IN 2004 A group of potters joined together and opened The Studio@Flinders, a gallery which sold, exhibited, and raised awareness about the world of wheel thrown, handmade ceramics.
One of the major annual exhibitions The Studio@Flinders hosted was the Melbourne Teapot exhibition.
In 2016, The Studio@Flinders closed, but the craft and spirit of handmade ceramics is still strong in Warrandyte and The Stonehouse Gallery on Yarra Street has taken up the mantel and will be hosting Melbourne’s annual teapot exhibition in August.
The Diary spoke with Marymae Trench, a ceramics artist and Stonehouse Gallery member since 2003, Ms Trench is part of the team who is arranging this year’s exhibition.
“Warrandyte has a long tradition of ceramics… at one stage there were seven shops in Warrandyte so there is definitely a history,” she said.
Ceramics has fallen out of fashion and there are very few courses now that allow new people to learn ceramics,
“I started classes at Potters Cottage in 1979, then ceramics were king but 20 years on ceramics has really slowed down… there used to be three TAFE colleges which allowed students to study ceramics, now there are none,” said Ms Trench.
A trend which is compounded by the convenience and availability of cheaply made and imported ceramic goods.
“We get tyre kickers here on Sunday, this young couple came in and the bloke said ‘there’s a mug in here and you’ve gotta’ pay $20 for it, and his partner said well its handmade you know… people come in and say they’ve always drunk out of clay because that’s what their mum and dad did, but the people who haven’t grown up with handmade stuff don’t really know the joy of using something that has been hand made,” Ms Trench said.
The Melbourne Teapot Exhibition, if successful, could become a regular calendar event for the Stonehouse Gallery which will compliment other community events on the Warrandyte calendar — such as the Warrandyte Festival and Pottery Expo — as a way of bringing tourism into the area.
Ms Trench is talking to local businesses in an attempt to generate some enthusiasm for the exhibition.
To inspire local businesses to get involved, Ms Trench explained how she hoped to replicate something along the lines of the Warrandyte Christmas Gnome hunt.
“We were told there were 200 entries last year, which means there were 200 kids and their parents, wandering the streets of Warrandyte looking in the windows of businesses — this is one of the problems with Warrandyte, people don’t know what is here,” she said.
The Stonehouse Gallery is a working gallery, which means everything on display in the shop, including exhibition content, is for sale.
The exhibition organisers are excited by the prospect of having around 50 different artists from all over Australia displaying their works and the organisers are sure there is something to suit all tastes.
But why teapots?
The process of making tea in a teapot has fallen out of fashion, the convenience of teabags is too hard to ignore.
There is still a generation who do remember their parents or grandparents using a tea pot, and the fashion of handmade is slowly coming back, but what’s in it for the potters?
Ms Trench describes the process of making a teapot and the appeal to potters due to the skill required to make a good teapot.
“When I was a student, I made five teapots and at the end I said I was never going to make a teapot ever, ever, ever, ever again because they are so hard to make.
“So you’ve got to make it so it is going to hold tea, you’ve got to have a handle that is functional, it’s got to have a spout, now when you make it you have got to make sure the level of the spout is above the level of the water— if it is below you fill it up and it comes straight out the spout, you’ve got to make sure the lid doesn’t fall out when you tip it up. “When you have a tea pot that already weighs a lot and you put in a litre of water, that’s another kilogram of weight, and it has to be aesthetically pleasing.
“You have to put the little holes where the spout is.
“You throw it on the wheel, you throw the spout then you have to cut the spout so it fits on and it’s got to have a lip that doesn’t dribble.
“It is totally different to making a bowl because there are so many elements that you need to get right and when it is full the centre of gravity needs to be in the right place and that is very hard to get right.
“It is very difficult and I don’t think people realise just how hard it is,” she said.
The exhibition will be open to the public August 4 – 15.