Earlier this month I attended a two-day handbuilding workshop with Wallaga Lake Heights potter Jenny Mein. Jenny has been making and teaching pottery in the Bega Valley for many years. We first saw her work at the Spiral Gallery in Bega in 2007 while we were hunting for a property in the area, and couldn’t resist buying this slab-built teapot, although we weren’t able to pick it up for another twelve months. Jenny is also an expert thrower and we have added a number of her works to our collection since coming to live in the valley.
At the workshop, we covered everything there was to know about handbuilding. We made pinch pots. We joined two pinch pots together to make a closed oblong and opened one end. We rolled our own coils and made coil pots. We extruded coils and used earthenware moulds to make a large coil pot, which we then inverted to make a larger pot. We wedged and kneaded clay. We threw, rolled and cut slabs and made boxes, pocket vases, tiles and moulded forms. We decorated surfaces with texture, oxides and slip.
What surprised me most was how easy it was to produce something functional and even quite artistic with just a few tools. As I scratched my initials on the base of each piece, I found myself taking pride in my work and could have spent hours more, perfecting the shape and completing the decoration. No wonder so many people take up pottery, and no wonder some choose handbuilding as their preferred technique. The possibilities are endless.
No, I don’t intend to become a potter. I enrolled in the workshop because I thought it would help me to understand more about the works in our collection and how they were made. My days are already filled with other projects and interests. The next step, mastering glazing and firing, is such a huge one to take, and I don’t have the incentive or time to develop the required knowledge or practical skills. Even if I had, I don’t need to fill our house with examples of my own work when it is already as full as it can be with work we love by professional potters.
However, it would be a pity not to use the clay Jenny gave us to take home. I could make a much better lidded box the second time around. The Valley Potters have a kiln and could help with firing. I see from googling that there are 25 in the group. What a great way to make new friends with an interest in pottery! Jenny is planning to hold some wheel throwing courses soon. It would be good to see if I have any skill in that direction at all. And the TAFE here has a good certificate course…No, no, get thee behind me Satan!
In any case, I promise to publish photos of my first attempts when they are fired.