Pottery - respite from life's stress

The Warehouse is killing pottery.

All those mass-produced mugs, platters, bowls and vases with a "Made in China" sticker that doesn't quite peel off properly.

Convenience and cost drive buyers, leading to kitchen cupboards filling with characterless crockery.

Meanwhile, inside one of New Zealand's oldest buildings at the northern end of Courtenay St, New Plymouth, are rows and rows of ceramic wares, no two the same, each made by a pair of human hands.

It's a sign that there are still some who preserve an art form that dates back more than 10,000 years.

On a wet winter Tuesday night those people trickle into the workshop next to the historic Te Henui Vicarage, each looking forward to getting clay under their fingernails and to knead, roll and sculpt their cares away.

New Plymouth Potter's Inc - membership about 60 - run the weekly pottery classes and have their gallery in the vicarage, displaying work of members and potters from Taranaki and around the world.

On one side of the workshop students use potter's wheels to shape cups and pots while on the other, a group of four learn techniques of hand building - the earliest pottery forming method.

Teacher Graham Mulvay has been a potter for years, but started teaching about two years ago.

For many people pottery is a form of therapy, he says.

"They lose themselves in the clay."

He and wheel tutor Carolyn Walsh are volunteers - it makes the club much more accessible for everyone, Walsh says.

Each of the students has a slightly different reason for being here.

Andy Clark likes eating food off handmade crockery.

He usually collects it from secondhand shops but decided to take the principle a step further and sign up for pottery classes.

"I just wanted the chance to make the stuff that I eat my dinner on."

He's made a traditional Japanese teapot and set of little cups.

"Because green tea goes bitter quickly, so the idea is that one teapot will serve one lot of tea then you keep pouring water onto the leaves and you get five or six pots out of one pot."

Clark's creations are smooth and carefully-crafted - he's the perfectionist, his three female class mates giggle.

He's also made an ocarina.

"Breadmakers used to make them in their wood fired ovens.

"It's a whistle," he explains, and demonstrates its function with a few notes. "I've not had anyone do that before in a class," Mulvay says.

Clark says pottery is relaxing, but his main reason for doing it is utilitarian.

"I want to enjoy making tea in my pot that I made."

For Cecilie Elliott, pottery is a respite from everyday stresses.

"It's just a bit of time out for me.

"I did it about 13 years ago.

"My aunty was a really good potter and she gave me a whole lot of tools and thought it'd be nice to come and do it."

She's making miniature arum lilies and affixing them to a platter as we talk.

I feel a wave of pottery envy wash over me.

My attempt at a platter required emergency coil-rolling intervention from Mulvay (mine kept going flat) and my dainty leaf embellishment was more like a kindergarten kid's playdough creation.

"I've done floral art, and a bit of cake- making," Elliott says kindly, by way of explaining her finesse.

People's different personalities emerge through the clay, she says.

"It's so funny to see, it's great."

"There's only four of them and they're all different," Mulvay says.

Another class member is a social worker, she'd rather remain anonymous.

"I just came to do something for myself, that work-life balance."

This generates laughter from the other three women.

"Are we all saying the same thing?" She asks.

"We're just selfish, really.

"We leave our families, our housework, we say, 'Arrivederci, do the dishes'."

On a more serious note, she says doing pottery is about "that kinesthetic thing".

"It's not that expensive, you don't have to purchase lots of things, and you don't have to be fantastic at it.

"You create something from the earth, it's cool."

Taranaki Daily News