It was nearly 20 years ago when Victoria Henriksen and Heath Carra decided to trade in Calgary’s big city life for all the peace, quiet and seclusion that Boswell, a rural locality on Kootenay Lake, has to offer.
Henriksen, who also goes by the nickname “Pixie,” was a student at Calgary’s Alberta College of Art and Design (ACAD) at the beginning of the new millennium, years before the school would formally change its name to the Alberta University of the Arts in 2019.
The plan was to have her finish her education before buying property and launching her own home pottery studio, but that all changed when she actually saw her future two-building Boswell estate with her own eyes.
“We drove here and it was like, ‘this is it.’ We were called,” she said.
Nestled on top of a hill situated between Kootenay Lake and a sea of trees and mountain ranges, the two worked quickly to convert one of the building’s rooms into a pottery studio.
Their new Kootenay sanctuary became a site for home, work and play.
“As she got working in here, I liked hanging out with her,” said Carra, who also goes by “Shpriken.”
“I stuck around and started sticking my fingers in clay, making my own things. Whatever I know about pottery, I basically picked up from her.”
With the help of Henriksen, Carra — a sheet metal worker by trade — began to hone his newfound skills in pottery, which eventually led to the dawn of ShprixieLand Studios.
“We got along really well in the studio. Honestly, I think our work is made better by working together,” said Carra. “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts, or however that saying goes.”
For more than a decade, the pair have been producing colourful, animated and funky shaped mugs and bowls together – a style that Carra described as psychedelic folk.
Their sources of inspiration include everything from women’s clothing patterns to the visuals that spawn from listening to science fiction audiobooks.
“Almost every piece is collaborative in one way or another. We seem to work quite well together,” said Carra. “It’s been 20 years. We live together and work together all day.”
ShprixieLand has two lines of pottery: their slab-built celebration line, and their wheel-thrown sunnyside-line. Henriksen likes to dabble in both, while Carra’s specialty is the former.
“Because of my background as a sheet metal worker, I work really well with this flat, pancake thing,” said Carra. “I cut out my patterns from it, texture them with various pieces of lace, doily, textured stamps.”
In addition to pressing women’s clothing textiles and lace trim into the clay to form patterns, the two will also create and use their own “stamps” — a recurring one being a unicorn stamp made from a soap mould.
“Anything we can get a texture out of, we’ll pretty much use in one way or another. It’s a kind of collaging textures on,” said Carra. “I’ll form them and then the two of us together will sit with the colours and go crazy painting them.”
Quirky quotes are typically included in the inside of mugs to add some extra cheer to your drink. For Henriksen, it’s painting the colours that really give her delight.
“That’s where I get the most joy with my creativity, just combining the way things are — spending the time and trying different things with that,” she said.
ShprixieLand’s sunnyside line consists of peculiar-shaped white mugs and bowls, which typically feature hand-drawn, miniature characters that the two made themselves.
“We’ve scanned it onto the computer, manipulated it in Photoshop and then we use a laser printer with a lot of iron in the toner to print out decals of our drawings,” said Carra. “We put our decal on the pot and fire the pot.”
There’s also their “rooster and cat” line — pottery that features stamps or drawings of sexual imagery.
“I like being able to explore ideas. Having enough skill at it, and enough of an audience, that I feel free to really explore and experiment with different things,” said Carra.
In a normal year, the two would produce anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 mugs or bowls — sometimes even 2,000.
While their main market is North America, the studio has audiences in countries such as New Zealand, Italy, Israel, Romania and more.
In the Kootenays, Shprixieland’s work can be found at Kunze Gallery, Crawford Bay’s Dog Patch Pottery, Crescent Valley’s Frog Peak Cafe and the Kootenay Gallery of Art in Castlegar. Their pottery ranges in price from $30 to $120.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the two would also travel throughout the country — mainly to Alberta — to showcase and sell their work at five or six different high-end art shows per year.
“The pandemic has forced us to make changes,” said Henriksen. “We already had our website and we were already working to sell more online, but all of the sudden, everything was cancelled, so we had to make it work.”
Shortly after the pandemic first hit, ShprixieLand was met with a surge for custom orders, which has since died down.
“I was working 70 hours a week trying to do these custom orders. But it was really cool because a lot of artisans experienced that, where all of our money streams are gone,” said Henriksen. “People stepped up and supported hand-made. It was really heartening seeing that.”
For years, working days would last anywhere from 10 to 12 hours. But with the pressure taken off to produce, the silver-lining of the pandemic for ShprixieLand is that it has given them time to breathe.
“Our pace of life slowed way down, and it was actually great for us because we really overworked for the last few years,” said Carra.
The leap of faith that the two took almost 20 years ago in swapping the city life for a rural one is a decision that they don’t regret.
“We could never go back,” said Henriksen. “We had this idea we’d move out here and be earth-loving hippies. We’re very much earth-loving, but we’re very much not hippies.”
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