David and I closed the gallery for the winter at close of business Monday 1 July and headed off to Melbourne for a week. We had a great time: visited John Dermer at Yackandandah; dropped in at SAM (Shepparton Art Museum), and the Castlemaine Art Gallery, both of which had studio ceramics on display; visited the Thrown exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre (closes 21 July); went to the Hawthorn-Geelong match at the MCG (David is a dyed-in-the-wool Hawthorn fan); visited the Essentials for the Domestic Goddess exhibition at the Whitehorse Art Space (closes 3 August); went to the Chapel St Bazaar; met up with friends; and, oh, lots of other things. It was nice to be out and about. As usual, we came back with a car load of pottery. The Gallery cats spent the week boarding out and were very pleased to get home.
As well as scouring the secondary market for Australian ceramics, David and I continue to buy new pieces. We never seem to have any trouble finding things to spend our money on, either locally or during our travels, but I sometimes wish there was a place on the Internet where we could shop more widely and systematically for recent work that fits into the themes of our forthcoming exhibitions.
We are particularly interested in building up our collection of woodfired ceramics for next season’s exhibition, so I decided to see what Etsy had to offer. Etsy is an e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items as well as art and craft supplies. It operates like an online craft fair with each seller having their own shop. To my surprise, I found that Sergei Shatrov has an Etsy shop called Mudworx and that I can buy work there made at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery in Bombala, just down the road. This is one of the HTM woodfired mugs. As far as I can see, there are no other Australian woodfirers on Etsy at the moment but this is a good start.
Here are the biographies I’ve added to the online catalogue since December:
There’s no real pattern here: I’ve been photographing and listing new acquisitions before putting them away in the container; and I’ve also been conducting an audit of our drawers to find pieces ‘lost’ when we cleared the decks for this season’s exhibition. Tony Martin falls into both categories. We recently bought this huge (40 cm high) jug by him and already had a dry-glaze bowl in one of our gallery drawers.
Bega Valley Shire Council has just notified us that our rural address number is now 24 Oliver Street. We are still in the same place, but it may be slightly easier to find us now that we have an official address. Twenty-four is a number with many fine properties according to Wikipedia. While it is only semi-perfect, it is known as the kissing number in 4-dimensional space and there are 24 major and minor keys in Western tonal music.
This wheel-thrown high-sided bowl was made at the Yarrabah Pottery in Far North Queensland in 1979. It has a pale grey glaze with white slip partially obscuring oxided sgraffito drawings of two crocodiles separated by panels of abstract Aboriginal motifs. While the glaze is a little thinly applied in places, I’ve grown to like this bowl during the time it has spent on the workroom table. An albino crocodile is said to guard a waterhole sacred to the Gunganji people of Yarrabah  and the two crocodiles seem to float in a watery dreamtime space.
Yarrabah Pottery was established in 1973 at the Yarrabah Mission (now the Yarrabah Aboriginal Community), 30 km south-east of Cairns as the crow flies. Like the Barambah Pottery at Cherbourg founded in 1969, it was an initiative of the Queensland government to provide sustainable employment opportunities for mission residents . In 1972, Ray Harrison (1937- ) was appointed the first teacher and manager. A graduate of Shepparton Technical College and of Toorak Technical Teachers College, he moved to Queensland in 1969, setting up a studio near Cairns and teaching at Cherbourg first, before spending three-and-a-half years at Yarrabah from 1972 
One of the first apprentices there was Edward (Edwin) Deemera (1959- ). He started by learning to mix and recycle clay, then moved from handbuilding to throwing and finally to production line work, making a range of functional ware . In the early years of operation, work made at both Cherbourg and Yarrabah was sold through the front window store of the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement (DAIA) in Brisbane. Ranges were designed to meet the whims of the tourist market, with very little freedom for potters to develop their own styles .
Our bowl was made after Harrison had left but while the pottery was still being managed by white Australian teachers and mentors. Its maker, ‘GD’, is Gwen Deemera, sister of Edwin, who was still at Yarrabah when she exhibited hand built pots at the Cairns Potters Club Biennial National Ceramic Exhibition in 2011 .
In 1986, the Yarrabah Pottery was featured in a Special Queensland Edition of Pottery in Australia . The manager at that time was Peter Faulkes and working there with Deemera were Heather Koowootha and Cornelius (Connie) Richards (1964- ). The aim was eventually to enable the community to run the pottery independently. This happened in 1990, the start date on the pottery’s current website , and I am assuming that it is around the same time that it became known as the Yarrabah Guyala (Seahawk) Pottery.
Twelve years later in 2002, Richards was working as the master potter there and Deemera as his assistant when the Yarrabah artists were moved from a tin shed to a new purpose-built art, craft and cultural centre funded jointly by the State and Local Government through ATSIC’s Community Development Employment Program .
Rummaging through boxes, I found that we have two other Yarrabah Pottery pieces, both made by Richards – a port keg decorated with a carved fish in a deeper red colour and a vase decorated with a carved turtle in shades of dark blue and maroon.
This use of functional ware to record the legends associated with the Yarrabah landscape is characteristic of the Yarrabah Pottery work that I’ve seen so far. Participating in the 2001 “Gatherings, Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art from Queensland, Australia” exhibition held in Brisbane and in the 2003 “Storyplace” exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, Richards wrote “My main goal is to put culture and history on some of my works using traditional names and telling the stories of long ago” .
The website (which may not be entirely current) says that two full-time potters and five part-timers work there. The pottery was also receiving support from teachers at the Indigenous Faculty of the Tropical Far North Queensland College of TAFE in 2003 . Other potters associated with Yarrabah include Chris Harris, whose work also features indigenous motifs and themes , and Michelle Yeatman, who exhibited large coil pots influenced by Thancoupie at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in 2012.
It is hard to encapsulate forty years of ceramic practice from the scant published record and a few examples but it seems to me that over this time the Yarrabah pottery has developed a strong creative spirit and sense of place from its industrial beginnings. While individual potters have come and gone there is now a history there of making ceramics that is facilitating the emergence of younger potters like Michelle Yeatman as part of a wider community of Yarrabah artists.
- Suzanne Gibson, “Albino crocodile – croc bites“, ABC Far North Queensland, 18 September 2003 (Intenet Archive copy).
- Lone White, Three decades of ceramics in far north Queensland : an informal history of the Cairns Potters Club, Cairns, Qld. : Cairns Potters Club, 2004, p.6.
- Sue Herbert, “Ray Harrison”, Pottery in Australia, vol.22, no.1, p.68-69.
- [Edward Deemera] Pot, Queensland Museum, Aboriginal Studies Collection, QE11792.
- Kevin Grealy, “Barambah Pottery, Cherbourg”, Pottery in Australia, vol.16, no.2, Spring 1977, pp. 3-7.
- “Gwen Deemera. Hand built pots” in Cairns Potters Club, Melting Pot: 10th Biennial National Ceramic Exhibition, Cairns Regional Gallery 29 July – 18 Sep 2011.
- Connie Hoedt and Hilary O’Leary, “Yarrabah Pottery” in “A history of pottery in north Queensland”, Pottery in Australia, vol.25, no.1, 1986, p.63.
- “Yarrabah Pottery”, Yarrabah Aboriginal Community website.
- Alf Wilson, “Yarrabah artists on the move”, Koori Mail, 287, 16 Oct 2002, p.37.
- “Cornelius Richards b.1964. Biography“, Design and Art Australia Online.
- Adrian Newstead, “A survey of Australian indigenous ceramic art”, Ceramics: Art and Perception, 52, 2003, p. 36.
- “Ceramics made by Chris Harris of Yarrabah”, image illustratingQueensland Museum. Cultures & Histories collections.
- “Yarrabah artists were a hit at CIAF“, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Newsletter, Sep 2012.
The gallery will be closed on Saturday 13 April just for one day.
This porcelain tile with curved sides and four rounded legs is signed ‘Barton’ on the base in ceramic crayon and is also entitled ‘Party Boys III’ in the same crayon. The platter is so playful in its subject and free in its execution that it has an ex tempore effect; however, the remnants of a sticker on the base suggests it was part of an exhibition and the numbered title that it was one of a series.
The maker is most likely to be Beryl Barton, a NSW potter with entries in the 1973-1985 directories, where she is based in Miranda making production ware and individual pieces in stoneware and porcelain. Barton trained at St George Technical College and augmented her practice by teaching at Gymea Technical College as well as tutoring at the Arts Council of NSW and the Potters Society. From 1975-1977, she was president of the Australian Potters’ Society.
Her mark is recorded in the 1977 and 1985 directories as a cursive ‘B. Barton’. I can’t say with certainty that the hand in this case is the same -hence the Mystery Potter category- but I hope for confirmation that this is Beryl Barton’s work.
David and I couldn’t resist buying this hand-painted plate when we saw it on eBay. China painting is usually outside our remit but we liked the elegant design with its low-key palette and the way the pink impatiens flowers are highlighted with sterling silver stems. It was painted by Lorraine Spring in 1990. Googling reveals that she is still practicing as an artist in the Ballina Shire.
I think of china painting as outside our remit because practitioners generally don’t work with clay or glazes. They use already fired porcelain and paints made of mineral compounds mixed in a flux of finely ground glass. When the work is fired, the flux melts and fuses the paint to the glaze.
I would generally not include china painters in Australian Potters’ Marks because they have their own associations, teachers and craft traditions; or because they are painters like Lorraine Spring who use porcelain as one of a variety of different surfaces on which to practice their art.
This having been said, many potters and potteries work in partnership with painters to decorate forms, and overglazes can also be used by potters seeking a more painterly approach. Johanna DeMaine’s recent work springs to mind. Then there are artists like Bern Emmerichs whose painted ceramics are so rich with imagery that they take china painting to another level.