I have just been reading the transcript of a talk the fine British potter Sarah Walton gave in 1983 at the Sainsbury Centre, Norwich. In a brief autobiographical introduction she says, simply: "I am a Londoner, having grown up in a family of professional musicians, and by the time I first went to art school, I was thoroughly familiar with the contents of all the London museums and galleries." I am drinking tea from one of Sarah Walton's salt-glazed cups, trying to quell an onrush of the dreaded Australian cringe as I write this.
I was born in 1935 in the gold rush city of Allarat, in southeast Australia. I don't remember going to an art gallery before I went to university. In our home there was no classical music beyond that played for our piano lessons; very little classical literature, and no positive conversation about the arts that I can recall.
I was the second of four sisters. My father was the managing director of a large engineering firm that took most of his attention. My mother, daughter of a cabinet-maker, had trained as an arts and crafts teacher, but on her marriage was whisked away to pour her skills into homemaking. Our house was chock-a-block with lead-light windows, turned wooden vases, hand-painted parchment lampshades, watercolour still-lives, tapestry firescreens, crocheted tablecloths, hand-made earthenware pottery – coiled, slabbed and thrown – and one or two copper spittoons, all scrupulously made by my mother. She sewed and smocked, knitted jumpers and socks for us and "our boys at the war," made our church-going hats, did all the beautiful calligraphy on our school projects, cooked for us and endless fund-raising fêtes, and poured her loving-kindness over us and all she came in contact with.
I was left-handed, a fault punished and changed at school. My rebellious writing was dreadful, my sewing worse. Sport was traumatic, and I became a bit of a loner, prone to "longing for the moon," as my father would put it, calling me "Greta". But my drawing knuckles were left un-rapped, and flourished – and I buried myself in my books.
At Melbourne University I majored in fine arts and English literature, with a little history and French language luckily thrown in. At that time, paintings at the National Art Gallery of Victoria were housed beyond a long gallery of splendid pots. These were the superb Kent Collection of Chinese and Korean wares and some pots by Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew. During regular walks past the glass cases, my curiosity about these seductive objects grew. Although I knew precious little about Australian potters at that time, I begged to be able to make pots the subject of my third year thesis, which was to be on an aspect of Australian art. Surprisingly, I was given the go-ahead.
Armed with A Potter's Book, with my sights set high, I visited potters, clayworkers, and art schools in Victoria and New South Wales. With the exception of Arthur Boyd's fabulous Nebuchadnezzar ceramic tile paintings, I was largely unmoved. Mind you, my approach was blinkered. This was 1954. I wonder, now, if I had seen Anne Dangar's work from France then, would I have missed its qualities? I hope not, but it's possible.
I was, in fact, disappointed because I had been expecting to find – and wanted to find – the liveliness Leach spoke of, and the mystery I knew from the Song wares. Then, at the last minute, I heard about Ivan McMeekin, recently returned from years at Michael Cardew's Wenford Bridge Pottery in Cornwall. I phoned him and was invited to come to Mittagong, about 124 kilometers southwest of Sydney. By this time I was hungry for good pots and his home was full of them: the wonderful bowls we ate from, the lively pots he had made, exuberant Cardew pots, and the Chinese and Southeast Asian pots he had collected. I listened and looked. All I wanted then was to be apprenticed to him. I persisted, I suppose, until he agreed to take me on a trial basis. I persuaded the faculty to allow me to be examined for a pass degree at the end of the year and waive my honours year; and tried to convince my skeptical parents that I was about to embark on a productive and worthwhile career.
This was the beginning of what I can only describe as, in Ivan's phrase, "a very graceful potting life!" (Ivan McMeekin: "A Potter's Angle," published in Ceramics: Art and Perception No. 3.)
Really, Ivan taught me how to read pots: with my eyes and hands. He taught how to know the qualities of clay bodies, the subtle differences of glaze surface and depth, and about thoroughness and patience and the futility of short cuts. We threw the pots on kick wheels with thick tulip oak wheel heads. We raw-glazed them, and fired them in a small, efficient, woodburning kiln (an adaptation of Cardew's translation of the firebox developed by Emile Bourry for the Sevres porcelain manufacture). Ivan painstakingly tested the local materials to refine the stoneware and porcelain bodies we used and to make the glazes I still wonder at – fresh now, glowing. We didn't have sophisticated machinery and spent a lot of time digging and crushing and blunging and ladling and sieving and wedging and kneading. I still can't bear to use anything but my hand to stir the glazes – feeling the consistency, losing my fingernails. And wood is the only real fuel!
Sometimes it was hard for me, a city girl who didn't even know how to light a Primus stove when I arrived. I am sure it was for him too. But the three good years I spent there were the solid foundation for everything since. I listened to stories of Wenford Bridge and Michael Cardew and the China Ivan had known. For my twenty-first birthday, my father – with directions from Ivan – brought back from London for me a little Song Dynasty saucer with two exquisitely carved fish under a Lung Chuan celadon. This, and a small bowl thickly glazed with Ivan's beautiful Mittagong-blue celadon, were to be touchstones I carried with me for years.
It became clear to me that I couldn't have had a better reference when I went to England early in 1958 than having spent time with Ivan. I had saved my fare for a long boat trip over (the lowest deck, shared cabin with five others) by teaching pottery at the Frensham Girls' School with which Sturt Crafts Centre and Sturt Pottery were affiliated. Michael Cardew was just leaving for Africa but said I could work with him on his next leave. I hired a bicycle in Cornwall and rode slowly down to the Leach Pottery at St. Ives, visiting collections and museums and potters on the way, and was, to my astonishment, offered work by Ray Finch at the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, and by Harry and May Davis at Crowan, and, finally, by Bernard Leach, for whom I had carried, on the back of the bike, a blue celadon porcelain dish from Ivan.
And so I stayed for some time with each potter – Ray Finch, Bernard Leach, and Michael Cardew – over the next two years. My meeting Louis Hanssen in St. Ives put paid to my plans to spend time with the Davises, and I moved up to London to be with him.
Those five years, in rural workshops, taught by generous and enthusiastic masters who had given so much of their life's energy and understanding of their craft, nourished and formed me as a potter and confirmed my choice of vocation. Here I was witness to the daily commitment to quality, the constant curiosity and change, the personal involvements with the history of the craft, and the obsessive reaching for deeper insights. I felt at home, glad to be part of that endeavour in any way. I was quite happy to become absorbed into it; and when, at Mittagong and at Wenford Bridge, I was the lone audience for that teaching, I felt particularly lucky and secretly proud.
They were years filled with pots. If I had only known the workshop pots, God knows that would have been enough to have sent me on my way. But there were, besides, the kitchens, attics, collections, and museums, where I would touch and weigh in my hands and scrutinize these pots so often loved and touched before my coming to them.
Ivan introduced me to his friends, fellow collectors of Oriental ceramics. I would listen to discussions on aesthetic and technical points, handling the precious celadons, the blue and white porcelains, or enameled export wares. I initiated a project to make a slide kit for adult education – an historical survey of the Kent Collection in Melbourne – and so got to photograph and handle, at my leisure, those pots that had been my first inspiration. The ample Neolithic mortuary jars, the Han Dynasty ladles with traces of red ochre, the fragile, gently curved grey-blue Korean bowl, sitting in my palm, these became familiar-my mentors.
Later, fresh to London, I was shocked by the sheer number of pots in the Victoria and Albert Museum and quickly learned to linger over only a few each visit, rationing the pleasure. I liked to visit, also, the Percival David Collection and the British Museum; but again I hated having to press my nose up against glass. On my bicycle pilgrimage west, I phoned Sir Alan Barlow in his country seat and, in brash Aussie style, asked if I could see his renowned collection. He graciously invited me to tea as well and, after a precious time talking about his pots with him, I was chauffeur-driven, my bike in the boot, on to Oxford and the Ashmolean, later seat of those same fabulous works. Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, during that same marathon, kindly opened her home to me, pulling pots out of cupboards onto the floor and letting me absorb them.
At Winchcombe, where Cardew had first set up his shop reviving the old Gloucestershire pottery, and where his former student Ray Finch now worked, I clambered around the loft of the old kiln-shed where some of the early slipware pots were still to be found. I dragged them out into the sun to be photographed, hardly able to lift the magnificent "Adam and Eve” cider jar. I rummaged around in the Finch kitchen when I could (there would be occasional childminding evenings) and got to love those softened, well-worn, earthenware dishes and cookpots. I decided to go to the University College of Wales Collection at Aberystwyth, and look at the great Welsh slipware dishes there, and the early galena-glazed Cardew pots, and early Leach, Nora Braden, and Pleydell-Bouverie treasures. Feast days, those.
The atmosphere at the Winchcombe Pottery was relaxed. I was more an employee than a student, part of an established team. I would make the clay bodies up in a dough mixer (a dusty process I never wanted to repeat) and mix up glazes in the great copper washing vessels, straining to lift them to the bench. The potboards were long and heavy – I could hardly carry them. But, luckily, the pots I was asked to throw were of modest size and I was happy to kick away at the wheel for most of my time there. Sometimes I would make the clay balls for Ray's throwing, hurrying to keep up with his easy, practiced pace. I lived in the hut in the orchard where Michael and Mariel Cardew had first installed themselves. I raced the geese for the fallen morning apples. On weekends, I rattled off on Ray's moped to Stratford-upon-Avon and the Royal Shakespeare Company.
At the Leach Pottery I again found myself one of a team, this time made up of fellow pilgrims from far and wide. I was more temporary than most, as I was to leave when Michael came back from Abuja, and was also set apart, I think, by my disinterest in doing my own work. Even when, with Bernard's encouragement, I made pots for the regular crit sessions, I felt "time enough, later ... for now, watch." The apprentice ethic was ingrained, and I had never known the intense self-searching of the art schools. So, half observer, half tentative participant, I entered a new arena, with John Reeve from Canada, Pierre Cu lot from Belgium, and Richard Jenkins and Scott Marshall from England and Cornwall. Bill Marshall and Janet Leach organized us and kept the production ware flowing. Bernard quickened our hopes. Zen and the Art of Archery changed hands, dog-eared. Yanagi's philosophy was discussed: new words (for me) slipped into the conversations-yunomi, Mingei, and (ah) shibui. I could no longer ignore Japan.
I was ready to enjoy the pots Bernard and Janet invited us to use and examine in the kitchen. The grainy, warm, handleless Hamada cups, the luscious porcelain Tomimoto plates with astringent blue brush paintings and the purest red enamel, and the country Japanese pots, always fresh and large-spirited. But the pots that surprised and fascinated me (and the rest of the gang, to be sure) were the great, leathery jars and mysteriously dense, dark bottles and dishes Janet Leach had brought back from the long-fired Tamba and Bizen kilns.
Undaunted by the fact that these pots were born in large emberfilled chambers fired for days, we had mock-Bizen firings in Janet's newly built oil-fired kiln. We wrapped seaweed and straw around everything, and sent in shovelfuls of wet sawdust with the oilblower to make a lot of smoke, and stuck everything together. Later, chipping off the grit, we looked at everything under water, and made up haiku. We were not nearly reverent enough about it – coming from Australia and Canada, after all – but we were serious in our way. I was moved and confronted by this new (to me) aesthetic of the accidental: pots subject to the fire for days and burnt to rock. I could see that understatement and austerity were necessary to temper the inherent flamboyance of the methods. The contradiction pleased me. I was delighted by the easy asymmetry of some of the wares but uneasy with any extravagant deformation. Was this self-conscious manipulation? Or, was I too foreign? Here was the old paradox that had worried my church-going adolescence. How could one aim to be humble? It simply couldn't be thought about. Such slippery stuff, all this.
You can understand with your gut the adjective shibui – the recognition of "truth beauty," Bernard would say. Honesty, ordinariness, nobility, simplicity, humility, astringency – words hover around the meaning. "Joy and utility meeting," he also called it. But can we really be thinking about that as we work away at our wheel? I doubt it. Better perhaps to concentrate on getting the pot right – how we feel in our bones it has to be. We can draw on all we know, but the beautiful pot is always a surprise. If it happens, we can only say thanks and leave it at that.
I drove to Wenford with Michael Cardew. We stopped on the moor and, for our picnic, from a bundle of Nigerian cloth, he pulled out two porcelain plates from St. Ives with Bernard's pigment drawings – a swallow in flight and a gannet swooping on a fish. It was the first of four months of remarkable meals together. After the austerity of student economies, the Wenford table was abundant: real coffee and clotted cream, salads dripping olive oil, buttery omelettes, summer fruit pies, and any amount of carrageen junket. Then came the choosing of morning coffee bowls, of plates or teapots, of the jar for the coddled eggs. The kitchen and sideboards were crammed with pots and I had the run of them. Ah! And with all that was Michael's conversation – and his wonderful erudition.
Michael was preparing his lectures for the famous 1959 summer school that were to be the basis for his book Pioneer Pottery. I could type, so transcribed the lectures from the handwritten original. They were the subject of long meal-time explanations and of more dangerous ones – Michael describing molecular activity with large hand gestures, steering apparently forgotten, during our perambulations down the narrow Cornish lanes, oncoming traffic invisible over the granite hedges. He was reconnoitering the sites: clay mines and quarries we were to visit again, en masse, later that summer, clambering high over rocks, crushing the soft-purple Cornish stone in his fingers, always telling about it.
There were biscuit pots from the last leave. We glazed them and prepared and packed the great, round, down-draft kiln for the school firing – a casually organized event that was the catalyst for friendships that were to last over the years. I first met Alan CaigerSmith, Henry Hammond, Paul Barron, and Helen Pincombe here. A fine time, and my graduation, I guess. After that, it was all up to me.
I rode up to London. My friendship with Louis Hanssen had become important, but elusive. Soon, I set out on my scooter from London to Genoa to join a boat for Australia, a little bereft, unable to imagine what could be next. Five weeks wandering alone around Tuscany, looking at paintings – Mantegna, Piero Della Francesca, Giotto – and the Ravenna mosaics, revived me. A random note from Louis, sent on spec to a youth hostel, decided me and I turned back to England.
It was late 1959. At that time Louis was a mainly unpublished writer, church mouse poor, and I had no capital whatsoever. He found casual backstage work in London theatres – with treats of free tickets. I became a library assistant, moonlighting as a thrower at Alan Caiger-Smith's London workshop. Sometimes Louis joined me and began learning to throw. There was a period then when I worked weekly at Aldermaston, at Alan's main workshop, with weekends in the capital. But we soon found a low-rent two-room basement in Notting Hill and had an electric kiln built down there on hire purchase. Alan lent us a kick-wheel and some other equipment. For a while, I taught at The Isaac Newton Secondary Boys' Technical College in nearby Portobello Road, but as soon as there seemed to be suitable clays and glazes and an order or two, we worked together full time in our cramped little studio.
Well, it wasn't how I had foreseen my pottery during my five years' preparation, and I had some difficulty adapting. My techniques had to change, but my attitudes more so. Lodged somewhere in my conditioning was the dictum, perhaps only muttered, that nothing really good could come out of an electric kiln. Louis had no such problem, his preferred forms being more sophisticated than mine and his role models nearer home. We got to know Lucie Rie, a walk away, and through her became acquainted with Hans Coper and his work – pivotal for both of us. The narrowness of my view was obvious. Lucie encouraged us and found us markets. For a time I attended her classes at Camberwell School of Art, but the real lessons, slowly learnt, were absorbed on the visits to her home and studio. The talks over chocolate cake and coffee were rarely about pots, and I was shy before her work, which luckily she would keep for a long time on the shelves to be slowly realized. And it did take time for me to see some pots. Her gravely poised bottles with those heart-rending flaring necks eluded me for years. But some of the milkily pitted, slightly oval, white bowls seemed as miraculous as the sixteenth-century Korean penny rice bowl Bernard Leach used as a touchstone or the fragile Korean bowl I had first seen in the Kent Collection.
Over these years I watched the work of Hans Coper, mainly through the pots at Lucie's, often brimming with fresh flowers. His solemn Coventry Cathedral candlesticks were the catalyst for some of the larger works that Louis, now installed in his own Hampstead studio, made for his 1966 "Primavera" exhibition. But I was drawn to the smaller scale and the 1965 one-man exhibition at the Berkeley Galleries that I saw on the eve of my removal to France. It was to haunt me for decades. I walked down the steps into a place so still; held, not immediately by the pots themselves, but by a sense that the space between the pots were recognized forms, too: negatives. The very air seemed dense with these lovely redolent objects. Later, in Paris, I was to feel something of this power in the Brancusi studio at the Museum of Modern Art and in the breathtaking Morandi retrospective in 1971. But just then, I was leaving London, alone, to install, finally, my rural workshop in Acheres. Hans said that day: "But you're too young to be a hermit!" And I, as usual, did not know what I was taking on.
I had once encountered a pot from La Borne – an old two-handled oil jar – while visiting Pierre Culot in Belgium for Christmas 1962. Immediately struck (un coup de foudre), I went straight to Paris to see the historical survey exhibition, Potiers de Haut-berry, then showing at the Museum of Folk Art and Tradition. This splendid show, presenting pots, tools, methods, and maps of the area, with its excellent catalogue by M. Jean Faviere of the Bourges Museum, answered all my questions. I was overjoyed to meet pots like this, fired like those Japanese pots, in long woodfirings, the clay dense and rich and satisfying, with forms I was entirely comfortable with.
The following summer I rented a workshop from Lucien Talbot, a retired traditional potter – having passed his throwing test – and fired the pots I made in Anne Kjaersgaard's kiln at Neuvy-deuxClochers, falling in love with that tough and tolerant clay, and the wood again, and the thick green, green oak forests. The next year, visiting again with Warren MacKenzie and Glenn Lewis, I bought a house in the area at Les Grand es Fougeres. It was cheap, three hundred years old, and falling down. We imprecisely envisioned, I think, a network of places we nomadic potters could visit: John Reeve's at Hennock, in Devon; Warren's in Minnesota; Glenn's in Vancouver; and this French location. It was 1964, and I was about to leave London for eighteen months, at Michael Cardew's invitation, to work again at Wenford, this time by myseif, or with anyone who wanted to come and help me fire the huge kiln. I took back with me a load of the lovely, dark grey Berrichon clay to test in Cornwall, and prepared to move.
I was in France from 1966 to 1973, and made, I think, some of my best work there. Certainly I felt at home with the large three-chambered kiln; and the clay was faultless. I had imagined that my work would become looser there and, to a certain extent, it did – the very size of the kiln saw to that. Toward the end of my time there, it became more refined, even a touch urbane. I began to use several of the porcelain bodies prepared and milled for the porcelain factories of Vierzon, less than an hour's drive away. My slip and glaze palette became paler. For a time all I wanted to make were white bowls, the glaze cloudy with the salty ash. Then something happened to change the focus of my life. I stopped potting for a while in order to absorb my discoveries and walked away from my French idyll taking only what I could carry in my bag. After a spell in Vermont working with the Bread and Puppet Theater (old friends I had met on a teaching exchange at Goddard College), I made my way back to Australia.
Sometimes I ask myself if I would make pots if I were wealthy (there have been such satisfying periods when, involved in a favoured communal endeavour, I've happily forgotten all about them). But potting is definitely my favoured, if most insecure, means of survival. I'm thankful that my pots have been bought in sufficient quantities to allow me to go on making them in the labour-intensive way I do. Although my daily existence is always hand-to-mouth, I seem to have done the things I most keenly wanted to do. Luxury indeed.
In the last twenty years there have been some quite alarming changes of circumstances, and pot-making has been a constant thread – the flip-side, perhaps, of an internal development. Domestically, my life wandered somewhat: communal situations, times when finances were all pooled; a marriage with a shared potting life; a divorce; lone inner city apartments. Sometimes I lived in households aspiring to ashramic ideals where my fellows weren't concerned with what work I might be doing, although helpfully concerned with my heart's growth, when for long periods I spoke to very few people about my work – a practice that I think made me probe my own strengths. At any rate, it was a fair apprenticeship for my present situation.
In brief, my Australian potting circumstances were these: after about six months of teaching at East Sydney Technical College and the University of NSW, feeling as if I had dropped back into a history I scarcely knew, I moved to Tasmania. In 1974 I set up a pottery with John Pigott, substantially helped by the Crafts Board of the Australian Council. It was a rural workshop again, but unlike the French experience where materials had been known for centuries. Tasmania's isolation from the mainland, and its beauty, encouraged our enthusiasm for geological exploration. We raw-glazed and fired with wood, and John blended clays and minerals from the far reaches of the island into stoneware and porcelain bodies and decorating pigments. Our work showed a definite traditional European peasant bias and our markets were mainly local.
After six years our partnership foundered and I left for the mainland, finding a temporary niche as a tenant of the Jam Factory Craft Workshop in Adelaide. Here, deprived of a woodfiring kiln, I again had to reassess my work. I had learnt a little more flexibility by now, and the prospect was less alarming than my London disorientation of twenty years before. I decided that if I had to work with gas, I would concentrate on what it did best: uniformly repeat tested qualities. I threw porcelain table settings, usually a blue-grey or green celadon with a range of washed-out shino-type colours. And, hardly surprising, surrounded as I was by the ebullient in-house espousers of ornament, I made a body of decorated work.
These two strands continued when, in 1981, I moved north to Brisbane, in Queensland, as honorary resident potter at the Brisbane College of Advanced Education (now Queensland University of Technology). There I was supplied the materials to build another woodfiring kiln and had, for the seven years I was there, sole use of an existing fibre, gas-burning kiln. In the gas kiln I continued making dinner settings. In the wood kiln, the pots were either restrained or densely covered with a surface made up of tiny repeated strokes of an indigo blue pigment on a glaze, attempting to resemble unbleached calico – rather like weaving or knitting or the remembered Nigerian indigo patterned cloth that I used to collect.
This gradually became more complex; I would fire the blue-decorated dishes in the wood kiln, the under surface becoming ambery rich with the wood ash. Later, I would pick the pattern out with gold. The tiny stroking would take days-until the base was equally covered. Heaven knows what drove me on: the ornate frames of Japanese screens in a recent travelling exhibition; the Inca weaving and gold treasures from a visit to Peru; the delight of discovering the movement and intricacy possible? The very last pots pleased me, and then, seeing nowhere left to go, I stopped cold.
Three developments contributed to a change of direction during those Brisbane years: my return to England for the solo exhibition at the Casson Gallery; the invitation by the Crafts Council of South Australia to take part in the "Maker's Choice" exhibition in Adelaide; and the beginning of a working relationship with Garry Anderson, director of the Garry Anderson Gallery in Sydney.
In London I was confronted with the enormous changes that had taken place in the last decade. I had seen the "Image and Idea" exhibition that toured Australia in the early 1980s, and read the catalogue to The Maker's Eye survey by the Crafts Council of Great Britain. And, of course, there were magazines. But here was the essential "flesh and blood" contact with the pots, outside the glass: Liz Fritsch's solo, the Richard Batterham exhibition at Covent Garden, a long evening in Janice Tchalenko's studio; time again with Lucie Rie; close examination of Hans Coper's and Rie's pots in the home of an avid collector; a workshop visit to Alison Britton; the "Tableware Exhibition" at the Crafts Council Gallery and consequent train rides to visit Andrew and Joanna Young, Sandy Brown and Yasuda, Clive Bowen, Svend Bayer, Seth Cardew, and Janet Leach; and the brief but valuable contact with Gillian Lowndes and Glenys Barton and their work. I looked, with great pleasure, at the quiet, strong cups and jugs from Sarah Walton and was delighted, too, with the work of David Garland. I stood to attention for Wally Keeler's teapots and loved everything I saw from Bryan lllsley's hand.
But I was mortified by most of my own work that now seemed so shallow of content. Only the plain, celadon, deep salad bowls really pleased me, and some wide, liquid blue dishes, and the teapots. But of these, Lucie Rie said to me, "They don't look very loved." Shamefaced, I found solace again at the National Gallery, standing in front of Pierro della Francesca's Nativity, and the Bonnards and Morandi at the Tate. Yes, there was something deeply human and consoling to feel and express. But the work had to be stripped of anything not essential.
When invited to choose the work of three inspirational artists to show work with, in the "Maker's Choice" exhibition, I asked (with a fair amount of nerve) for Morandi, Coper, and Rie, all artists whose work, at best, expresses a wonderful frugality within which is that "deep, tough poetry." Well, it took guts to put my pots in that company and I now wanted that test. In the accompanying essay, I wrote, 'The writing of this article, the remembering, the looking, has in itself affected my present and future (work, life?). It has initiated an uncomfortable but cathartic reassessment of my present stand and a reaffirmation of a purpose only tenuously held in the past few years."With my pots, I began to pare down and simplify. The bowls I sent were spare, footless. They gave me hope.
Garry Anderson invited me to exhibit in 1987 and then, again, in 1989 when I first showed, from my Netherdale workshop, the Still Life groups I am still involved with. His was primarily a painting and sculpture exhibition space but with scale and austerity perfectly suited to my work. He showed the work as I passionately wanted it to be seen. I wanted air around it – "Ah, I want to have the pots underlined; given the time they need and deserve" (Maker's Choice essay).
My association with Garry and other artists committed to his gallery and the reception these exhibitions received, gave me the confidence to take the step I felt I needed – toward isolation and a private work space. A small but growing circle of artist friends inspired and supported my vision. The sense of disorientation I had been feeling within some of the ceramic circles here seemed less painful. I decided to stay in Queensland.
For a few years in the mid-nineteen eighties, I was part of a team of teachers on the Australian Flying Arts School, an outreach programme based at the College that sent a little four-seater, single-engine Cessna up and down the coast and through inland Queensland as far as Thursday Island in the north and Quilpie in the west.
With a pilot and a painter, and (squashing up) an occasional guest, we worked on tours of up to twenty-one days. Every day would find us landing on a new airstrip, some on farms and sheep or cattle stations, us swooping over the steers to get them to clear the runway before dark fell. This was a unique sort of teaching and tested our wits. Every day there was a new group, perhaps four or five in a shearing shed or some twenty or so at a regional college of technical and further education (TAFE colleges). There were usually novices and veterans together, all expecting troubleshooters with wise words. We worked on themes. I would cajole the pilot to let us carry relevant pots to handle, and slides and books, and the daylight projector I appropriated to alleviate the stifling slide sessions in curtained-off kitchens at temperatures well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit. We were always over the weight limit.
I loved the flying. Sometimes it was for hours over the most desolate places or, as the morning mist came in over the silver sea, to a dark-green rain forest bay. And, when unable to stay longer in rented premises, it came to choosing where I would settle, I turned naturally to the vastness of Queensland. The valley where I live now is ringed with mountains – the Eungella National Park. My neighbors are cane-farmers and nurserymen, their lives as insecure as my own, depending not on an unknown audience but on the vicissitudes of a wild climate. Here, at Netherdale, I built yet another kiln – again an adaptation of the Bourry model, again with preheated secondary air inlets, but with extra mouseholes to cope with the embery iron bark fuel. I also made two door openings, for packing from either side is kinder on an aging back. The firebox is divided in two. With the wood only seventeen inches long, I can, when necessary, fire the kiln alone, although I appreciate the help of neighbours and friends when they are here.
I don't fire often, a blessing in the tropical heat. I painstakingly glaze all the pots in different shades of colour, taking weeks, constantly testing and blending. I make bowls and Still Life groups. I plant trees, try to keep the young saplings alive in the drought, and work to bring this old house to life. I spend a lot of time watching the lovely changing mountains.