Pottery made from Taranaki resources on display in Arts Trail

The Taranaki Arts Trail gives us the chance to visit the studios of 84 amazing artists from our region . Taranaki Community News caught up with potter Janeen Page to find out how she uses resources from Taranaki to make her work.

Hi Janeen! Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do?
I live in the luscious Huatoki valley within a community of like-minded neighbours with whom I have spent many years raising an amazing child.

I graduated from Elam School of Fine Arts with a degree in sculpture in 1997. My heart, however, has always been within the domestic arts, sewing, embroidery, baking, preserving and gardening.

Pottery bridges both worlds for me, as it is both creative and functional. It resonated with my values and meant I was able to create with a medium that is natural, sourced within Taranaki/New Zealand and provide for a community of people who want to support local handmade goods.

You create beautiful hand thrown domestic stoneware. How, when and why did you become a potter?
I simply was inspired by a handmade bowl I found and loved. I made pottery as a kid and always wanted to learn the wheel, I mean who doesn’t? It’s just so mesmerising.  

In 2005 I attended wheel and hand building night classes at the New Plymouth Potters’ Club and have been a member since. The club has a wealth of members with an incredible skill set. It’s been wonderful learning and sharing with local potters such as Kathy Gates and Barbara Nicholls, whom I am so grateful to for taking me under their wing. They taught me glazing, how to use a gas kiln and how much lunch, tea and snacks you need to get through a firing!

The club is such an amazing resource that we have in the community and a must visit if you are in the region.

You use local resources in your creations. Can you tell us more about this?
Soon after I started potting, I discovered that the Taranaki area has always been a rich source of glaze materials for New Zealand potters.

Before New Zealand had imported ingredients, potters studied and experimented with rocks and plant matter to create glazes. Just like the origins of Japanese and Chinese ceramics, glazes came from earth, rock, and ash. Geology that was most suited for glaze making, formed a unique palette from our resources.

I really admire a potter called Mina Bondy, who travelled the length of New Zealand testing river and beach rocks for the glaze suitability. Recipes have been kept, refined and shared over the years. It’s important these recipes are used, and that the knowledge of how to fire, what temperatures to fire to, and what results the glaze should look like, are conserved.

I have recently had the privilege of working alongside Nick Brandon, a Taranaki potter who also works with similar glazes. It’s been invaluable learning how to fire the kiln to temperature getting the best results from the glazes.

The mudstone I use is from five million year old marine deposits, volcanic remnants, ash and iron sands. From one ingredient I can add other ingredients to achieve a varied palette, that so beautifully fits as a family together. It’s all just minerals and heat, but like one of my favorite childhood stories, it’s turning straw to gold, it’s alchemy.

The gas kiln that I use requires you to sit with the kiln and constantly raise the temperature. I fire to 1300 degrees and my last firing took 12.5 hours, hence the need for good cups of tea and lots of snacks!  

I also love that in Taranaki we have a growing number of market gardens, providing fresh, local ingredients. I was recently approached by Tanya Mercer of Roebuck Farms to supply the cheese molds for a natural cheese making workshop with Canadian, David Asher. David teaches the traditional art of cheesemaking in natural molds, that retain the cheese culture.

In a world moving away from plastics, ceramics are a great, new and ancient alternative. You can’t get any better than serving locally grown food onto a plate that is also of the land.

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Come to the farmers market!

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Do you have a favourite part of being a potter or a favourite thing to make?
There are so many things that appeal and inspire me to create ceramics. Taking raw materials and transforming them through so many processes is fairly risky. There is so much loss along the way, so whenever you unload a kiln it’s pretty bloody magic to see this lump of dirt looking like a real made thing.

The making of the forms themselves is such a peaceful process, it’s meditative. You have to let your body take over the movements, you’re not really thinking, it just becomes embodied.  

Bowls are the most enjoyable as they open up from a single lump and form to the shape of your hands. It’s a constant goal for the perfect curve. There are so many traditions in ceramics regarding form and function that keep me striving to achieve these foundational aesthetics. The joy is when you get there, you know, a bowl will just sing.

What’s your studio like? And why should people come along to visit it during the trail?
My Studio is located 15 minutes drive along  Surf Highway 45, just past Oakura. I’m in the machine room of the old cheese factory in the lovely Tataraimaka “Ta-ta-rai-ma-ka” valley, bordering the Timaru stream.

The factory homes a wonderful mix of creatives, including weaver, Tanya Brown, stone carver, Steve Malloy and Aden Lowe, of the Fruity Gardener nursery. It is also home to the Malloy Gallery and Sculpture Park, which during the Arts Trail will be showing works from other artists such as Michael Smither, John McLean and Dale Copeland.

My studio is full to the brim with works from my latest kiln firing. Lots of bowls, cups, large fruit bowls and other domestic ware. Also samples for order, such as bread loaf tins, large plates, cheese molds, colanders, and butter crocks. Not an elephant in sight.

What do you do when you’re not making beautiful pottery
Well, I’m quite blessed, I’m an artist assistant for the wonderful Reuben Paterson ( the guy who made The Golden Bearing, the golden glitter tree). So when I’m not covered in clay, I’m covered in glitter! It’s great to be able to spend my weeks making. My hands are very skilled and I’m thankful that they get put to good use.

I listen to a lot of podcasts and audiobooks while working. Inspired by the Luminaries, my Scottish ancestry and a love of cycling, I rode Dunedin to Invercargill via Otago Peninsula and the Catlins, plus the Clutha and Roxbough Gold rail trails.

I have also converted one of my bikes to electric so I can ride to my studio along the Surf Highway, just magic.

As I said the domestic arts are where my heart is. I sew, make clothes, make great food. I have created a super productive food forest on my property and spent the summer bottling and preserving fruit. Being a potter and a gardener is a great match. It has inspired me to make large fruit bowls and bakeware and there are still never enough bowls in the house.

  • Established in 2014 the Taranaki Arts Trail provides the public with the unique opportunity to meet with artists in their studio/workshops. It is a free event and this year it is held on the weekend of June 8, 9 and 10. For more information visit www.taranakiartstrail.co.nz/home/