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.