It was a great honour for Parramatta Clay and Arts (PCAI) to host our first Master Potter, Owen Rye at Clay Cliff Creek Studios.

Owen is a renowned ceramic artist with many years of experience.  His works can be seen in collections in Australia and overseas.  Owen shared his tips on woodfiring, and his life time journeys in ceramics.

He grew up in the snow country of Cooma which acquainted him with chopping wood with his father; from this he gained an understanding about fire and wood. He lives at the tip of Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, in a beautiful but windswept natural environment. Here he has plenty of wood, open space to fire, an amazing vista of colourful scenery, wild life, weathered and textured machinery whose influence is clearly seen in his work. Owen as the retired Head of Monash University’s first Ceramic faculty has taught many well known Australian contemporary ceramic artist.  Rye has travelled the world studying and presenting ceramics. He worked for the Smithsonian Museum, USA in the 1970s and this work saw him travel to Jordan and Palestine to document the work of indigenous potters.

In the 2 day workshop in July, in our Clay Cliff Creek studio, Owen demonstrated his techniques on making very large and tiny refined pots.  As most of his work is wood fired he explained that the best results of the firing occur perhaps only on one section of the pot. His logic, which proved to be correct, is that if you make a tiny pot (6 cm tall) then the whole pot gets that special spot or flash of colour!  In his demonstration of making large pots “easily “his pot was made in sections. That is, the first section was thrown and allowed to stiffen. 5 or so thicker coils were added by hand and re thrown. In between adding each coil, Owen used a gas burner to fast track the stiffening process. This was fascinating as well as a bit scary to watch as the flames licked around the pot in our studio.

Owen stressed that turning the wheel slowly is crucial to refining work. “Too many potters speed up as if they are in a hurry to get somewhere fast “he said.  He finishes his work using tools easily found, such as bits of wooden dowel, bits of broken pallet ,  to make impressive indents at four pints on the top of the pot , and hand models and grinds his metal turning tool’s to make them sharp and long lasting.

The residency was only possible through a partnership with PCAI and Parramatta City Council’s Artist Studios (PAS) that provided accommodation for Owen for 2 weeks. In addition Owen was featured during the Parramatta Artist Studio June Open Day as Artist in residence where he gave a pottery demonstration on the wheel, making tiny pots from “off the hump “technique.

Owen also presented at the Parramatta Artists Studios Evening Talk. The topic was “Mould Maker “The importance of ceramic residencies”. He was joined by some of Australia’s finest ceramic artists as they discuss their practices and the impact of ceramic residencies. Speakers included Owen Rye, Somchai Charoen, Merran Esson and Di Turner from PCAI.

A highlight for us was to share Owen, not only with PAS, and the workshop participants, but with participants in a current partnership program with Auburn Community Development Network (ACDN). This project is called “The Art of Hospitality “. Di Turner has been the ceramic tutor for this project along with co –facilitators Paula Abood and Barry Gamble from ACDN. 

Owen spent 2 evenings meeting and observing the development of the ceramic “Bring a Plate project, some of plates were generously made and donated to the project by Owen during his Clay Cliff Creek residency ready for painting by participants and Iranian calligraphy master Shaia Kaia to paint.  He was able to reflect on his time in Jordan with Shire.

These were colourful evenings, spent in the company of writers, artists and high profile community workers such as Dr Paula Abood and members of the Human Rights Commission. The debates were lively and political, supported by sumptuous Lebanese bread and homemade soup with lashings of Labnah (youghurt), heated on portable electric hotplate and of course served out of pottery soup bowls and mugs.  Paula Abood, an award winning writer and community development working supremo, makes a wicked pot of Lebanese soup

As our first Master program presenter, Owen Rye will be a hard act to follow. Our sincere thanks go to Owen, and Parramatta City Council Artist Studios and manager, Sophia Kouyoumdjian for this great partnership, hopefully the start of an ongoing annual ceramic residency program.