Joan Bruneau didn’t understand the power of pottery until a year backpacking around Europe lead her to the Greek island of Crete. She was awestruck by the 4,000-year-old Minoan crafts in the museum.

“The decoration on those pots is so dynamic. That really was exciting,” she remembers. Bruneau eventually returned to Halifax to study at NSCAD. Last month, she won the 2009 Established Artist Recognition Award from the Nova Scotia Arts and Culture Alliance.

“It’s an honour. I have worked really hard over the years developing my career as well as making a living from my work,” says Bruneau.

After earning a NSCAD BFA (’88) and an MFA from the University of Minnesota (’93), she moved to Lunenburg, where she runs her shop, Nova Terra Cotta.

For Bruneau, the functionality of her work adds to it. “Use is a vehicle for communication. That’s the beauty of it: You touch it, you handle it, you hold it. People make associations with the texture of the glaze — it’s like a skin, or the surface of the stone, and it can trigger all kinds of sense memories.”

Bruneau, who teaches part-time at NSCAD, uses the down time of winter to tackle more ambitious works and travel.

While she sometimes misses the stability a 9-to-5 job might bring, she looks to her 103-year-old aunt for inspiration. Elizabeth Williams graduated from NSCAD in 1928 and pursued an independent, artistic life. At 75, she bought a house in Cape Breton.

“Like me, she’s single and self-supporting,” she says.

Check out her work at

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