A highlight of our Crafted Journey to Central Otago is the pottery workshop with Victoria Claire Dawes.
First, can you tell us about your journey to becoming a studio potter?
I was born in the UK and emigrated to New Zealand when I was 9. At school, I enjoyed arts and outdoor pursuits and it was in the later that I went to study at Ashland University in the USA. In my second semester, I took ceramics as an elective and, my course of study changed from there.
I spent 5 years in the USA and then returned to England and set up a studio in the Yorkshire Artspace in Sheffield. While settled and established in Sheffield, I felt the need to be closer to family whose lives are firmly rooted in New Zealand, so I packed my studio into a container and moved ‘home’ again in late 2019.
I read your interview with British Homes & Antiques you said that even though you identify as English that by living in New Zealand since you were a relatively young child has made you question “where you are from”. Is that question of identity still something still providing inspiration for your work?
Sense of place has always and continues to play an important role in the narratives that underpin all of my work.
You work with red earthenware, the most abundant clay on earth. Can you tell me a little about your process?
Depending on the project I will either hand-build the base form or throw it on the potter’s wheel. As soon as it is leather hard, it will get trimmed or finished up. Next, I start to build layers of slip and underglazes which are left to dry. Once chocolate hard, I use various carving tools to add the final details. I use terra sigillata, a refined clay slip – it’s the same surface that was used on Greek amphoras. I then do my first firing, add the final glaze and fire again.
Every potter has their favourite tools and techniques what are yours?
I have some brushes that came as part of a watercolour set from WHSmith before my family emigrated to NZ. They have become the brushes I use to make the dots on a lot of my pieces.
I know that teaching workshops wasn’t in your business plan when you moved back to New Zealand till we got talking over a cup of chai, but you have taught a number of pottery workshops while you were living in the UK & USA. What do you find most rewarding when you teach and why?
I have taught workshops to a wide variety of people at the Northern Clay Centre in Minneapolis in their classroom studios and through their outreach programs and in Community Gardens around the UK with The Peoples Pottery Project. It is only on rare occasions that I open my own creative space up to a workshop.
Tying handmade dishes together local produce and wine and the opportunity to come together at the table with our finished results brings these workshops into the narrative I am building with my handmade tableware collections.
There are so many stages in the process of making something out of clay, everyone finds something challenging and has a breakthrough with something that comes naturally to them. My favourite part of teaching is seeing the joy behind people’s eyes when they find that connection through working with their hands.