of cutting to the chase and getting to the point. “Why beat around the bush?” was one of his mantras. In the midst of Robin’s apparently unforgiving demeanor was a deep understanding of the human spirit. He knew how to bring out the best in everyone who would interact with him. Robin’s engine was a heart of gold, a kindness of unsurpassed wealth and empathy beyond appreciation. ~ Steven Branfman

Born in England in 1939, Hopper’s childhood memories of the bombing of London were vividly recounted in a 2011 NCECA closing lecture in Tampa, Florida. He studied at Croydon College of Art (1956-1961) and later developed studios in both England and Canada, where he immigrated in 1968. After teaching for two years at Central Technical School in Toronto, he established and headed the Ceramics and Glass Department at Georgian College, Barrie, Ontario. In 1972 he resigned from teaching to devote full energies to his work in ceramics.

In 1977, he moved to Victoria, British Columbia where he established and ran the ’Chosin Pottery Gallery with his wife, Judi Dyelle. That same year, he was honored as the first recipient of the Bronfman Award, Canada’s most prestigious annual award in the crafts. Surrounding his studio and home, Hopper and his wife also dedicated themselves to horticulture and garden design. Their Anglojapanadian Garden at ’Chosin Pottery has been featured in books, several television programs, and many magazines. His dedication to craftsmanship extended far beyond the walls of his studio, gallery, and beloved flora. A prolific author, Hopper’s books include The Ceramic Spectrum (2008), Functional Pottery (2000), Staying Alive (2003), Making Marks (2008), a revised edition of Daniel Rhodes’ Clay and Glazes for the Potter (2000), and his autobiography, Robin Hopper Ceramics: A Lifetime of Works, Ideas and Teaching (2007). His eBook, A Potter’s Garden – An Artist’s Approach to Creative Garden-Making (2014) illustrates his award-winning garden and discusses the influences and inspiration that it has had on his pottery.

Hopper taught throughout Canada, the United States, England, Australia, New Zealand, China, Korea, Japan, and Israel. His work is in public, corporate, and private collections throughout the world. He is an Honorary Member of NCECA and is also the Founding President Emeritus of the Metchosin International Summer School of the Arts (1984).

Deeply and expansively engaged as a maker, researcher, writer, and mentor, Hopper’s creative, and intellectual rigor helped impact thousands learning a complex art form in a meaningful way, on a global basis. He was also committed to the message that the craftsman and artist can make a good living in a chosen field. As an artist, he remained committed to understanding the nature and limitations of materials and process through painstaking and innovative methods. After receiving a diagnosis of terminal liver cancer in 2015, he wrote to a friend, “Right now I’m about halfway through compiling a 3000 name Botanical Latin inventory of plants that are in my 2.5 acre garden! I have a whole list of other things to get done before I croak, hopefully concluding with a tongue in cheek obituary to keep people smiling as they set my cold, dead toes on fire! WARM FEET AT LAST!” In response to his diagnosis, Robin set about to produce Swansong, a video including stories, music, and images whose proceeds are being used to benefit research and treatment of pediatric cancer and arts programming for school-aged youth. On November 18, 2016, in a ceremony at Government House in Victoria, British Columbia, Hopper was invested into the Royal Order of Canada.

Mr. Hopper’s imagination and gifts as a communicator have made him a global, creative citizen. As a child of London bombings during World War II, his own life journey and story of resilience have served to inspire others. Alongside the undeniable beauty of his work, Mr. Hopper’s humanity, humility, and generosity have been a gift to the world.