Jann kesby loves her pottery. She chats with chrissy jones about her works and involvement with the dunghutti aboriginal art gallery.
Where is your workshop / studio /gallery?
My workshop is situated at the top of Trappaud Road, Kempsey, 1km off the Pacific Highway on the Crescent Head Road. I have a showroom gallery which is open by appointment – unless I am having my Annual Open Day, which will be happening on Saturday and Sunday 11 and12 December, from 9am until 4pm.
What are the essential features a studio like yours has to have?
Definitely plenty of light, along with an over abundance of space are essential. I have a covered area of 9 m x 18 m, which includes my working area and covered area for kilns and wood storage.
Describe your work pattern.
I am in my workshop 3 to 4 days a week and often on weekends. I am also coordinator of the Dunghutti Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery, which is situated alongside the Visitor Information Centre and Historical Museum, South Kempsey Park.
Describe the work you make in your studio.
Of late I have been mixing my own clay by foot, which is a wonderful way to start making a body of work. The clay is then put through a pug mill, which assists in the mixing and deairing. Clay is stored in large bins until required for the throwing process. Clay is kneaded and weighed into required quantities for various items. I throw ‘runs’ of work, either using an electric or kick wheel.
Once vessels are thrown and firm, it is time to turn if required. Work is placed upside down on to the wheel head, and clay is turned away using a sharp turning tool, creating a foot or base on the pot. Coloured slips are then applied to the work. The work is then either raw glazed or set aside to dry before being packed into a gas kiln for bisque firing.
A bisque firing is the first firing, where the clay is converted into a solid object. After bisquing, glazing takes place by dipping, pouring, or spraying glaze onto the work. It is then time to pack into the wood kiln.
Each piece is wadded before being placed onto the kiln shelf. Wadding is a mixture of refractory material that lifts the pot off the kiln shelf, so that it won’t stick to the shelf. These create beautiful marks on the work, where the flame moves through and around.
What are your influences?
My work has a strong functional aesthetic, which is influenced by the seasons. During the summer months, I focus on making soft, fluid open bowls that invite delicious summer foods like salads and fruit.
Larger landscape platters can be used for a variety of purposes: presenting finger food, starters, nibbles or holding fresh fruit and veg.
During the winter months, you will find me making bowls for warm heartfelt curries, stews and casseroles – a variety of different size dishes to hold accompaniments for the meal you are serving. Can never have too many of these! Included in my repertoire are vessels for drinking, plates and bowls.
What are some of your favourite pieces you have made over the years?
Beautiful bowls. Believe it or not, you end up with your favourites – especially when you go about daily rituals like preparing food, eating, drinking and then cleaning up. The works are a total piece, where the underneath is just as special as the functional side.
I love my landscape platters. I made a body of columns some years ago, calling them ‘sentinel beings.’ These have some wonderful textural surface qualities.
What inspires you?
When I am drifting along the mud flats, observing mangrove roots, oyster racks, even the light on the water at that particular moment in a state of mindfulness … this is what inspires me.
What is the most satisfying part of your work?
Probably throwing and the making of the work, although to be honest, I enjoy the total process of making, altering, turning, glazing, packing and firing. I find the repetitive process of throwing to be very meditative. Then after the firing, you are always blessed with little ‘gems’ which inspire me to repeat the whole process again. I have been making pots for close on 30 years and have never tired of the process. In fact, I am very passionate and serious about what I do and frankly cannot image my life without clay. It is part of me and just what I do. It is physically and mentally demanding, requiring attention to detail – and when firing, these demands can last for days.
Type of kiln / firing?
I have several kilns and in particular, wood fired kilns. I have a bourry box kiln, an anagama (meaning climbing kiln), gas fibre and small electric kiln. The bourry box has approximately 1 cubic metre packing area, while the anagama has more like 3 cubic metres packing space. The bourry box I fire for approximately 24 hours and the anagama is fired with a team of people, as it can fire over several days. These are both constructed of dense firebrick and heavily insulated. Both require attention to detail when packing.
All pots are wadded, so that they do not stick to kiln shelves or one another. This allows the flame to pass over, through and under all the work. Firing with wood creates a delicate softness that no other firing method can achieve. As wood is placed into the kiln, fly ash floats and moves throughout the chamber, landing on works. As the temperature slowly rises, this ash melts, forming glaze, which makes each piece incredibly unique.
Different wood gives different ash, which gives different colour. I also have a gas fibre kiln and small electric kiln, both of which I use to bisque fire works in.
What do you listen to while working?
All depends on my mood, as to whether I listen to the ABC or my iPod.
Do you have a favourite tool?
Yes, my hands! Actually, I have several. I love my throwing ribs, fettling knives and mark making tools. I also have some very special brushes.
Where do you sell your work?
I sell my work direct from my workshop, as well as supplying outlets in Sydney and Mittagong.
What is the dreaded job that never gets done?
Cleaning kiln shelves! Can’t say that it never gets done, as I have to do it before each firing. I cannot pack the kiln until the shelves are cleaned and the kiln is prepared.
Tell us more about the Dunghutti Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery.
Throughout my career, I have had considerable connection with our local indigenous people. When I was teaching at TAFE in Arts and Media, I was teaching Aboriginal programs. I was also travelling out to Bellbrook and teaching at the Mission.
I have a great deal of respect for the Aboriginal community. I knew there were many Aboriginal people out there with great painting, drawing, sewing, storytelling skills. I was fortunate to be selected as Coordinator for the Dunghutti Ngaku Aboriginal Art Gallery.
The Gallery showcases works of our local indigenous people, as well as other Aboriginal artists from the Mid North Coast. The Gallery provides a professional space in which their works can be displayed and assists in developing a profile for emerging, as well as established, artists.
Where can we find the Gallery?
The Gallery is situated alongside the Visitor Information Centre and Historical Museum in the South Kempsey Park and receives a very broad cross section of visitors from local, intrastate, interstate and international.
Our reputation is growing, and we are able to offer wonderful local Aboriginal works for sale, as well as assisting the Aboriginal community in broadening their skills and experience in the artistic world. This in turn benefits many families in the area by way of supplementing income, self esteem, health and happiness. The Gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday, 10am – 5pm.
Thank you Jann.