THE 21ST POTTERY Expo was held on the riverbank on the last weekend of February, with ceramic artists from around Australia showcasing their work to, what organisers say, was the biggest crowd ever.
With live music, 70 stands filled with spectacular creations, demonstrations, talks and a weekend of sunshine and minimal restrictions, it was “a buzz”.
“These are the biggest crowds we have ever seen and I’m anticipating more sales than I’ve ever seen also,” says event coordinator Jane Annois.
“This is great for the local businesses too; the cafes and shops have also benefitted this weekend.”
Along Yarra St the cafes and restaurants were brimming, and Andi from Calla Collective said: “There is a good energy here this weekend, it has certainly lifted the atmosphere around the place.
“There is more excitement in the conversations, there is a buzz, and we need a bit of a buzz.”
There seemed to be a giddiness amongst the crowd, perhaps it was the mixture of sunshine and the opportunity to just be out, somewhere beautiful, amongst lots of people, and feel safe.
As a passer-by bumped into me and apologised profusely, she laughed and said, “I think I need to learn how to do crowds again.”
Perhaps she is right, I walked into people and lost track of my companion several times.
Minna Graham, from Daylesford, is an Expo stalwart and says the weekend was “crazy, busy and fun!”
“It has been amazing,” she said, as she continued wrapping items in tissue paper.
“Everyone is just happy to be out.
“Maybe it’s that and that there is a new appreciation for ceramics.
“Over the last few years people are loving and appreciating ceramics more.”
As Minna ties a package carefully with her trademark black ribbon, a customer smiles, and says,
“It really is good to be out and about, and the works here are just beautiful.”
Adam Cox (South Gippsland) has been exhibiting at the Expo for over ten years and says the weekend has been fantastic.
“People are keen to come out and do something out of lockdown,
“It is always a good weekend and a great opportunity to meet other potters.”
Sunday lunchtime, and his stall is almost empty, so Adam strategically places the few remaining items for sale a little further apart to fill the space.
“I’m almost cleaned out,” he said happily.
“It’s months’ worth of work, it’s the biggest event of the year and I have been keeping my nicest pieces for this.”
Special guests this year were Australian members of the International Academy of Ceramics (IAC).
The Academy is the principal organisation representing the interests of ceramics worldwide.
Based in Geneva, the IAC is an official partner with UNESCO in the cultural sector.
Jane Annois has been a member of the Academy for two years and is honoured to be part of such a global community of ceramic artists that focus on networking, education and raising the standards of excellence within the art.
Jane is thrilled to have an exhibition of such high-end ceramics from many of the Australian members of the Academy at the Expo.
“There are 12 Australian IAC member artists represented here this weekend and it is very exciting.
“Collectors have been here, buying this weekend, and it has lifted the profile of the Expo.
“It has also been very inspiring for the potters to see these works, which are rarely seen together, in one exhibition.”
Sally Wise, from Preston, is also a member of the IAC and has been a ceramist since she was 17 years old.
Her journey started when an influential teacher in high school introduced her to the art.
She went on to study a four-year ceramics degree, and says, “it’s been my passion and obsession ever since”.
“It is exciting to have higher end ceramics at the Expo,” said Sally, “and nice to see collectors here, buying.”
Winner of the Warrandyte Lions Best Presented Stand was Tian You, from Tian Ceramics, Footscray.
Tian says, “It is always the best event of the year.
“It takes months to prepare and this is the grand opening of my new work.
“It was very well received, there were lots of customers first thing on Saturday morning, determined to get in early.”
The Potters Prize is the peer favourite, voted by the potters, and this year’s winner is Arnaud Barraud, from Kalorama.
Arnaud’s prize is a piece from last year’s winner, and he in turn will donate a piece for next year’s winner.
Su Hanna (Bendigo) and Marina Pribaz (Daylesford) shared the Michael Hallam INCA Award for innovative contemporary ceramics, presented by the Warrandyte Riverside Market.
Su is one of a small group of wood-fire ceramists represented at the Expo, with fellow guest artists Sandy Lockwood, Rob Barron and Jann Kesby.
Wood firing is ceramics at a whole other level, it is earthy and rough.
Someone explained to me that wood firers see “the beauty in the natural colours of ‘brown’ and in the complexity of ‘rough’”.
Many wood-fired ceramists design and build their own kilns and after the backbreaking work of collecting, carrying and splitting wood, are known to have a moment of ceremony as they light the match.
Su says, “You have to be a bit crazy to be a wood-firer.”
“Just splitting the wood is a lot of work, and we are limited with the fire season.
“We have to time it and try and get it done before it hits.
Su and her husband take it in shifts, day, and night, stoking the fire, keeping it to temperature for four days.
“It’s a lot of work,” she repeats, and pauses, “and a lot of wood prep”.
I sense that the work of the firing stays with her long after the fire has gone, and as she looks at the piece in front of her, she says quietly, “but you can’t get the random surfaces, and those colours that I love any other way.
“It’s worth it.”
As I leave her stall, I realise making art is hard, and I have a fresh appreciation for both the art and the artist.
Once again, The Pottery Expo was a huge success, and the riverbank was alive with music and colour and stalls and people.
Quite simply, it was pure fun, and the people were visibly happy.
Photos: BILL McAULEY