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Written Articles


Clay as Community

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

  1. Renata de Lambert lives and works in Maianbar and teaches ceramics part time at the Workshop Arts Centre, Willoughby. She is on the Bundeena Art Trail, which consists of Bundeena and Maianbar artists who open their studios to the public on the first Sunday of each month. de Lambert has exhibited widely and is collected in Australian and international galleries as well as private collections overseas. She has won the Royal Easter Show ceramics section for a number of years in addition to several other awards. She has also judged a number of ceramics awards.
  2. Ousby, Louise. the state of clay. The Journal of Australian Ceramics. 45 #2 2006 pp 32-35.
  3. Bell, Robert. The Crafted Object 1960s - 80s (catalogue). The National Gallery of Australia.
  4. Workshop Arts Centre, 33 Laurel Street, Willoughby, NSW. A non-profit making community art facility with day, evening, weekend classes and workshops in painting, drawing, sculpture, ceramics, printmaking and jewellery making.
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