Creative collection Jenn Johnston shares her passion for pottery
THE ENCOURAGEMENT OF A MENTOR AND THE SUPPORT OF HER FAMILY LED JENN JOHNSTON TO DISCOVER HER TALENT AND PASSION FOR POTTERY
“I IMMEDIATELY FELT AT HOME AT THE WHEEL. CERAMICS OPENED MY EYES TO A NEW WAY OF EXPERIENCING ART AND DESIGN” ~ Jenn
JENN JOHNSTON’S FIRST experiment with clay resulted in what she calls “a pretty wonkylooking dinosaur thing”. An objective appraisal would be that the prehistoric creature showed great promise for a five-year-old. “I have hardly any memories as a kid, but I remember the squelch of the clay in my hands,” Jenn says of her kindergarten work.
Her creations were destined to remain a hobby for a time while she went on to complete a PhD in psychology. It wasn’t until 2014, when she took a day trip through the Northern Rivers countryside of NSW, that everything changed. Having moved to Byron Bay with her husband Paul in search of a sea and tree change a few years earlier, Jenn followed the North Coast Mud Trail, part of the annual Australian Ceramics Open Studios event that showcases the work and studio spaces of local creatives. “I met potter Karen Jennings, and she was amazing,” recalls Jenn. “My sister-in-law gave me a throwing course with Karen for my birthday. There was something bewitching about the wheel, and I just loved it. It’s magic to see something forming out of this lump of clay.”
Karen encouraged the novice potter to keep going. “She said I could go to her studio once a week, and every now and then she would give me tips and advice,” says Jenn. “But mostly, she gave me the space to practise.” Jenn’s family chipped in and bought her a pottery wheel for her 40th birthday and, in April last year, Paul and some friends built a shed in which to house it. Now, the artist divides her time between working as a researcher at the University Centre for Rural Health in Lismore, and in her shed creating beautiful planters and tableware inspired by other potters, as well as by her admiration for the serene restraint of the Japanese aesthetic.
Not long after Jenn’s first exhibition in 2015, she met with Miranda Cummings, co-owner of Our Corner Store in Bangalow, with a view to selling some of her cups in the shop. “I hoped she might take the six cups that I had with me,” Jenn says of their meeting, “but she put in an order for 80! I was like... what just happened?”
Now, the requests for Jenn’s functional and elegant high-fired stoneware are coming in thick and fast. Her work is stocked by retailers in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney. She has thrown made-to-order planters for Stone & Wood brewery in Byron Bay, and is in talks with a local chef about a new range of dinnerware for his restaurant. “It’s all happened really fast,” she says.
Jenn’s scientific background is proving useful when it comes to the alchemy of the whole process of making and firing, which also involves discovering how to make her own glazes. “I am still learning so much,” she says. “I have been inspired by the local potters. The ceramics community up here is growing, and is open and generous and very collaborative as well.
“I am just at the start of whatever this might be... it’s just like this world of possibilities,” she continues. “You can keep doing it forever – there’s so much to learn. Potters often do it until they drop. What an amazing life!”>