As a child, if I was asked to climb to the top kitchen shelf and collect a feline, bluish-green teapot with black streaks, large enough to water a small army, I knew company was coming. The Blue Mountain Pottery teapot wasn't necessarily the "good stuff," but it was pretty, it was utilitarian and it got the job done. Oddly Canadian.

Yet to cast any light at all on Blue Mountain Pottery -- which a new show at Toronto's Gallery Contempra does -- is to grant a comforting design icon a whole new sheen. And to pair co-curator Conrad Biernacki's collection with couture pieces from Linda Latner's is like washing away the garage-sale smell and adding a splash of perfume.

Biernacki became familiar with the pottery as a kid vacationing near the Blue Mountain headquarters in the ski resort town of Collingwood, Ont. Touring the factory was a major tourist draw. His interest was reawakened at a Blue Mountain Pottery convention in Collingwood last year (yes, there are such things).

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"No other pottery could come closer to creating that wonderful drippy, streaky glaze," Biernacki says, "because it used local clay -- no one else has that exact clay. I thought, 'This is Canada.' Isn't this too typical? We don't know much about our own history."

The colours were mixed to reflect the landscape: The blues, greens and blacks were a reference to the conifer forests; the oranges and reds echoed the fall colours. It's also a far more affordable option, than say, Limoges or Swarovski (the pieces in the show range from $30 to $300; on eBay it's anywhere from $10 to $100).

Founded in 1953 at the foot of the eponymous Blue Mountain, the factory began churning out pieces for dining rooms, bookcases and hutches across Canada and around the world. No subject, it seemed, could escape that drippy treatment: The show includes everything from coffee pots, to vases to dolphins to even squirrels, which Biernacki is quick to note were "patented in 1969."

The brand was at its production peak in the 1980s, with 175 people employed in three factories, but unsurprisingly it is the earlier pieces that have the retro-chic cachet. The fact that the factory exported more than 40 per cent of its wares to the United States and Britain means that interest is also on the rise among international collectors as well, an interest that will probably rise, given the fact that the factory closed last year.

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Like any true collector, Biernacki prefers the rarer glazes and unusual shapes, such as the oversized angelfish that doubles as a vase. "It's so stylized," he says. "You can just see how a designer might have seen a real angel fish and been inspired."

Bonnie Czegledi, an art lawyer and owner of Gallery Contempra, collected her lone Blue Mountain piece, a vase, in France. She says the pottery is a cultural touchstone. "Blue Mountain Pottery is very Canadian. There is a connection for everyone. It's the same with paint-by-numbers. Everybody did it."

For more information on Blue Mountain, visit Couture/Clay runs until Oct. 9 at Gallery Contempra, 416-929-8209.