11 June 2024

Canberra potters all fired up for annual student-teacher exhibition

| Sally Hopman
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Student potter Veronica Taylor with teacher Chris Harford in front of pottery kiln

Student potter Veronica Taylor with teacher Chris Harford prepare to fire up the kiln prior to the exhibition. Photo: Canberra Potters.

They call it connecting through clay: when teacher and student get together, bonded by a passion for their craft and create works of art, while being encouraged to get their hands dirty.

For students and teachers of the Canberra Potters, a not-for-profit group based at the Watson Arts Centre, it’s nothing short of a real education. And this week, their creations went on show in the 2024 Student-Teacher exhibition.

For student Veronica Taylor, it doesn’t get much better – the chance to exhibit her wares alongside a professional such as Chris Harford, a 35-year veteran of the artform.

“It is really meaningful to exhibit alongside your teachers,” she said. “When you see your work alongside that of an accomplished artist, it is a great incentive.

“From a student’s point of view, for most of us it’s the first time we’ll show our pots out there and you have to be brave.

“It’s like I made this and this is my vision. For some it will be a milestone moment in a hobby, for others it will be the first step in a professional career.”

Veronica said one of the reasons she developed a passion for pottery was because it was so different to her other life – as an Australian National University academic.

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“With pottery, I can switch my brain,” she said. “It is something I always wanted to do so when COVID hit I started studying it in earnest. It’s an incredibly restorative process. There is something quite magical about handling clay. It responds to what you ask of it and it can be very soothing – that’s particularly true of when you throw it.”

Chris, a professional ceramic artist whose works are exhibited nationally – and whose custom-made ware features on many leading restaurant tables – came up with the idea for the teacher-student event about 16 years ago.

A teacher and mentor to many at Canberra Potters, Chris wanted students to show their works “under lights” and invite family and friends to see them.

“It’s all about building confidence,” he said. “The idea is for them to show their work as they progress so they are inspired to continue.

“If students are open to the idea, if they want to be part of the exhibition, they can put in two pieces of work, have them up for sale or not, and then the judge chooses the best.

Boy and Bird by Pauline Birnie won Best Overall in the Canberra Potters’ Student / Teacher 2024 Exhibition. Photo: Supplied.

“What it also does is allow them to understand the process of getting a work to market. Lots of students do it for fun and to enhance their skills but there can be more to it.”

Chris, who has been teaching the artform for 27 years, said Veronica “was progressing very nicely”.

“She has ambition to do more and she’s working on making a lot of her own glazes which is good.

“What I do is help with advice on prices if they want to sell or about quality control.”

He said it was also about encouraging students who wanted to put something in an exhibition.

“But it’s hard,” he said, “it can be like putting your heart and soul out there for all to see.”

Boy and Bird by Pauline Birnie won Best Overall in the Canberra Potters’ Student / Teacher 2024 Exhibition.

The 2024 Student Teacher Exhibition is on at Canberra Potters Gallery, Watson, until 7 July.

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