Potter, social activist, mentor, husband, father, friend. Born March 8, 1945, in Toronto; died Oct. 17, 2013, in Perth, Ont., of multiple myeloma, aged 68.
Jackie Seaton was a man of principles and clay. All about changing the world, he brought Empty Bowls, the international grassroots movement to fight hunger, to Perth, Ont., raising more than $150,000 for the food bank and other local charities.
He was an advocate for social justice, quick to write a snappy letter to the editor, to fight the good fight. Once when he was taking on the local school board – undoubtedly over equity and inclusiveness – a red-faced opponent pointed a finger at him in the lobby and said, “You know what you are? You’re a humanist.” A humanist indeed, with a keen intellect and a capacity for cool, trusting in the strength of his convictions.
But Jackie was a potter first and foremost, with forearms Michelangelo might have carved, still strong into his 60s. His salt glaze pottery is Japanese in its austere beauty and perfection of form. Earthy and iridescent. Straightforward, like its creator.
Raised in Toronto’s Forest Hill neighbourhood, Jackie was the middle child of Ann and Ben, with an older brother, Paul, and a younger brother, Mark. He discovered ceramics at a summer arts and drama program at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan when he was 13. He had gone there to work on his cello playing. He kept the cello, but clay became his life.
After getting his BA, Jackie earned a master’s degree in English and Victorian studies at York University in 1973. An avid reader and lively thinker, he could focus on his potting while listening intently to audiobooks or tapes of the CBC program Ideas. He worked as a researcher for Stephen Lewis in the early seventies, and was an advance man for Ed Broadbent on the campaign trail throughout the eighties.
Jackie met Joni Seligman at Camp White Pine in Haliburton, Ont., when they were teens. They were together from then on – more than 50 years. They lived in a commune in Toronto, then moved to Shawville, Que., and eventually to Perth, where they bought the old general store in Harper Village, which had been converted to a dwelling, and settled down to raise a family.
Last month, their three children, Ami, Aden and Gita, and two grandchildren were all home for Thanksgiving. As sick as Jackie was – he had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma in August, 2011 – he insisted on us celebrating together, four families in all. He was dying – would succumb in three days – but he was lively that evening, his appetite for food sadly diminished, but his appetite for company as healthy as ever.
I remember Jackie most vividly on the Perth Autumn Studio Tour, in his element, bantering and showing his wares. He had been a founding member of the tour, which showcases the work of a number of local artisans and artists. Folks would arrive from far and wide at the old general store, walk around the well-tended grounds, gaze at Joni’s extensive gardens, the old outbuildings too tidy to be truly ramshackle, the old brick house. I would see in their eyes, again and again, this sense of wonder: How could anyone be so rich as to have a life like this?
Tim Wynne-Jones is Jackie’s friend and neighbour.