Ceramicists that clay together, stay together

Wendy Johnson

They live together, regularly work together and, although their aesthetics are radically different, they are kindred spirits in the world of ceramics.

Meet Cathy Franzi and Chris Harford, two high-end ceramicists who live in Canberra and who each enjoy a reputation for the quality of their work that spreads far beyond the borders of the capital.

This dynamo duo will participate in Stepping up: Australian Ceramics Triennale, which hits town today. They’ll both participate in some of the 35 free exhibitions held throughout over the next three days across the city (all open to the public). And they’ll share a stall at the free Market Place being held for the public at the National Gallery of Australia’s Gandel Hall on Sunday, which ties up the prestigious event.

But what about their aesthetics and what exactly do these talented artists create?

Cathy’s work features her life-long love of Australian plants and nature. But this is more than a passionate affair. Cathy’s first degree is a Bachelor of Science and she belongs to, and works with, botanical institutions to inform her work. It’s serious business.

Cathy painstakingly draws into the porcelain surface of her wheel-thrown vessels to create textural marks representing this country’s flora. She has developed a linocut style of carving the clay surface which adds to the fascination of each piece. And she affectionately decorates with some of Australia’s most well-known flora, like the kangaroo paw and wattle, as well as some flora that is just as precious, but not so well known.

“My style is based on research into printmaking techniques and work made during the 1920s, the heyday of the use of Australian flora in printmaking and ceramics,” says Cathy. “History provides the stories and the path of evolving science and knowledge that allows the imagination to use Australian plants for cultural material such as ceramics.”

Cathy has been practicing art for 20 years, has showcased her work in many exhibitions during her career, and is a PhD candidate, (Ceramics Workshop, School of Art, Australian National University). She has taught ceramics to children in schools, tutored at undergraduate level and led specialised courses at the Canberra Potters’ Society, of which she is a member.

Chris’s passion is tableware and he loves the idea of functional objects that can be used every day to enhance the daily ritual. But this is no ordinary tableware.

Having started working as a potter in New Zealand in 1982, Chris specialises in highly crafted, distinctive tableware in stoneware and porcelain. Indeed, you may recognise his unique, contemporary pieces if you’ve dined at some of Canberra’s better restaurants like Courgette and Sage, which have been around for some time, and at Akiba, a newish kid on the block.

With Akiba, Chris made most of the ceramics work used in the kitchen and front of house. It took about a year to get it all together and involved making more than 1000 pieces, all on the wheel.

Collaborating with chefs on pieces, including some designed for specific dishes or types of food, is key for Chris. He understands glazes exceptionally well, and produces fairly hardy, dishwasher-proof tableware. He also creates wonderful tea pots, winning first prize for a recent one entered into the annual Flinders Teapot Show in Victoria.

In 1992, the Chris and Cathy show took off to travel, study and work around the world, by bicycle. They spent two years in rural Ireland and when they returned — entirely inspired — Chris took up a position as artist-in-residence at the Canberra Potters’ Society and established his Spinning Gum Pottery at the Watson Arts Centre.

But back to Stepping Up. Where can you see the work of these two talented Canberra artists?

Chris will be exhibiting in Braddon, at Pod, The Hamlet along with four other ceramicists—Joanne Searle, Joey Burnes, Rebecca Alcorn and Kelly Austin.

Throughout Stepping Up, Cathy’s work will appear in several of the free exhibitions, including: ‘Surrounds/s’ by the Canberra Potters’ Society, Watson Arts Centre. The theme was prompted by how Canberra is the only Australian state/territory to be entirely enclosed by another.

Cathy is also participating in Stomping Ground, which features the work of Craft ACT accredited professional members, including Avi Amesbury, Margaret Brown and Sarit Cohen. It’s being held at the ACT Legislative Assembly.

Another exhibition Cathy will be in, is A potted history of Canberra region ceramics, at CMAG, showcasing the work of more than 40 ceramicists who have lived and worked in the Canberra region.

Cathy and Chris will join forces and share a stall at the Market Place and, if that isn’t keeping them busy enough, the couple has created some porcelain bowls, which are now stocked at Agency, Craft ACT’s new store in the Ori Building.

“We work collaboratively when it suits,” says Cathy. “I threw these bowls and Chris fired and glazed them.”

Stepping Up is managed by Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre in partnership with the Australian National University, Strathnairn Arts Association, the Australian Ceramics Association and the Canberra Potters’ Society. The National Gallery of Australia is partnering on the one-day Market Place and will offer two free guided tours of the Australian Decorative Arts, at 12 and 2pm.

Wendy Johnson

Wendy Johnson graduated with a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada, a few decades ago. She’s been living in Australia since 1995, having fallen in love with eucalypt trees and kangaroos. Wendy is passionate about Canberra and all the nation’s capital has to offer. She loves to write (about everything and anything) and owns her own pr and advertising business. More about the Author