For ceramists, and even for those merely interested in the ancient art of the potter and its various contemporary manifestations, Clay Gulgong is a great pleasure. An international festival set up originally as a three-yearly event by Janet Mansfield, it has been carried on since her death by her son Neil and daughter-in-law Bernadette Mansfield, and is now held every two years. The picturesque little NSW town of Gulgong, near Mudgee, is taken over for a week by a congenial crowd of ceramic artists and, apart from the formal exhibitions, almost every shopfront is filled with displays of work by most of Australia’s best practitioners.
Two years ago I was invited to Gulgong to give a talk about the history of the potter’s wheel as a literary metaphor; this time I was there to take part in a writers panel. There were many other talks by artists, writers and dealers, but the most fascinating part of the event was wandering around the tents set up on the hill, watching master ceramists from across the world demonstrating their art and answering questions from the public. Afterwards everyone congregates in one of the numerous pubs, so close together that from the doorway of any of them you can see at least one other.
From Gulgong it seemed like a good idea to visit Orange, relatively close by, stopping on the way at Hill End, almost forgotten when discovered by Donald Friend and Russell Drysdale in 1947 and now an exceptionally charming place filled with old houses and beautiful trees, half a living museum, but still an active artists’ colony. The aim of visiting Orange was to see an exhibition of paintings of interiors, which coincidentally turned out to include many pictures painted in Hill End.
Leaving Hill End in the direction of Bathurst, we had only driven 10km or 20km when we found the road blocked by a road accident that had occurred moments earlier. A motorcyclist had overtaken a utility at great speed — as its shaken driver explained to us — then lost control of his bike and struck a small tree with such violence that he had felled it. The rider had been killed almost instantly. It was a grim spectacle, and it also became apparent that we would not be allowed to continue on our way, as various officials appeared and declared that the site was now a crime scene.
So we had to drive back to Hill End, where we discovered that there was no alternative road to the south. We would have to make our way back to Mudgee and then around by a long route to Bathurst. Starting back towards the north, however, we soon came to a crosscountry shortcut, driving southwest towards Orange. As the crow flies, the distance was Interiors Orange Regional Gallery, Orange, NSW. Until June 24.