We all have objects in our lives. Objects can be useful, decorative and sentimental. Who makes these things and why? Hear stories of creative Australians and the objects they make.
This first season of Object: stories of design and craft explores the Masters of Craft, nationally and internationally acclaimed craftspeople, our living treasures.
Meet Australia’s master craftspeople working in ceramics, jewellery, textiles and metal. Why does their work matter? How do they keep going? How does working in Australia impact their work? What’s their advice for makers now?
Prue Venables, Jeff Mincham, Lola Greeno, Liz Williamson, Les Blakebrough, Marian Hosking and Robert Baines down their tools and talk with Lisa Cahill from the Australian Design Centre. You’ll hear insights, tips and surprising histories of Australian craft and design - like the birth of the Australian Crafts Movement, craft as the longest ongoing cultural tradition in Tasmania, and the infamous craft train.
In a career spanning seven decades, Les Blakebrough has become one of Australia's most acclaimed and influential ceramic artists.
The ceramics of Les Blakebrough range from earthy functional ware to more delicate forms, made with the Southern Ice Porcelain - a material described as having ‘the whiteness of snow and translucent of ice'. In fact, he used Southern Ice Porcelain to make https://www.smh.com.au/national/tasmanians-welcome-home-princess-20050311-gdkwi5.html (Tasmania’s wedding gift to Mary Donaldson and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark).
In this episode, you’ll hear about Les’ experiments in the early days, why he went from ceramics maker to porcelain producer, and how Australia’s first national craft association was founded.
The Australia Design Centre made Les Blakebrough its very first Living Treasure: Master of Australian Craft in 2004. His Living Treasures exhibition toured nationally until 2007.
Les Blakebrough lives on Dharawal Country in the Illawarra region of NSW.
uestshttps://australiandesigncentre.com/past-exhibitions-and-events/aust-design-honours/grace-cochrane-am (Grace Cochrane AM) is a writer, curator and historian.
Ben Richardson is a ceramics artist and runs https://www.ridgelinepottery.com/ (Ridgeline Pottery Tasmania). He studied under Les, taught alongside him and was a co-researcher on Southern Ice Porcelain.
https://anneferran.com/ (Anne Ferran) is one of Australia’s leading photographic artists. Anne is also Les Blakebrough's partner.
Show highlights and takeawaysStudying under the Australian 'masters’ of ceramics – Peter Rushforth and Mollie Douglas [5:30 mins]
Les Blakebrough went to art school at https://nas.edu.au/history/ (East Sydney Technical College) to study painting, in the 1950s. He says, "I wanted to be a painter and sadly, I was in love with the idea of being a painter. It didn't gel." Les made the fortuitous switch to ceramics, at a time when iconic teachers led the department. Peter Rushforth (1920–2015) was a master potter largely responsible for https://nas.edu.au/on-stillness-launch/ (introducing ancient Japanese ceramic traditions) to Australia. https://catalogue.nla.gov.au/Record/2009510 (Mollie Douglas) (1920 – 2011) was a founding member of the Potters' Society of New South Wales, along with Peter Rushforth.
Early experiments with Col Levy [6:45 mins]
Les met https://www.portrait.gov.au/people/col-levy-1933 (Col Levy) at art school. Col had originally trained as a manual arts teacher, and studied pottery at East Sydney Technical College (now the National Art School) in Sydney in 1956. Les says, "There was a kind of chemistry that was involved that Col Levy introduced me to, and we had a collaboration going. We were desperately trying to make high temperature, stoneware and porcelain and Levy and I would sort of do these experiments, trying to make reduced glazes. And the kilns weren't set up to do it. "
Inventing an Australian-made, exportable porcelain [11:00 mins]
Through the 1970s and 1980s, Les felt the white clay he was using "never quite came up to the mark."
He wanted a clay you could knead, throw well, and handle easily. Most of all, Les wanted it "very white. I wanted it to be whiter than anything else."
The name Southern Ice was used because Les wanted to give it a name that located it in the part of the world where he and his team created it. Southern Ice is still made in Australia today, by https://clayworkspotters.com/ (Clayworks pottery in Melbourne).
Cybelle Blakebrough and Sage Ceramics [13:48 mins]
Les Blakebrough's daughter has followed in her father's footsteps and created handmade, high end porcelain tableware from Southern ice porcelain, in her business https://www.instagram.com/sage_ceramics/ (Sage Ceramics.)
No longer making [13:58 mins]
Les is saddened by the fact that he no longer makes ceramics. With black humour, he says, "I had a go at making some things a little while ago and I was so frustrated and upset. I couldn't...
Liz Williamson is known as a ‘matriarch of Australian weaving’. Hear what Liz’s favourite ‘magical’ material is, how darning and repair informs her work, and how she works with weavers around the world.
Liz Williamson is an internationally respected textile artist who specialises in hand-woven textiles.
Sometimes wearable and sometimes for display, the texture of Liz’s work is distinctive. It’s woven flat, and the materials she uses create crushed, crinkled surfaces and three dimensional shapes like loops and sacks.
Australia Design Centre made Liz Williamson a Living Treasure in 2007, and her Living Treasures exhibition toured nationally until 2011.
Liz lives and works on Gadigal and Wongal country in inner west Sydney.
GuestsIlka White is an artist whose practice spans textiles, teaching, cross-disciplinary collaboration and art-in-community. https://www.ilkawhite.com.au/ (ilkawhite.com.au)
Anna Waldman is a former curator at the Art Gallery of New South Wales and was the director of the Australia Council's Visual Arts and Craft board.
Jon Goulder is an award winning, fourth generation furniture maker and is an https://australiandesigncentre.com/past-exhibitions-and-events/aust-design-honours/jon-goulder/ (Australian Design Honouree.) http://www.jongoulder.com/ (jongoulder.com)
Show highlights and takeawaysHow long does it take to weave something? [3:50 mins]
People often ask Liz Williamson how long it takes to weave something. She weaves panels that are about 1.2m long in two to four hours.
Why fine worsted wool is 'magical' [4:40 mins]
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Worsted (Fine worsted wool) is material that Liz worked with a lot in the 980s and 1990s, to weave wraps and scarves. She calls it 'magical' because she says it can respond to different treatments. You can wash it, you can felt it, or you can combine it with materials that felt. The worsted wool doesn’t felt that much by itself but you combine it with other wool that does felt, creating textured surfaces.
Australia's Indigenous fibre tradition is one of the most amazing in the world [6:25 mins]
Liz feels very privileged to live in a country that has such a wonderful, rich fibre tradition, saying, "The https://www.yarn.com.au/blogs/yarn-in-the-community/the-significance-of-traditional-indigenous-fibre-crafts (Indigenous fibre art tradition) is one of the most amazing in the world. It's been wonderful to see that tradition come to fore with artists representing Australia, internationally with https://australiandesigncentre.com/object-digital/article-yvonne-koolmatrie/ (Yvonne Koolmatrie).” Australian Indigenous weaving traditions have broadened our thinking around weaving, she says, to include many shapes and forms.
Woven loops and sacks [7:35 mins]
Liz's work includes three-dimensional structures like woven loops and sacks. "The woven loops came from a project sitting at the loom, trying to work out how I could explore this idea of protection. I was creating a three-dimensional structure," she explains. Some of the loops are made just with plain weave, with their shape and texture coming from how she's combined different materials.
Experimentation with the material leading [7:50 mins]
Liz often experiments in her work, and she gives an example of 'playing around with leather lacing." She said it was "the material that gave her the structure", and allowed her to create, in this case, tubular structures. Liz believes experimentation is vital to develop different approaches to your work.
'Great Craft Revolution' in Victoria [12:00 mins]
When Liz Williamson returned to Australia from overseas in 1976, the craft movement had started in Victoria. The https://www.austapestry.com.au/ (Victorian Tapestry Workshop) and https://craft.org.au/ (Craft Victoria) had been set up. Arts writer and contemporary craft historian Grace Cochrane describes the...
Jeweller Marian Hosking makes silver brooches, necklaces and vessels that are translations of the Australian bush. Hear why Marian thinks that souvenirs are underrated; the reason she still makes brooches and how she co-founded the iconic Melbourne open access jewellery space, Workshop 3000.
Marian Hosking is an award-winning artist, and is former Head of Jewellery at Charles Sturt University, The Riverina College of Advanced Education and Art Design and Architecture at Monash University.
Marian Hosking collects, draws or takes photos of Australian plants and flowers to make silver objects like brooches, necklaces and vessels. She often oxidises and heats the silver to blacken it. Using techniques of drilling and sawpiercing, Marian's work is delicate but strong, detailing fragments of the Australian bush.
The Australian Design Centre honoured Marian as a Living Treasure in 2007.
Marian lives and works on the ancestral lands of the Boon Wurrung people, on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria.
GuestsKatie Scott is the Director of http://www.galleryfunaki.com.au/ (Gallery Funaki). https://www.instagram.com/galleryfunaki/ (www.instagram.com/galleryfunaki)
Su San Cohn is the co-founder of Workshop 3000 and is one of Australia's finest jewellers and metalsmiths. She is an https://australiandesigncentre.com/past-exhibitions-and-events/aust-design-honours/dr-susan-cohn/ (Australian Design Honouree) and represented by https://annaschwartzgallery.com/artist/susan-cohn (Anna Schwartz Gallery).
Show highlights and takeawaysThe Australian bush isn't all the same [4:04 mins]
For Marian, the Australian Bush is never the same. She likes to draw attention to something you think you know, like an ordinary gum leaf, and isolate a single element or a particular quality.
In the first lockdown, Marian thought there was no point in making [4:38 mins]
When Melbourne and regional Victoria went into extended lockdowns in 2020, Marian thought, "There's no point in making anything because there's already too much of everything in the world. And making things is just a waste of time and space."
She stopped making for a time, but kept up with other parts of her practice, like closely observing nature, sketching and taking photos of local plant and bird life.
Swans got Marian making again [4:54 mins]
Lockdown restricted movement to 5km from your home. Luckily for Marian, she could regularly visit the Tootgarook Swamp, https://www.visitmorningtonpeninsula.org/PlacesToGo/Walks/AllWalks/tabid/399/View/5af92b1ac526942b0c4051e8/Tootgarook-Wetlands-Walk/Default.aspx (a peat regenerating wetland on the Mornington Peninsula) that's home to birds, animals and frogs.
"And I noticed the swans, the black swans. I've worked over a number of years with swans, in England and Australia, the black and the white. These swans and little baby cygnets were just so appealing." Marian has just finished a vessel depicting these swans and credits them for getting her making again.
Rejecting 'sentimental' as a derogatory term [6:28 mins]
"In fine art terms, being sentimental or a souvenir is often a derogatory term," Marian says. "Actually what I do is both souvenir and sentimental. And I really value both of those aspects of my making. I love the souvenir."
She says another reason that jewellery is seen as sentimental is because it's often gifted. Even if the gift is to yourself, it carries sentiment with it
Working with silver because it's not valuable [9:40 mins]
Marian chooses not to work with precious gems because she "didn't want the value of what I made to be around the material value of the materials incorporated into it." When she began studying jewellery making in 1969, she was interested in Scandinavian design and silver was much used by https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henning_Koppel (Henning Koppel) and the Scandinavian silversmiths.
Working graphically is another reason silver as a material suits her, as well as its low sheen.
Marian Hosking loves
Prue Venables is one of Australia’s most accomplished ceramics artist. Hear how Prue went from a career in science to pottery; how three tiny porcelain jugs changed everything for her; and her controversial advice for new makers.
Prue Venables makes porcelain vessels - like jugs and beakers, ladles and colanders - that elevate humble domestic objects to exquisite works of art. They are smooth and elegant, with a minimal colour palette of white, metallic black and sometimes red.
The Australian Design Centre honoured Prue as a Living Treasure in 2019.
GuestsPrue Venables http://pruevenables.com/ (http://pruevenables.com/)
Neville French, former Teacher and Coordinator of Ceramics, Arts Academy, University of Ballarat. He taught with Prue for many years. https://www.nevillefrench.com/ (https://www.nevillefrench.com/)
Show highlights and takeawaysThe foundation of me [10:32 mins]Prue's earlier study of music and science became the foundation of how she thinks and approaches her craft. "The thinking and the discipline, the asking questions and exploring things."
Approach with an inquisitive mind [11:03 mins]Prue credits her curiosity to her science and music teachers, "people who were really inventive and exploratory thinkers....I watched what they did and what they said to me and it just built up a sort of way of being really. "
Throwing multiple things at the same time [12:13 mins]Using a number of wheels at the same time is standard practice for Prue. She says that with porcelain, it's often actually better to make something on and let it sit and not move it. As soon as you move it in any way, you get this sort of ripple response in the body of the clay, and that could come out in the firing.
Handmade tools [12:55 mins]Many of Prue's ceramics tools are made by her out of junk, as she puts it - old hacks saw blades ground down into make a little sharp knife or something to almost grate the clay. She says that when she can't find these handmade tools, she can't work. "It's like you become dependent on these little things."
The most important technique for porcelain [16:26]Prue believes the most important technique for working with porcelain is that you have to listen to it because it'll tell you what it'll let you do. She says that what's needed with porcelain is "a sense of, that it's always a developing knowledge.That you start with the material. You have to really feel what the material wants to let you do, and then explore that. And gradually, gradually gradually move the edges and change the parameters as you go. In a way you have to respect what it's telling you."
Visiting Takeshi Yasuda in the pottery workshops of Jingdezhen, China [18: 24 mins]Prue visited Jingdezhen on the insistence of Japanese potter and director of the pottery workshop there, http://www.takeshiyasuda.com/ (Takeshi Yasuda). Prue describes how Takeshi used to say, "Why haven't you come? You should come. if you don't come soon, it'll be too late!"
Prue describes it as amazing, seeing ceramic works that she couldn't believe possible like big tiles that have four meters by one meter wide or one and a half meters wide.
An artist's path is not an easy path [20:49 mins]"The hardest thing is accepting it's something in yourself that needs that, and then just doing it."
So many times I've met people who've said, Oh, I really want to do this. But everyone tells me that you can't make a living or you can't do this, or you shouldn't, or you should do something more reliable. Often it’s the parental voice talking, but I always say, You have one life. I don't think it is an easy path, but then many paths aren't easy."
Advice to makers [21:50 mins]Prue's advice to makers is
to try and always do the best work you can.
learn to be really discriminating.
don't keep everything.
look widely around you and experiment.
don't ever use social media as your reference material, because the world is so much bigger than that.
Once you start selling, you...
Lola Greeno is an award winning Tasmanian Aboriginal shell worker and artist. Lola uses maireener shells, sometimes called rainbow kelp shells to make shell necklaces. It's the oldest continuing cultural practice in Tasmania. Learn about the role of insects in making a traditional shell necklace, how Lola creates for kids as well as adults, and what she wants every Tasmanian Aboriginal woman to know.
The Australian Design Centre recognised Lola Greeno as a Living Treasure: Master of Australian Craft in 2014.
She lives and works on Palawa land in the north of Tasmania. Lola Greeno is an elder of the Truwana people from Cape Barren Island.
GuestsLola Greeno https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lola_Greeno (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lola_Greeno) and https://handmark.com.au/artist/lola-greeno/ (https://handmark.com.au/artist/lola-greeno/)
Stephen Goddard, Graphic Designer, Curator and Lecturer who curated Lola's Living Treasures exhibition https://goddard.net.au/ (https://goddard.net.au/)
Richard Mulvaney, former Director of the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, where Lola's Living Treasures exhibition was exhibited. QVMAG later acquired the exhibition. https://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/ (https://www.qvmag.tas.gov.au/)
Show highlights and takeawaysYa Pulingina [3:39 mins]Lola Greeno uses palawa kani language to greet Lisa Cahill. https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/sep/03/ya-pulingina-bringing-these-words-to-life-is-an-extension-of-our-identity (Ya Pulingina means hello, or welcome).
Shell necklace making is unique to Tasmanian Aboriginal women. [4:50 mins]Shell necklace making is the oldest continuing cultural practice in Tasmania.The traditional necklace was threading the King Maireener shell, the biggest of the species of the Maireener in Tasmania. Lola refers to https://www.artlink.com.au/articles/4567/kanalaritja-an-unbroken-string/ (old images of the tribal men) wearing shell necklaces, as well as photos of https://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-09/fanny-cochrane-smith-recordings-inducted-into-unesco-register/8254806 (Fanny Cochrane Smith,) the last surviving fluent speaker of any Tasmanian Aboriginal language.
Back six generations [7:36 mins]Lola remembers her mother's grandmother making shell necklaces, and believes it went back about six generations. Lola learned from her own mother, how to go and pick the Maireeners from the seaweed the traditional way, and to 'rot out' and put them in jars outside, under a tree.
Protecting Maireener shells [9:36 mins]Lola stresses the importance of not over-collecting the Maireener shells. She always leaves some there for it to re-breed, as they breed over a twelve month cycle that finishes at the end of April.
Mother-daughter patterns [11:57 mins]Lola's first exhibition was with her mother, in a commerical gallery in Brisbane. She said it was the start of her becoming a maker. "Mum was very excited and she got me excited about us working together." The very first shells she made with her mother were 'mother-daughter patterns'.
Rice, toothy, penguin and gull shells [14:27 mins]When Tasmanian Aboriginal women started to use needles to make necklaces, they also experimented using diferent shells - such as the https://collections.sea.museum/objects/18326/rice-shell-necklace?ctx=929d213f-e687-4395-b347-aaec48c1ea6aandidx=0 (tiny 'rice' shell), the 'https://nga.gov.au/Exhibition/Tactility/Detail.cfm?IRN=37666 (toothy)' and the 'gull' shell, featured in the https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/explore/collection/work/75106/ (Cape Barren Goose necklace) that Lola describes. And there's the https://collections.sea.museum/objects/158276/shell-bracelet?ctx=59db4830-bea3-4640-be03-cdf8d91f6b0candidx=1 ('penguin' shell) – named not for its colours, but because this shell is in the shape of a penguin.
A funny story about eating echidna [15:53 mins]Lola shared this story of her as a young kid, living on Cape Barren, Tasmania.
"Apparently my Uncle Ted was one day, had an echidna and he was...
Jeff Mincham AM is one of Australia's most prominent ceramic artists. Hear what it was like to witness the birth of the Australian Crafts Movement, how Jeff deals with success and failure, and his characteristically blunt advice to makers.
Jeff is known for his large, coil built, earthenware vessels. On these vessels are his dramatic, painterly interpretations of the South Australian landscape - the patchwork fields of the Fleurieu Peninsula, the sand dune grasses of the Coorong and the leafy surrounds of the Adelaide Hills.
With over forty years of professional practice, he was awarded an Order of Australia for his services to the visual arts. Jeff’s work is held in over one hundred permanent public collections including the National Gallery of Australia.
As a master of Australian craft, Jeff was made a Living Treasure by Australian Design Centre in 2009, and his exhibition toured around Australia from 2009 to 2012. Jeff lives and works on the ancestral lands of the Peramangk and Kaurna people, in the Adelaide Hills of South Australia.
GuestsJeff Mincham https://www.jeffmincham.com/exhibitions (www.jeffmincham.com)
Kylie Johnstone, who has worked with Jeff through Sabia Gallery in Sydney for fifteen years. https://sabbiagallery.com/ (https://sabbiagallery.com/)
Sandra Brown, ceramic artist and former Curator/Tour Coordinator of Jeff's Living Treasures exhibition http://www.sandralbrown.com.au/ (http://www.sandralbrown.com.au/)
Show highlights and takeawaysNo tractor for me. [4:50 mins]Jeff comes from five generations of farming in South Australia. He was the first to break the tradition.
Agriculture. I understood it. [7:50 mins]While Jeff never followed in his family’s footsteps, he sees his connection to agriculture as ongoing. After initially studying painting, he discovered ceramics and was overwhelmed. “It was blood and guts and real.”
Craft would be your profession. [8:20 mins]The Australian Crafts Movement was underway when Jeff studied art and teaching. He describes how there was ‘no horizon’ and the accepted idea was that craft could be your profession.
Artists don’t retire. [10:18 mins]People have often said to Jeff, “Jeff, are you retired?” And his answer to that is, artists don't retire. They just die.
People keep changing their mind. [12: 27 mins]Jeff is firm about following your own core beliefs and path. He says that if you rely on people telling you what you should be doing, you're not going to last long because people keep changing their mind.
When you get lost, basic skills are your compass. [15:17 mins]To recover from setbacks, Jeff returns to the basics. For him, it’s making Japanese tea bowls. “This is why that good, strong core of basic skills are important when you do get lost. They'll rescue you. They're the compass you can pick up and find your way again.
Dammit, we’re fashionable again. Never be fashionable. [17:37 mins]Jeff has ridden the wave of ceramics being popular, and then for other mediums (hello, glass!) to take the limelight. Many ceramic artists gave up and only ‘’a core group of us remained.’ Sceptical of the current trendiness of ceramics, Jeff says, ‘’After the last time, I'm very cautious.’
You contribute to your profession. [20:20 mins]“The growth and success of your profession and the success of others makes the field grow, and expands the opportunities for everybody.” This ethos saw Jeff take on management roles in many Australian arts organisations like the https://www.jamfactory.com.au/ (JamFactory ceramics workshop) and the https://www.helpmannacademy.com.au/ (Helpmann Academy Foundation).
We need powerful advocacy for the arts in Australia. [21:33 mins]Jeff argues that the arts in Australia are suffering from a lack of strong, powerful advocacy. “We're not playing the politics of the game strongly or determined early enough.”
Art is humankind’s big idea. [22:40 mins]For Jeff, arts policy goes deeper, stressing the need to “put