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Fired up for a change

This Midweek Mugging features Jessica Steinhauser and Stone House Kachelofen.

Award winning potter and educator Jessica Steinhauser is rebranding her business and focusing solely on fuel-efficient woodstoves.

“I was very passionate about pottery but the stove is always what I wanted to build after my apprenticeship,” said Steinhauser. “I started Stone House Pottery 30 years ago, which is now going to be changed to Stone House Kachelofen.”

Kachelofen is a centuries-old masonry woodstove design dating back to the 1400s in Germany. The fuel-efficient technology is enjoying a resurgence and Steinhauser, being the only kachelofen maker in North America, is attracting clients from around the world.

“To think that the stoves are so old and they haven’t made it to North America is beyond me,” she said. “When I first came to Canada I thought oh my gosh no one is making kachelofen. That will be perfect for me but there was no market. Nobody can install them. It was a really long, hard road.”

In the early 1980s, Steinhauser watched with fascination as masons installed a kachelofen in her family home. It fueled an insatiable desire to learn more.

“I wanted to build kachelofen since I became a potter,” she said. “I stole a book from the school library and I still have the book with the stamp of the school in it.”

Steinhauser was born in Vaughn, Ontario the youngest of three siblings and moved to Germany when she was four years old.

“My parents met in Toronto at a German-Swiss club,” she said. “My mother is Swiss and my dad is German. They lived in Canada for 14 years then moved back to Germany.”

Steinhauser was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and it created challenges for her in school.

“When I was 16, I was an exchange student in Grand Rapids Michigan and I took Clay 1 and Clay 2,” she said. “My dad thought it would be good for me to do some hands on stuff because of my handicap. I really loved it and decided I wanted to become a potter.” She completed an apprenticeship at Staatliche Keramikfachshule in Landshut Germany one of the oldest pottery schools in Europe.

“I was 17 and the first round I didn’t get in,” she said. “The following year I did and it was the best three years of schooling in my life.”

She applied at another prestigious arts school in Germany to get her masters but, fearing she had failed the entry exam, announced to her parents she was moving to Canada.

“Funny thing is it was the first entry exam I actually passed,” she said. “By the time I got the acceptance letter Canada sounded so much cooler that I told my parents I was going to go to Canada instead.”

She arrived in Canada at the age of 22 and took a job as a production potter in Beamsville where she quickly grew bored. In 1988, she visited the Ontario College of the Arts in Toronto where she heard about a potter in Guelph who was looking for help.

“It was Goldie Sherman,” said Steinhauser. “I phoned her up and the first thing she said is, ‘You have a nice voice. Why don’t you come by?’.”

Steinhauser became known for her stick people mugs.

“They were mugs with stick people drawn on them,” she said. “For years I had a little dolly and I would take everything down to the market.”

She won several awards for her pottery but her interest in kachelofen never waned.

“The hardest part when I started focusing on this 10 years ago was being a production potter and trying to focus on the stoves,” she said. “My kids were still small and it was a bit much. The day I decided to not make mugs anymore it felt liberating.”

She has designed, built and installed, with the help of Austrian master kachelofen installer Mario Zauner, 32 ovens for clients in the US, Spain, Germany, Scotland, Mexico and Canada.

“It’s the biggest thing I can build out of clay and I get to travel the world,” she said. “Who would have thought? It’s crazy.”

She is also a part-time professor at the Haliburton School for Art and Design.

“That is when I can show off my throwing skills because I am a very good thrower,” she said.

She is often invited to speak about kachelofen and the skills she first learned from the book she stole many years ago.

“The funny thing I was just in Germany in February and I was invited to give a presentation at the ceramic school,” said Steinhauser. “The dean was also there. Anyways I did fess up to it.”