Staycation Spring 2017 Masthead 2
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Maker’s Mark

Belinda Neame, Amanda Whitley and Tim Bean

In a convenience-obsessed world where consumers want things ‘now’ and want them cheap, where mass-production is rife, is there room for artists who continue to make things with their own hands?

We meet four locals who are maintaining a connection with tradition and bucking the trend.

Richilde Flavell

Girl Nomad Ceramics

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She grew up in a New South Wales commune, spending her twenties moving around Australia, Europe and India. But it was discovering her love for Ceramics at the ANU School of Art and Design that prompted Richilde Flavell to put down roots in Canberra.

“I’ve always admired people who can fix and make things with their hands, so I decided to train to be one of those people.”

After completing a Bachelor of Visual Arts in 2015, Richilde worked at Craft ACT: Craft + Design Centre while honing her skills and building up her business, Girl Nomad Ceramics, in her studio at the Watson Art Centre.

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It’s an accessible, inviting space. People can pop into her studio, meet her as the maker and see the process first-hand. Richilde feels that connection translates into respect for the objects in a way that sparks a connection with the handmade ethos.

“There has been a huge surge in popularity for the handmade over the past few years and it is only increasing,” she says. “I’ve seen it in the classes I teach at the Canberra Potters Society, with students telling me their experience of making pottery increases their understanding and appreciation of the handmade and I’m sure this experience translates across mediums.”

Richilde’s debut at Art Not Apart in 2012 saw her exposed to new audiences, including the owners of hipper-than hip NewActon café Mocan and Green Grout, who placed an order for plates. They’re the perfect fit for the eatery’s sustainable, local focus and provide a tactile, earthy background for Mocan’s edible art.

For Richilde, though, the beauty is in the process.

“Throwing on the pottery wheel makes me feel whole and grounded. I feel like I’m doing something worthwhile and that working with clay is an honest and genuine use of my time.”

Peter Bollington

Curious Tales

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There’s something special about passing down knowledge and skills through generations. For Peter Bollington, his love of timber and furniture-making was inherited from his father and grandfathers. As a child, Peter would watch them—rapt—as they worked with different materials.

Design remained a passion as he grew, and he enrolled to study Interior Design at Canberra Institute of Technology. It was a guest lecturer (a graduate of the fine furniture workshop at the ANU School of Art) who set Peter’s journey on a very different path, when he guided Peter towards this course of study.

As well as the history of art and design, Peter studied the properties of timber and traditional joinery techniques used in the craft of fine furniture. He says he feels like the craft “chose him”.

“I was always drawn to the medium of timber, there is a beautiful warmth found in timber that is not found in any other medium,” says Peter.

“As it’s a natural resource, no two pieces of timber are exactly alike, therefore each piece of furniture contains a uniqueness and individuality. Furniture also has a very intimate relationship with the viewer/user, often directly shaping how we use and inhabit the spaces in our lives.”

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Peter and his wife Thea travelled widely, moving back to Canberra in 2015 where they established Meet Gather Collect, a retail space which celebrates Australian designer wares, combined with Curious Tales Furniture. The timing was perfect, Peter observing a strong shift in people appreciating and wanting locally-crafted, individually-made pieces.

“Many customers will be searching for a piece that fits within their house and lifestyle, they come into the shop and see a design they like, we then talk about how we can tailor it to their needs.

“I will often then meet them at their house to discuss various aspects and considerations in the design and measure the space, meaning they will have a product unique to their environment.”

Recognising that this is a career that involves really hard, hands-on work, Peter has never been more fulfilled.

“It is a beautiful thing to see a design come to life from an early concept sketch into a realised piece of furniture, to know that single crafted piece of furniture encompasses a specific moment in time and seeing the joy and appreciation for the piece shown by the client is like nothing else.”

Peter is optimistic about the future of the fine furniture industry, but urges a focus on both sustainable practices and the combination of modern technologies with the logic behind traditional techniques.

“It will also be dependent on customers remaining passionate about supporting local businesses, knowing that they will not only have a piece of furniture that will last for generations but also strengthen the local economy.”

Hannah Gason

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The art of glass stretches back to ancient Egypt, where the first glass vessels were formed around 1500BC. In 2017, the artform is still going strong.

Hannah Gason’s passion for glass was late-blooming. Her initial focus was cartography, but after studying and working for a number of years in the field, Hannah’s heart began to pull her in another direction.

“I found I was being led down a more hands-on and creative path. After a few years of consideration, I decided to pursue an artistic career.” Going on to study and graduate with a Bachelor of Visual Arts with Honours in 2015, Hannah is currently an exhibiting artist and studio tenant at the Canberra Glassworks.

“I am drawn to glass for its qualities that enable me to create the results I’m seeking in my work. I’m interested in layers, colour, line and light. I enjoy the materiality of glass and being able to work with form, depth and surface.”

“I love exploring ideas through making, seeing the physical result of something in my mind. I love the sense of community and support from other artists and organisations in Canberra.

I love the constant challenges and moments of insight that creating artwork provides.”

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Being so new to the industry, Hannah is still feeling her way and says that balancing her art practice and work can be tricky.

“Ideally I would work less to give myself more time to develop my work. But I appreciate the security my employment provides that allows me to support my practice in numerous ways.”

The life of an artist is not cheap. There is studio and facility hire, materials, courses and travel to consider, and unfortunately, it’s rare for art practice to provide the financial security that comes with these expenses.

Although Hannah is very early into her arts career, the number of online and physical outlets for handmade art and crafts excites her and urges her on.

“I feel encouraged to think that quality, individually-made pieces are appreciated and I think there is starting to be a rise in upcycling and environmentally considered products as social issues develop.”

Alison Jackson

ALISON JACKSON

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Alison Jackson has been a tinkerer and a maker for as long as she can remember. Encouraged by her father, she learnt to use a metal lathe and, together, they made little projects in the workshop under the house. At the age of 12, Alison was introduced to jewellery-making—the rest, as they say, is history.

Jewellery-making consumed every Tuesday afternoon throughout Alison’s high school years, and she focused on it as a career, studying Gold and Silversmithing at the ANU School of Art.

She now works as a silversmith and jeweller, also teaching classes from her workshop space, Pocket Studio.

“Traditional Silversmithing is diminishing,” says Alison. “And even if students only ever made one piece the traditional, labour intensive way, in my eyes that means they gain a better understanding of it, they talk about it and that spreads interest in the dying art.”

While mass-produced pieces are popular in contemporary society, Alison says she has seen a swing back to handmade pieces. Indeed, because Alison’s pieces are—well, so perfect—one of her biggest challenges has been ensuring her customers realise that everything is actually handmade by her.

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“I think people are really looking to find out more about the back story to a piece—they genuinely want to know who made it and how they made it. The story of the piece really is a point of connection between maker, object and customer.”

Choosing a career in the creative industries is not an easy path, and Alison says support for these creative industries is imperative to keeping them alive—starting with quality technical training. Sadly, however, many institutions are reducing hours and staff, which greatly impacts the quality of education provided.

“There is something very special about making things by hand. A sense of achievement and wonder, and I think that is amplified when you’re able to make pieces that go out into the wide world for others to enjoy for many years to come.” 

PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Bean

This article originally appeared in Magazine: Disruption for Spring 2017, available for free while stocks last. Find out more about Magazine here

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Belinda Neame

Belinda is HerCanberra's Production Manager. A foodie and lover of handmade, Belinda enjoys nothing more than a good coffee and seeing Canberra businesses thrive. In her 'spare time', Belinda organises the quarterly Canberra street food event, The Forage with her husband Tim. More about the Author

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Amanda Whitley

Amanda Whitley is the founder and director of HerCanberra. In her 'spare time', she instructs zumba, loves to cook (and eat), and wrangles two gorgeous little girls. She's done everything from present the tv news to operate a stop and go sign and is passionate about connecting Canberra women. More about the Author

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Tim Bean

A fire fighter by day (and night), Tim also loves being behind the lens to capture all things food, people and places. You can often find Tim drinking coffee at his local or capturing a time lapse on Anzac Parade! More about the Author

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