Clay as Community
Raku and pit firing with Renata de Lambert1, Maianbar, NSW, 9 September 2006
This article was first published in the November 2006 edition of the Ceramic Study Group Newsletter (No 417) and then in the Journal of Australian Ceramics 46#1 April 2007
During the 1960s to 1980s pottery (and studio craft generally) enjoyed a revival and Australia was flush with young artists who adopted pottery as their medium of choice. However in 2006 the question of becoming a potter is less straightforward and the practice of pottery is often discussed hand-in-hand with questions of financial survival and the viability of becoming a potter2. Trends affect the popularity of pottery, as does the availability of cheaper manufactured goods3, however the survival of this medium is important as much for its contribution to community, as for creating functional, beautiful, experimental clay works.
At the bi-annual (March and September) Workshop Arts Centre4 raku and pit firing by ceramics teacher Renata de Lambert, a group of part-time potters converge on Maianbar in the Royal National Park to conduct primitive firings in this conducive natural setting. de Lambert describes her ceramic practice and teaching as a counterpoint to "this so highly technical age we live in". de Lambert describes the experience as:
for the individual who is hand forming this humble and pliable material, clay, for the experience to work with the elements of earth, water, air and fire, for the deeper awareness of seeing, concentration, patience, love - all these qualities that enable us to remain fulfilled human beings.
"The raku", as the day is generally known, is an exciting event on the calendar for those potters working under the tutelage of de Lambert. The day also extends beyond this group as an educational event that actively includes students partners and children, members of the Bundeena/Maianbar arts community and the general public.
For pottery students of de Lambert who were born in the 1960s and 1970s, the day represents a tangible link to pottery's heyday and with it, a sense of community in which the collective effort of the students results in something everlasting and usually quite beautiful. It is the combined work of 20 to 25 people in purchasing gas, building the kiln, cooking food, preparing tea and coffee, filling buckets with water, stacking shelves, running the kiln and cleaning the pots that makes the day a success. On this day we each become full-time potters, and forget our other duties to become actively engaged with people whose labour contributes to the final form of our pieces. Lifelong friendships have developed out of these "working together days", as de Lambert describes them.
In addition to the small efforts, which contribute to the big success of the day, the interaction with people provides a sense of community that even the non-potters in attendance find compelling. Often the incidental visitor, who has arrived after seeing the smoke, is drawn into the ritual and becomes the next year's biggest contributor. It is sometimes the interaction that is more treasured than the pottery itself.
So thank you to all of those involved in the raku, not just for the clay, but also for the community.
Belinda Russell 2006