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February 26, 2021

Getting Stuck in the Mud

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Clair Atkins
Clair Atkins

Claire Atkins is one of the founding members of The North Coast Mud Trail, and the hands behind Pinky & Maurice Ceramics, a ceramic studio specialising in porcelain in South Golden Beach.

Claire is also the assistant editor of The Journal of Australian Ceramics, Australia’s most widely read contemporary ceramics magazine.

Claire spoke with The Echo about the Mud Trail, an exciting new project that takes the community into the studios of our local potters.

Why did you come up with the Mud Trail?

The average home is full of mass-produced cheap ceramic imports, so it comes as a surprise to many people that potters still exist, let alone that your neighbour might be one! So the idea for an annual national event celebrating Australian ceramics was born. The Australian Ceramics Open Studios was dreamed up by Vicki Grima in 2013. Vicki is the editor of The Journal of Australian Ceramics, and the executive officer of The Australian Ceramics Association, an association that represents more than 1,000 Australian potters. In August every year hundreds of potters around the country open their studio doors to the public. 

We came up with the The Mud Trail as a local response to that national event. On the Mud Trail our potters share their passion, skills and knowledge with the community. The community get their hands dirty; some reconsider the way they think about ceramics; and for others it’s a complete epiphany and the beginning of a relationship with clay!  

Do we have much of a community of potters?

Potters belong to ancient craft tradition, and with that comes the particular cameraderie that artists experience when they’re part of a tribe. We belong to a big muddy national family. There are 140 studios opening across the country this year, and 19 of those are on the North Coast Mud Trail. We make up more than 10 per cent of the national open studios, so we’re fortunate to have such a vibrant ceramic community here. There are still many more potters in our hills and towns who won’t be opening their studios, but they make a huge contribution to the community throughout the year as studio potters, artists, gallery owners, and as lecturers in ceramics at our TAFEs and universities. Besides coordinating the Mud Trail each year, the north coast community gets together for ceramic conferences, firings, workshops, exhibitions and retreats, and social media also play a huge role in keeping us connected with the world’s ceramic community. 

What areas do you cover?

The trail keeps growing, and this year you can find potters in their backyard studios, on the beach, or potting in dairy bails throughout the Ballina, Byron, Tweed and Lismore shires. There are open studios from Bagotville in the south to Nunderi near Murwillumbah in the north.

How diverse is the work of the potters being visited?

Across the 19 studios visitors can meet emerging ceramic artists producing contemporary sculpture, to potters with more than 40 years’ experience throwing and slipcasting functional ware. Potters like to set things on fire too, and each artist approaches firing in a variety of ways. Visitors can see work produced through reduction gas firing, oxidation firing, saggar firing, woodfiring, and there will be demonstrations in the dramatic and fiery spectacle that is raku firing! 

What should people expect on the Mud Trail? How long does it take? Do they get to make something?

With 19 studios to visit, I strongly suggest studying the event program so you can time your travel and not miss out on workshops and demonstrations. There’s so much to do. Visitors can make a pinch pot, have a go on the wheel, be part of a community arts project, create porcelain creatures, decorate a handmade bowl or plate, see wheel-throwing demonstrations, raku firings and listen to artist talks. And let’s be honest, it’s a great excuse to go and have stickybeak at an artist’s joint too! Event programs are available from local cafes, galleries and on our website!

Plan your weekend and download the event program at www.northcoastmudtrail.com.au, or pick up a mud map in galleries and cafes from Ballina to Murwillumbah. Follow The North Coast Mud Trail on Facebook. Entry to all studios is free. 

Saturday and Sunday 10am–4pm. Enquiries: 0409 937 718 or 6684 9194. www.northcoastmudtrail.com.au, www.facebook.com/NorthCoastMudTrail.

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