/ CERAMIC COLLEGE /
are getting their hands dirty in an old church in Auckland’s North Shore. Led by teacher Teresa Watson, they silently fashion art pieces, plates, cups and even tea strainers, each object revealing the maker’s development and idiosyncrasies.
“Their work grows, and if they’re true to themselves, it will reflect them,” Teresa says. “I can pick up a pot and tell you who’s made it.”
Teresa taught secondary-school home economics in Christchurch and Dunedin before moving to Auckland to raise a family, but has been fashioning clay since she was 15. While raising four children, she ran classes out of what she calls a “wash house” studio in Auckland, as well as various community centres, before upscaling.
When the almost 150-year-old St Michael’s Church in the suburb of Bayswater came up for sale four years ago, Teresa started Ceramic College. It has proven popular, with loyal students congregating weekly for two-hour sessions, and Teresa now enlists the help of her longest-standing pupils, daughters Latasha and Leisbeth – ceramic artists in their own right – to help teach and run the college.
That popularity is a sign of a shift in values, says Teresa. Ceramicists suffered when cheaper, imported products hit New Zealand, but “now there’s been a big change, with restaurants wanting homemade ceramics”. Latasha is one such ceramicist supplying restaurants and cafes, and alongside Teresa she sells her work through the college, under the name Miss Tash Ceramics.
The value shift has had a flow-on effect, with most students wanting to create things for practical use at home. “People want to have their own plates, their own cups; they want to take away all the mass products they have in their home to have more of a handmade product,” Teresa says. “So they’re making their own.”
Students quickly become addicted to creating their own stuff, and Teresa encourages them to clear their minds of day-to-day worries when they come to class. “If you’ve got your mind on work, you’re not going to make your pot.”
That singular focus is regenerative, she says. Teresa’s students must think so too, for classes are hard to get into. More than 80 per cent return after their first term at the potter’s wheel.