Dahlias and din­ner­ware

Take a tour through ce­ramic artist Vicki Fan­ning’s pic­turesque prop­erty


In a ren­o­vated trac­tor shed down the end of Ward Road in Matakana, a small town­ship in the up­per reaches of the Auck­land re­gion, you’ll find Vicki Fan­ning’s creative sanc­tu­ary. It’s lo­cated along­side the home­stead she shares with part­ner Mike Pe­tre, their son, Sam, 9, and dog Vin­nie on a two-hectare ex-dairy prop­erty. Once deemed derelict, the home is now sur­rounded by dahlia plant­ings, 3000 or­chard trees, an abun­dant vege gar­den and a stu­dio space piled high with hand­made ce­ramic din­ner­ware.

Vicki’s busi­ness, Frolic Ce­ram­ics, was born four years ago, af­ter Sam started school. Ce­ram­ics have been a pas­sion since she stud­ied the art at Car­ring­ton Polytech (now Unitec) in the early

1990s and, al­though her talent also ex­tends to glass­work, it was the im­me­di­acy and play­ful­ness of work­ing with clay that ig­nited Vicki’s pas­sion for craft­ing beau­ti­ful yet func­tional table­ware (which also boost the fam­ily’s in­come).

“There’s noth­ing nicer than hand-wash­ing hand­made ce­ram­ics when you know where they’ve come from and the story behind them. As mak­ers, that’s re­ally im­por­tant to us,” says Vicki, who proudly uses her own pieces and the fam­ily’s col­lec­tion of pot­tery to eat from every day, rather than keep­ing them only for dec­o­ra­tion or spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

The joy of eat­ing from and us­ing hand­made ce­ram­ics is one that is res­onat­ing with Ki­wis as the trend to­wards shop­ping lo­cally con­tin­ues to grow and cafes and restau­rants en­deav­our to give their cus­tomers a more holis­tic din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

Sawmill Brew­ery in Matakana serves meals and snacks on Frolic Ce­ram­ics (among other lo­cally made wares) in its Smoko Room, while Honey

Bones cafe in Grey Lynn uses Frolic wa­ter jugs and table­ware to serve its dis­cern­ing Auck­land clien­tele. As well as be­ing stocked at Mad­der & Rouge in New­mar­ket and Matakana’s Tea & Tonic, Vicki’s ce­ram­ics are also for sale at her home stu­dio, which is open by ap­point­ment – or, as she says, “peo­ple can just pop in and see if I’m there”.

Each time Vicki sells a piece, she likens it to “a baby go­ing out the door”. She stands by her work and will never make or sell any­thing she feels half-hearted about. “I think it’s so nice that it’s go­ing

to be sit­ting on some­one’s bench or shelf and that they’re go­ing to be able to use it. I feel like some­thing worth­while is go­ing out there, and it’s not throw-away, it’s go­ing to be loved,” she ex­plains. “Peo­ple come back to me and say, ‘I didn’t quite re­alise how nice it is to eat off some­thing when you know where it’s come from and it’s hand­made and beau­ti­ful.’ It feels like a gift.”

Vicki at­tributes her abil­ity to cre­ate func­tional yet aes­thet­i­cally pleas­ing pieces to both her back­ground as a trained artist and her time work­ing as a caterer on film sets. She says she of­ten re­ceives feed­back from peo­ple ap­pre­ci­at­ing how well her pieces han­dle and how com­fort­able they feel in the hand thanks to con­sciously placed grooves and tex­tu­ral set­tling marks from the slip-cast­ing process. Each piece, Vicki ex­plains, is han­dled around nine times dur­ing its man­u­fac­ture and is fired twice – it’s labour-in­ten­sive work and the ma­te­ri­als don’t come cheap here in New Zealand.

Vicki is grate­ful that her cus­tomers ap­pre­ci­ate how much pas­sion goes into her work and she loves hear­ing about – and see­ing – her din­ner­ware be­ing used every day, rather than be­ing left on a shelf look­ing pic­turesque. “The plea­sure is in the us­ing and th­ese things are meant to last,” she says. “You don’t have to fear for them – they’re strong.”

The week of our interview, Vicki is pre­par­ing for her jug and dahlia sale at her stu­dio. It’s an op­por­tu­nity to in­ter­act with cus­tomers and let them take away a lit­tle some­thing ex­tra with their Frolic Ce­ram­ics piece – a beau­ti­ful bunch of blooms grown by Vicki on the land she and Mike work tire­lessly to main­tain them­selves. The dahlias are in full bloom and will be avail­able to pick un­til around Easter.

Vicki loves be­ing able to send friends away with an arm­ful of flow­ers – and likely a car boot full of fruit and veges from her gar­den, too. “I used to make big bunches up and sell them re­ally cheap be­cause I love that they can be avail­able for ev­ery­one, and flow­ers just make you weak. Hav­ing a big vase of flow­ers in the house can bring you so much joy,” she says. Even more so when they’re dis­played in a hand­made ce­ramic jug.

“There’s noth­ing nicer than hand-wash­ing hand­made ce­ram­ics when you know where they’ve come from and the story behind them”

Wide open spa­ces When Vicki’s part­ner, Mike, pur­chased an ex-dairy farm in Matakana, it was ad­ver­tised as “a handy­man’s wife’s night­mare”. How­ever, to­gether Mike and Vicki have given new life to their two-hectare (five-acre) prop­erty, restor­ing the home­stead and plant­ing over 3000 or­chard trees. “You plant a tree and peo­ple think it’s some­one else’s life­time that it gets to be en­joyed in – but it’s not true,” says Vicki. “Es­pe­cially up here where things grow so fast.”

Creative play The name Frolic Ce­ram­ics came about be­cause of the play­ful­ness Vicki as­so­ci­ates with the craft. Along with cre­at­ing func­tional din­ner­ware in­clud­ing plat­ters, jugs, plates, bowls and cups, Vicki also makes mi­cro green con­tain­ers, shav­ing and bath­room sets and can carry out custom or­ders on re­quest, too.

Plant life Vicki’s love of gardening was handed down to her by her mother and she says she’s “ad­dicted to dahlias”. The ex­treme weather con­di­tions this past sum­mer have taken a toll on her dahlia plant­ings but the crop was still plen­ti­ful enough for Vicki to be able to of­fer beau­ti­ful bunches to cus­tomers as part of her jug and dahlia sale. She and Mike also off­load their ex­tra fruit to Sawmill Brew­ery and their vege gar­den feeds not only their fam­ily but a cou­ple of their friends as well.

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