The first day at High School was overwhelming. Mine was a relatively newly built 2nd High School for our large Town. Most of the students travelled up to 1 hour by bus from outlying rural areas. There were over 150 students in my Year/Form (1st year at High School) and we were divided into 5 classes (A, B,C, D) plus a remedial class (E) for special needs children or those with specific learning disabilities. BTW I really didn’t like the labels imposed on us according to academic ability!
Names were read out and we lined up alphabetically according to the chosen class. I was to my surprise in the ‘A’ class! My surname started with ‘D’ and to my left was Jane (her surname also started with ‘D’) and the girl on my right had a surname starting with F.
“Do you like horses? I asked Jane. “No” she replied so I turned to the girl on my right and asked the same question…..to my delight not only did she like horses but she owned one! From memory her Bay mare was called Gypsy. Needless to say Rosemary & I were instant best friends and almost inseparable for the next 4 years until she left school to pursue a Nursing career. I had another friend called Janet who was in the D class who had a Chestnut horse called Joe. I didn’t get to see her much as our timetables were so different. (NB: The A-B classes had different timetable to the C-D classes so we could only wave as we passed in the hallways). Janet also left school after 4 years to pursue secretarial studies.
It was lonely when Rosemary left school to study, I missed her so much and the other girls in my year were either aloof; ‘popular’; had boyfriends; didn’t like me or simply didn’t interest me (too much talk about makeup, clothes & shopping!).
The only other long term good friend I had left at school was a guy (shhh I had a 6 year on again off again ‘crush’ on him) who had a younger cousin called Jillian who was in the year below me. We formed a firm friendship & I would sometimes be invited to her house for the weekend. Although she wasn’t horse mad she was a very sweet, shy and caring Church attending committed Christian – a special sister to me. She had to my eyes the most amazing curly hair that she always tied into a tight ponytail. “Why do you tie your hair up all the time?” I asked & the answer was that she didn’t like her unruly hair. At my encouragement she wore it loose more and more often.
But what does this have to do with Ceramics you may be wondering….well below is my senior High School best friend Jillian with her Boxer dog Darcy.
As you might be able to tell I found Darcy to be quite appealing in an artistic sense. Plus I was very fond of the photo of Jill (with her hand on the gate as she looked at Darcy) so much so that I created a pastel drawing of them that I gave to her for her birthday. I did take a photo of the drawing but alas it didn’t turn out when the images were developed.
So how is it that I was able to make this ceramic gift for my friend?
That’s where my Mum comes into the picture again. My earliest memories of working with clay also involve my Mum. Mum was involved with the TEC (Technical College) at one stage though I don’t recall if this was as a student or as a teacher (I need to remember to ask her sometime “if” she remembers).
On one occasion I happened to be in the class (I don’t recall ‘why’ I was there) but I do remember one of the ladies in the class was trying to make a kangaroo. She had created the body & rather stiff looking hind legs & tail but was struggling with the head, ears and arms. I offered to show her how to create the right shapes as I had had plenty of modelling practice with plasticine. Clay was ‘fun’ to work with so later when Mum became a member of the Ceramic Society and became involved with the Pottery classes held on weekends I was often allowed to attend too.
On the occasions I couldn’t/didn’t go horse riding I would go with Mum to the Pottery Classes. Many times my sister & two brothers would be there too (sometimes they would play outside & sometimes make something). I remember on one occasion one of the other women (Mrs Sheila Taylor) who also ‘taught’ the class was demonstrating slab work and was making a special boat. I mistakenly said I wanted to make a “Gondolier” too only to find out that the boat was a ‘Gondola’ & the person who steered the boat was the ‘Gondolier’! Definitely educational and a way to improve your ‘word power’!
I don’t remember if these classes were for adults or kids or both. But I do remember learning how to ‘wedge’ or ‘kneed’ the clay by making a rams head shape & fold the ‘horns’ in turn and repeat. Plus I learned many techniques like slabs, coils, ‘pinch’ pots and how to use them as a starting point for all sorts of creations. I observed how to ‘pull’ a handle for a jug and was fascinated by the Pottery Wheel demonstrations. I became quite good at ‘centering’ the clay on the spinning wheel but generally I found Hand built to be more creative and less to my mind ‘formal, ‘functional’ & ‘boring’. Add to that the fact that the grit in the spinning clay hurt my hands.
Having seen the movie Bambi at the picture theatre (BTW I cried at the end of the movie). I wanted to create a flat base with Bambi and his mother standing on it. I can still see my Pottery Bambi creation in my minds-eye. I had wanted it to look just like the drawing from the Little Golden book called Bambi. I remember Mum helping me make Bambi’s mother. Mum added a stump shape under Bambi’s mothers belly to help her stand up. She also remade the legs as mine were considered too thin. To my thinking they were not graceful enough anymore but I agreed to the compromise as the body & head had a fair bit of weight in them!
By the time I was about 14 there was a change of venue with the Pottery classes moving from the old hall with the Lantana bush growing by the doorway to a new purpose built room created at the new Showground building. It was a cold, cold room in there and not at all pleasant but I enjoyed the classes a lot and often helped the younger children. Mum was the main teacher now and her classes were for children. I remember we made plaster molds using basketballs of various sizes that were suspended over a cardboard box to which the plaster was added. The mold/mould were created in two halves to make it easier to extract the pot made inside them either as pressed in pieces or via the use of very runny clay that was poured in, swirled around to achieve the desired thickness and allowed to set.
When the plaster had set & was dry we pressed clay on the inside of the mold/mould to create a spherical pot. Not satisfied with a smooth surface I imagined all sorts of designs with trees & leaves, lizards and birds. I have photos of two pots that a few years ago I retrieved from my Dad’s place. I know one is mine & suspect the other was made by either my sister or by Mum but I have no recollection of which was which as Mum was quite interested in Aboriginal styled designs and often used swirls and lizards when making pots.
Because Mum was in the Ceramic Society as well as the Art Society she was able to go on bus trips to Sydney to see some interesting exhibitions. Even though I often got travel sick I loved to go on these trips. Sometimes we would go to one of the oldest sections of Sydney called “The Rocks” that has become a fascinating historical area full of galleries (like the Argyle Art Centre Gallery), plus art/craft shops, exhibitions and cafes. Other times it would be a major exhibition or a trip to the Art Gallery of New South Whales.
At one exhibition I saw something that sparked my imagination. I was a shallow dish with melted glass in the bottom (broken coloured glass is placed in a shallow bisque fired & glazed dish which is then refired thus melting the glass). But this dish I was different to others I had seen. The artist had added a person swimming with only one arm and a swimming capped head protruding from the melted glass ‘water’. My imagination went wild. I imagined a swimming horse….and although the image is very blurry (sorry it is the only copy I have) I was thrilled with how well my ‘swimming’ Appaloosa turned out!
I enjoyed making coil pots with lids that featured an animal as a handle e.g. Darcy and the horse shown above. Below is another old photograph showing Darcy at the Bisque stage as well as a different Horse storage container.
Having a creative & resourceful mother provided many days of unusual fun activities such as collecting clay from river banks, drying the clay, smashing the clay & soaking the clay then removing the purest stone free sludge. This raw clay was then processed further and after testing by firing finished off by adding a little ‘better’ clay or some sand/grit or whatever it needed to turn it into pliable clay that wouldn’t easily blow up in the kiln.
Then there were Raku days…..
These were always so much fun. A kiln made of ‘firebricks’ was constructed in the 2nd of the three blocks of land where we lived (I mention the 3 blocks on my Horse Riding Page). A huge pile of off-cut demolition/recycled timber was collected including some that had been painted (as this was during the 1970’s I wonder nowadays if some of the timber had lead based paint on it or not). Members of the Ceramic Society came along to the “Raku Day” as did the neighbours and other interested members of the public. Arranged around the kiln were tables full of pots of all shapes & sizes. All the pots had been made from red, brown or off white Raku clay that had been bisque fired and donated for sale on the day. By paying from 50 cents up to a few dollars you could choose a pot that you could glaze however you wanted using glaze contained in dozen or more large plastic drums. I remember my favourite colours. “Rockingham Brown” (nice for Bay horses), “Honey” (good for Chestnut Horses) and “Peacock Blue” which was just the most pretty blue you could imagine. Then there were a range of Oxides that could also be added and imaginations could run wild.
After a kiln full of pots were glazed & ready they were loaded into the kiln along with a piece of clay that had three (obelisk shaped) firing ‘cones’ pressed into it. Each ‘cone’ was manufactured in such a way that it would curl over according to its heat rating thus indicating that the correct temperature had been reached. They were closely watched through a peep hole and more wood added to the furnace as need be. Finally the pots would be ready and the kiln could be unloaded. But the fun didn’t end there as now you could choose to either have your pot carefully & slowly quenched in a barrel of water, left in the water until cool or placed on a brick to continue cooling. Or it could be cooled using the ‘reduction’ process by placing it in the sawdust pile and covering it with a tin can. All sorts of exciting things could happen and every time there would be a different result. There were so many variables such as the heat, the wood, the glaze combinations and the cooling method.
As each glowing orange pot would emerge from the kiln held by a long handled pair of tongs, the wait would be on to see how it had turned out. I had in mind to achieve the same gleaming copper colour for the little horse I held in my hand. I hadn’t made the horse but had been first in line to buy & glaze it! I used what I thought was the same Honey glaze as the other pots owner had used plus the same cooling option but when my horse had cooled it wasn’t copper brown it was blue!! I was shocked and at first a little disappointed. But the gasps and questions of “how did you do that?” made me see how special my little horse was with its sparkles of blue and aqua.
Could I achieve the same result with my 2nd choice which was a Seal? It was also made from the same off white clay.
Apparently not but it was beautiful and unique in its own way. It is more aqua than blue and there are no sparkles. Perhaps I had used the Peacock Blue by mistake!
Occasionally at High School we were able to do ceramics. I enjoyed the hand built classes but it was a little frustrating not to be able to make what I wanted. I made a very, stylised woman (following the brief as given to use a pinch pot & slab methods) plus also a slab & coil pot that I really liked. The technique involved rubbing oxides onto the pot prior to firing (I presume at the bisque fired stage but I can’t be certain). When it was fired I loved the non shiny finish. At some stage years later Mum combined the two items by re-glazing them to a base and adding a random lid that seemed the appropriate size. I do like what she has done but I miss the original dull finish of the tall pot.
When I was in Year 11 at High School (in small groups) we were given permission to do some Wheel work at lunch time so we could decide if we would like to do that as our major Art Work. I have to admit my heart was not in it as I wanted to paint Flicka (see Painting Page). So I was happy to merely centre the clay (my favourite part as it gives you a feeling of power & mastery over the clay) and help those having trouble by helping them ‘centre’ the clay. When it was my turn to start a pot ….I had several half hearted attempts at a bowl or a vase but each time when no one was looking I would poke my finger at the clay to unbalance it & pretend I couldn’t manage it. (I also wonder whether I was a little embarrassed at being more proficient as a result of prior practice). As compared with Wheel work Hand built was much gentler on my hands (I was quite prone to dermatitis at that age). Although the clay bothered my hands a bit (when doing Hand built) as mentioned before there wasn’t the problem of the grit in the spinning clay cutting my hands to pieces!
During my final year at High School we moved to our new house. It had a cold damp ‘room’ under the garage called the “Clay Room” that included (amongst other things) a large double door Refrigerator that contained not only food but also some other interesting items that will be the focus of another (most likely lengthy) reminiscing episode. When it wasn’t too cold & damp more pottery items were created such as those below….
The display cabinet shown here contains items made not only by me but also my sister and brothers. My sister made most of the Doctor Who (Tom Baker) characters. My brothers made a frog each and the Goat, Horses Head, Chess pieces and Japanese Ladies are mine. The plate was most likely made by Mum but I am not sure. BTW the Racoon in the Bathtub is store bought but very cute!
A portrait of our goat called “Billy”….he ate Thistle flowers as if they were lollies!
My portrait of Busker is very special to me & you can read why on the Horse Riding Page.
I have always admired Japanese Kimonos so I made several Japanese Figurines. They are only about 2 ½” or 6 cm tall.
The ‘skin’ of these Japanese women doesn’t have the white makeup that is common to a Geisha so for fun later on I make a Fimo TM (oven drying clay) Geisha. She originally stood up straight but sagged in the oven to give her the appearance of a partial ‘bow’.
Although I wasn’t very proficient at playing Chess I was very keen to make my own Chess set. Pawn = Camel; Castle/Rook = Hippo with open mouth; Knight = Horse (of course!); Bishop = Seal; Queen = Lioness & King = Lion. When I saw this Marble Chess Board at a Second hand Goods shop I didn’t have much money with me but my offer of $20 was accepted. It was a bargain & is perfect for my Chess pieces!
My mini creatures…This little dog called Snoopy (based on our pet dog) is only 3″ or 7.5 cm long
A tiny dog that is only 2″ or 5 cm from extended paw to tail tip!
I loved making little Horses and Donkeys. Whenever I took them to fetes and market days they would quickly sell out. I only have one of each left.
The base was added to this one by my Mum at a later stage.
At college I was required to do a Unit of Ceramics. Our first coil pot project was to be a ‘vase’ but other than that we were given freedom of choice. Always keen to make an animal based item I decided to make an Antelope and Giraffe with their mouths open as the ‘mouth’ of the vase.
After inquiring as to where/how/when I gained my experience with pottery/ceramics my Lecturer exclaimed “You should be teaching the class instead of being the student!” In addition one of my fellow students asked me to make him a smaller version of my Giraffe while I was home on holidays (which I did). While this was very flattering and the High Distinction looked good on my report card it only made me much more self conscious! Strange as it may seem I am not as comfortable with showing what I create to others as it may appear. Hopefully you understand my need to record this little time capsule of my creative endeavours more for my own benefit than anything else!
Next came the Pitcher Plants which were meant to be much flatter on the back (according to the ‘brief’) but I was forgiven because they were so amusing with their laughing mouths!
Then a lesson about Burnished clay which involved rubbing a partially dried pinch pot with the back of a spoon which took what seemed like hours! I quite like this one!
Another College project using Porcelain Clay. The brief was to create a combination of man & nature & this is what I came up with.
But then things at College got weirder…. I like the Hatching Egg idea… but…the ‘baby’ inside the egg was a bit too much!
At home I made more ‘normal’ things like this Black Horse!
Plus a Seal mother and Baby…Sorry about the blurry image it is the only one I have! It is only about 6” or 15 cm long.
In an Art Education class rather than an Art Class I had the opportunity to make these pots. They were created inside a wooden mold/mould using slabs of clay. Before the clay was positioned textured ‘found’ materials were added to create an indentation in the clay. I have to admit to ‘cheating’ with the last one (lower right) as it was an impression of the cracked concrete footpath outside the house where I was living while studying.
By the time I finished College I was no longer a Teenager and opportunities for doing Ceramics have not eventuated since then. I don’t really mind as I have other interests nowadays.
In conclusion: The following is not Teen related or anything to do with Ceramics or Pottery in general but I would like to dedicate this Page to my best friends from school. By way of further explanation, Jill was 2nd bridesmaid (and my sister 1st), for my first marriage. Years passed and we (Jill & I) wrote to each other at least once per year. Sadly Jillian who had two teenage children was diagnosed Melanoma. At the end of 2008 my 2nd husband & I went for a very long drive (gone for more than a week) dropping in on friends and relatives on the way Jill was on my list but when I phoned I was given the sad news (a card was in the mail) to say a few months earlier she had passed away in her sleep after a long period in hospital battling the Cancer complications. I am so glad to have my photos of her with her dog Darcy.
On a brighter note I did manage to see Rosemary the first friend I mentioned. It was like we had never been apart. My husband & I joined Rosemary & her son on a horse ride around their property. Rosemary’s son who was more comfortable on a motorbike than a horse spent his time galloping about in an almost out of control manner making me feel a little nervous as it was the first time I had been on a horse in 20 years or more! The words of my Horse Riding Instructor Mrs McPhee were still clear in my mind “Don’t be so feeble” and I wasn’t! The trip/visit was so much fun yet full of bitter sweet memories that intertwine to make us all the people we are. My advice is to treasure each memory.
In memory of Jill