Craft back in a big way

Rhonda Dredge

The magic of objects tells the story of Neo Ceramics in Abbotsford St, a pottery studio with a master craftsman in the background creating opportunities for locals to get involved in the ceramics craze.

There are just eight places left in next term’s classes which offer beginners’ lessons in how to throw objects on a wheel using stoneware clay.

Jack Balfour is the man behind the business and his pitch is working with inner city dwellers.

“We’ve just about spent as much time as we can behind screens,” he said. “We’re so removed from process and making, whether it’s food or goods. We get everything from overseas.”

The rows of students’ work on the shelves and the tentative first tries waiting to be fired tell the story of the desire to do things well.

“We’ve got a disconnect from nature, and process gets people back to craft,” Jack said.

There’s no denying that there’s been a ceramics surge during the past six years as people return to small handmade objects to decorate smaller living spaces.

Ceramics were big back in the ‘70s and ‘80s but arts funding was slashed leading to just two places you could study the craft in Victoria, at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology and in Ballarat.

Jack’s approach to getting ceramics back into the picture is to build skills first. He did an apprenticeship with Ken Boyd and thinks of himself as a tradie.

The “neo” in the name of the shop is not a trendy prefix but a reference to neodymium, a rare earth metal used in his favourite glaze which creates a pearly white translucent effect.

This creative technical approach to work leads to experimentation such as the strange little objects that form part of a Metro Tunnel project.

Jack is using slate and other recycled materials such as wire which he melts down as glazes, fiddling with their chemistry. An exhibition of this work at Craft Victoria is scheduled for October.

Jack trained in industrial design and did pottery on the side. He still works as an art technician at a school and runs courses in the evenings and on weekends.

It’s a busy life but after lockdown when the shop was just a pretty reminder of the power of craft Jack is throwing himself back into process.

“I couldn’t do anything during the lockdown,” he said. The only support from the government was a $32 reduction in his rates.

His rent was deferred, thanks to an arrangement with the landlord, and he paid it in a lump sum when he was back up and running.

The quality of his offering is there in the shop for passers-by to see with some lovely little sustainable porcelain works also offered by potter friends.

“There’s a lot to learn,” he tells students as they arrive. “There’s the compression of the clay and the movement of the wheel.”

Novice potters arrive ready to give it a go with 64 students already signed up for classes from Monday to Thursday and two on Saturdays •

John Buncle

John Buncle

February 14th, 2024 - Felicity Jack
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