NZ Auckland: Ceramic Creativity @Nativity
There was a flurry of activity as the days drew nearer to Christmas. Shopping the main activity on most weekends, as it was so difficult to find the time during a working day. Stores were open later in the evening to cater for those working who couldn't normally get to the shops on weekdays. Christmas trees, wreaths, garlands and ornaments, great time to purchase laptops, desktops, TVs, gaming products and other electronics, the ubiquitous clothing, especially higher end designer clothing, perfumes and home-care? ... what to get those families and friends who quite possibly one hadn't seen for some time?
Besides advertisements on TV, blaring out SALES bargain on every corner: bikes, cookware, X-Boxes, music and DVDs, clothes of every description, lingerie, jewellery, watches. All of them nice but mass-produced in factories somewhere. Hmmm. Where could I find something special that isn’t made by machine or have many of the same to choose from, to give as a gift? Perhaps handmade, carefully crafted and unique, a one-of-a-kind – a piece of pottery?
We were on our way out-of-town for a birthday that weekend, but I was interested to visit two open homes where pottery was being sold. Mt. Eden, one of the leafy suburbs in Auckland is vibrant and funky with a winning combination of culture and nature. Climb Mount Eden’s volcanic cone for some of the best views in Auckland and afterwards treat yourself to a spot of shopping in the village and lunch at one of the hip local cafes. I lived in Mt. Eden in the 80's during my university days, but back then it was slowly emerging from a quiet suburb to a hip and trendy enclave.
When you see today's gentrified streets of Ponsonby, Mt Eden and Freemans Bay, it is hard to recall that not so long ago it was the bohemian refuge of artists, students and new immigrants. Many houses have been renovated in 60s or 80s style - lots of stained glass. Gone are the days when Mt Eden’s beautifully-dishevelled villas were seen as desirable only by students and impoverished artists; today those villas have been lovingly restored to within an inch of their lives by proud and wealthy couples and families.
Older homes often have a character and individuality that simply cannot be found in new homes. The wealth of beautiful character villas, tree-lined roads, close proximity to Auckland CBD and great schools, Mt Eden is one of the ideal suburb of Auckland, the gracious homes of old still abound. It is still regarded by many as the "Home Of Arts" in Auckland, due to the amount of creative arts in and around the suburb and the large number of artists who live nearby. The two open homes were there.
I gingerly walked (see: stroke) down to the first open home, much like a walled garden-like riad in Morocco; perhaps cloaked and austere to the outside passers-by yet enticed by the coloured balloons.
Upon entry we see an airy white villa and brick pathway with inlaid mosaics down the side of house. The arrow pointed towards the pathway. Ah, it’s at the back. Carefully placing my footsteps we passed statuettes along the fence line plus a bunting of not frilly coloured plastic, but miniature porcelain gumboots... the novelty of it brought a big smile... this was just a starter.
The path stretched into the garden beyond, it was a feast of the eyes and soul. The style of the mosaic pathway reminded me of paving at Hundertwasser Toilets in Kawakawa, in Northland - an international work of art and a tourist attraction in its own right. Perhaps it was done by the same artist/potter who laid the tiles for the Hundertwasser Toilets? Figurative and garden sculptures for sale in amongst beer steins, big platters and bowls, paintings, all the sorts of imaginative, sometimes quirky ceramics. Needless to say, I bought a few exciting pieces.
Next, to another address in Mt Eden, quite close by. Again, another white villa... with a boat built of house bricks in the front yard? Definitely an artists house. Surprising works of art littered the garden path, some discreetly hidden until you turned the next corner. Beyond a leafy fern arching over the path we arrive at a huge garden made small with so much choice in the ceramics on display; which ones tempted me? Plates of offered canapés is the loveliest form of bribery to assist in the browsing and hopefully shopping experience. Table upon table-full of delectable pottery to choose from. I made a hurried decision, then agonised between three more possible options. Really didn't have time to chat, for we were so late in leaving for our trip. They tend to have this as an annual event, so we can go back from more the following year.
The Big Clay Day Out is the annual fun-day for Auckland Studio Potters, on a Sunday, a few weeks later. It is Auckland's Biggest Pottery Fair & Auction. Pottery sales, potter's Olympics (!), kids’ activities, raku firing, have-a-go on the potter's wheel, paint-a-pot, coconut shy, Diploma Exhibition, Silent Auction, and many more activities on offer.
It was a bright sunny day, the centre busy with visitors. There were ceramics to look at and the numerous, exciting activities held in the grounds of ASP. We were fortunate enough to be just in time for the potter's Olympics which is blind-folded potters throwing bowls on the wheel! You’ve got to be kidding me... now this is going to be interesting.
Visitors shouted out encouragements, plus jokes and humorous banter, whilst the potters struggled to concentrate on the job at hand whilst laughing and replying with a suitable riposte. At the end, the quality of the all of the pots was staggering... created by hand but sight unseen: an exceptional demonstration of skill, dexterity, experience and in particular the tactile nature of potting. Skillful hands – potters should be called clay surgeons. Next, the handle-pulling contest; who could pull longest handle? Let's find out...
We wandered about the leafy grounds, talked with members displaying ceramics in the Diploma Exhibition. There was a stand under a shady tree with lots of visitors milling around...Ah, it’s the raku area. What is raku? Raku is a pottery technique that has its origins in 16th century Japan; is an exciting ceramics firing technique because you are so involved in the firing process. Glowing-hot pots, flame, and nearly immediate results (compared to a typical 10 hour kiln firing cycle), the attraction to raku pottery is because of the bright metallic colours you can get from firing. Colours can range from bronze, coppery-red, green or iridescent blue to purple, while some people prefer the crackling effects you can get with either slips or glazes.
There were lots of painting gear at the raku stand with paintbrushes and tubs of glaze. Adults as well as kids were busy painting the glaze onto the bisque'd pieces, in preparation to be fired in the raku kiln. Completed fired pieces sat in a tray with another batch being cooked in the kiln, and a collection of interested visitors waiting to see what their piece will look like. We visited the food section, had a taste of delicious fare.
I did purchase a couple more pottery finds. And a revisit to the event next year is already marked in the calendar.