More than anything, I am driven by curiosity and a deep desire to learn. This desire led me, three years ago, to take on a job and postgraduate studies that exposed me to new spheres of knowledge and tested my capacity to deal with unfamiliar challenges every day. I believed in what I was doing, and as I threw myself into long hours of work and study, other important aspects of my life were neglected. All my creative endeavours – music, making, writing, gardening – were abandoned. After a couple of years I felt exhausted, depleted and out of synch with my own sense of self.
It was in this state that I attended a Christmas craft market organised by the social club at work. A colleague was selling pottery she’d made. I knew immediately, with a bolt of utter clarity, that I needed to be a potter.
I grew up in the 1970s near Mittagong, a hub of Australian ceramics at the time. At 5 years old, my best friend’s father was a potter. At 10, I helped my mother’s friend build a wood-fired kiln and mucked around on her old kick wheel. I formed little pinch pots and figurines out of sticky clay from an embankment near my house. I read about Shiga Shigeo and marvelled at his exquisite spherical pots. In year 7 art class I made a coiled vase that still holds my mother’s kitchen utensils, and a sandy hexagonal slab pot that now sits on a cabinet in my hallway. I then moved to a new city and a school with a lousy art program, and my clay-play receded into the background.
After my epiphany, I went home, booked into a local ceramics school and converted my kids’ cubby into a tiny pottery studio.
I borrowed a book from the library and bought a block of clay and some basic pottery tools. I lashed out on a Japanese banding wheel with a perfectly smooth spin that fills my heart with joy.
On my first day of using the studio, a couple of animals-behaving-weirdly events occurred, which I took to be a good omen. First, when I went to enter the studio, a cicada had settled on the cord that holds the door closed. Its discarded skin was attached to the door. I kept gently moving the cicada to the bushes, and it kept returning. Cicadas are ancient symbols of rebirth and transformation, as they live for years underground in a nymph state before emerging, shedding their skin and taking their adult form. In Provence, ceramic cicadas are displayed outside houses for good luck.
Then a young Australian native bird called a Peaceful Dove (seriously – can you get any more symbolic) settled into a hole next to the studio. It let me pick it up and sat on my hand for a while. I put it on the outdoor table and it wandered around and posed for a photo before flying off into a tree.
Suitably awed by these benedictions from the local fauna, I made some pinch pots.
Then a couple of larger coil pots with incised botanical designs.
The first steps on a long road.