Julie Shaw's teapots are exhibited in galleries around Australia, but nothing gives the local potter more of a thrill than to see one being used in someone's kitchen. Roslyn Mason drops in for a cuppa.
Julie Shaw concedes that a good teapot is hard to find, then she laughs at how silly that must sound. But for entire nations of people, the taking of tea is a serious topic. For the award-winning potter, a perfect teapot should not only be beautiful and completely unique. A teapot must never spill or drip, the lid should never topple forth, and the current of the tea must be strong whilst pouring in a pleasant arch. These things, as least, are important.
Not that Julie is a teapot fascist. She needs to consider each and every one of these elements as she hand makes each of her pieces of pottery from her studio amongst the ti-tree. 'Teapots are my favourite. It is the complication of putting together the right combination of components to actually pouring tea from the finished piece.
Julie's work, while art, just begs to be used. 'I like making things that work; she says. A gem of a teapot, sitting in the hallway, square and turquoise with a handle of black bamboo dipped with red sealing wax, longs to pour. Her pieces blend the irregularity of nature with human function via her particular style of whimsy. Each piece takes a concentrated day to make, and once fired and glazed in her kiln (that battles the prevailing wind), the divine result is ready for work.
Julie takes inspiration from nature, such as the curves of gum nuts to be later used as teapot feet, or the twirled spines of blanched shells found along 13th beach. She picks amongst her collection of objects in her overflowing studio. Shards of rock found on a recent trip to Flinders Ranges may one day become a handle for a teapot or mug. She turns the pieces over and feels their texture and shape and thinks out loud what they will become, and suddenly a humble object is made anew.
Turquoise and malachite pieces of pottery twinkle through the ti-tree in Julie's garden and from every corner and surface of her house, like pools of water or jewels. Teapots, cups and plates line the top of the kitchen shelf, looking over us with their unique personalities as Julie makes a pot of raspberry tea. 'I sell every piece I make, so I get all the reject pieces; she says, testing a teapots spout for pouring. 'See, this one drips.
Julie's large hands, made strong from a lifetime of working with clay and as a physiotherapist, ply and mould the air as she talks. The sureness of her touch is present in her work. Julie's father was a potter, but it wasn't until Julie was working as a physiotherapist in Adelaide that she started talking classes at the South Australian School of Art. Upon moving to Melbourne, Julie continued to potter at the Carlton Arts Centre. A back injury stopped her from sitting at the potting wheel, forcing her to hand-make.
'I think hand-building pottery is much more difficult than the wheel. Of course, to throw well is very difficult too, but to hand build requires a good eye and feel to make something well.' As for the turquoise, Julie feels that it is a good colour to live with. The glaze that she uses is like real copper turned turquoise. 'I love the turquoise, but most importantly I try to be me in my work and not like anyone else.' Which is strong, sparkling and whimsical.
click on above for larger view
More of Julie's pottery can be viewed at the
Geelong Art Gallery shop,
the Skepsi on Swanston in Melbourne
or at Crowded House on Glenferrie Road in Malvern.