The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.

A 100-mile drive to fetch a needed bus part and a closed bridge sent Marie-Joël Turgeon and Jordan Lentink of Atelier Tréma on an unexpected detour through Bedford, in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. It was a glorious fall day in 2014. They were so taken by the picturesque village that they sold everything and moved within a few months. Their home-based pottery business was doing well and, in December 2019, they’d even bought an old hangar in order to expand. 

Months later, the pandemic shuttered everything, including the craft shows where they sold their wares. Turgeon and Lentink had to change their business model on the fly. Today, Atelier Tréma employs 12 people and has a full order book. 

1 Atelier Tréma founder Marie-Joël Turgeon and studio dog Olive. 2 Jordan Lentink working the coffee counter in Atelier Tréma’s café-boutique during the author’s visit.

Marie-Joël Turgeon, founder of Atelier Tréma1, seems to be perpetually in motion, as she oversees production in her workshop, answers an employee’s question, or offers to make a vegetarian sandwich for a café customer. Turgeon discovered clay at age 16, when she signed up for a kickwheel pottery class. She loved it so much, she continued until she left for university. 

Turgeon’s family hails from the hilly Laurentians region, but spent summers on the Atlantic coast, where landscapes and objects worn soft by sand, salt, and wind honed her eye. That aesthetic was further refined during a bachelor of fine arts at Université du Québec à Montréal, after which she returned home to set up a pottery studio. Her initial production was artistic, including vases and illustrated tile quilts, all in cool whites, grays, and blues. Then-boyfriend Jordan Lentink, who owned a coffee shop in Ste-Adèle at the time, suggested she make tableware for fun. The idea was prescient: sales picked up as her contemporary tableware in muted shades attracted interest. 

Turgeon confides that since moving to Bedford, her palette has warmed up. Perhaps it’s the region’s light, cornfields, or open forests. “Everything is softer, cozier,” she says. “I don’t know if it’s my eyes or my heart, but everything seems warmer. And so are my pots. Or maybe it’s the high levels of manganese in the water!” 

3 Detail of the workshop and café-boutique’s entryway. 4 Atelier Tréma’s complete line of tableware displayed for visitors to browse.

Atelier Tréma favors a plain, robust style of pottery with simple lines. As Turgeon tells it, Tréma aims to produce work that “you might have found while walking along a beach, something that has texture, life, imperfections—a story.” 

Always Thinking About New Designs 

“When I started out in 2004, I wasn’t thinking about making a living. It was about having fun in the studio every day. And this remains the goal. We wake up every day [expletive] happy to come in to work!” she exclaims. 

Turgeon and Lentink want the same for their employees. They’ve hired and trained locals; each person works at the stations that best suit their strengths, so they enjoy their tasks. Because the couple values their team, they make a point of paying salaries that keep pace with the rising cost of living, and of establishing a healthy work-life balance. Employees are also consulted during the design process: while Turgeon has the final say, they are invited to critique proposed designs and give feedback. 

5 Decorated with vintage finds, the seating area of the café-boutique is welcoming.

“As artisans, we are constantly thinking about design,” says Turgeon. “Does this mug sit well in the hand? Does that bowl fit in a dishwasher? When people buy a set of plates, they want them handmade, but they also like them to stack well.” 

That her wares be handmade is essential to Turgeon, but how could others produce her designs while retaining her gesturality? Faced with the growing physical toll of sitting at the wheel for long stretches, the couple began researching ways to speed up production. They hit upon jollying systems. 

6 The neatly organized slip-casting station looks out unto the café-boutique space. 7 Two employees holding a discussion in the kiln room.

In the Workshop 

Currently, Atelier Tréma has three jigger-jolly stations and a half dozen carts stacked high with molds of Turgeon’s works. There’s also a slip-casting table for items such as oil bottles and maple-syrup jugs. After casting or jiggering, employees finish pieces on the potter’s wheel or trim them by hand. This ensures that Atelier Tréma’s wares retain a handcrafted quality. 

Turgeon reveals that they don’t recycle clay: pieces are only lightly trimmed and trimmings are thrown away. This reduces dust and eliminates the chore of recycling clay. Staff members certainly appreciate the reduced strain on hands and bodies. Lentink used to mix their clays himself, but that job eventually had to be outsourced. Ontario’s Pottery Supply House now blends its clays, while Atelier Tréma continues to prepare its casting slip. 

8 Bird’s-eye view from the stockroom area into the studio.

To keep things simple, wares are glazed in clear or white, relying on the clay bodies to create contrast. And Turgeon wasn’t joking about the high manganese levels in the town’s water supply: it shows up as random specks in the glazes—and has most residents drinking filtered water. 

9 Two employees lightly trim plates. The trimmings are discarded each day during cleanup.

Booming Sales 

At the front of the workshop is a café-boutique that retails Atelier Tréma’s complete line, as well as a curated selection of artisanal housewares. While the café brings in a modest income, locals appreciate meeting there for coffee—expertly poured by Lentink—while visitors going along the wine route will stop by to browse and perhaps leave with a new favorite piece. 

10 Pike River, dammed for power in the 19th century, flows along old redbrick factories. These are now occupied by businesses or have been converted into artist studios.

Lentink and Turgeon used to make most of their income at Toronto’s One Of A Kind shows. Consequently, they had plenty of stock on hand when the pandemic hit. Lentink quickly assembled a transactional website. Sales skyrocketed despite zero marketing: they had to hire staff to pack orders while they continued making. 

11 A pair of maple-syrup jugs branded for “Trois Fois Par Jour,” a popular Quebec food blog and retailer, and one of Atelier Tréma’s partners.

12 The well-equipped stockroom area, where orders are packed.

Never waste a good disaster, goes the expression. The pandemic upended life as we knew it, but Atelier Tréma nimbly adapted to the new reality. Their production is now sold through over 30 retailers and boutiques, both online and brick and mortar, across Ontario and Quebec, and parts of the US. They no longer run the summer route of pottery and craft shows across Ontario. 

When 5pm rolls around and they close shop to head home for supper and a glass of wine, Marie-Joël Turgeon and Jordan Lentink can be proud of their thriving pottery and of their contributions to Bedford’s small community. 

For more information, visit www.ateliertrema.com and find them on Instagram @AtelierTrema

Photos: Lysanne Larose. 

the author Based in Montreal/Tiohtià:ke, Quebec, Canada, Lysanne Larose is a bilingual ceramic artist making large, semi-abstract sculptures. 

1 Tréma means umlaut in French, such as the one in Marie-Joël’s name. 

Topics: Ceramic Artists