It was in the early ‘70s when I attended the St Ives Leisure Centre where Sue Forsyth, who had recently graduated from National Art School, East Sydney, was my ceramics teacher. Sue suggested that next Saturday there was to be an event at Janet Mansfield’s home in Turramurra. So of course I went. I wandered up the drive which was quite deserted, up the front steps and through the house, passing Japanese pots on the tables and shelves on my way, but no one! Arriving at the back door I was greeted by a scene like a Hieronymus Bosch painting complete with large trees forming a canopy over the whole stage. There were people (clothes on) everywhere: some carrying pots, wine glasses, boxes, food, attending the fire-breathing kiln in the far corner, all of whom were thoroughly animated, all the participants engaged and oblivious to me as a newcomer with their involvement and concentration centred on the moment. This picture has remained with me and is typical of many of Janet’s happenings.
Through the Ceramic Study Group where Janet was variously President, Newsletter Editor and Tour Planner and Leader, 50 of us were transported to Peru and Mexico. Harry Davis had set up a pottery in Peru to try to reinvigorate the ancient art of the Peruvians and we set out to visit him as well as local potters, Machu Picchu and an investigation of the ancient cultural pieces that had survived and to which we were given access in the Museum of Lima. It was fun and memorable, a well-researched and informative trip. In Mexico we visited potters, pyramids and galleries, staying in haciendas. A quote from my diary reads “got back in time for a drink by the pool when Janet stepped out looking utterly glamorous in a new dress – off we rushed to find one for ourselves – but alas – all were too formal, too elaborate or too expensive”. Hers was just right. Having shopped with her on many occasions since, I know how decisive she is. It saves a lot of time and anxiety.
In 1979 I joined her again in a group trip, to Japan. What fun and excitement. For me she opened both doors and eyes. We visited exhibitions in Department Stores where on one occasion we met Mr. Fujiwara Yu, I’m not sure whether planned or accidently. He took all 25 of us to lunch and invited us to his home by the Sea of Japan for a tea ceremony by the light of full moon. How fantastic that was. We visited Kenji Kato who was working on Persian glazes. It seemed to me bizarre that a Japanese potter should look to another culture for his
research when in fact we were aspiring to his! When we visited Mashiko we not only visited Shoji Hamada’s Museum but were welcomed by Shimaoka who was obviously pleased to greet us but even more pleased to see Janet. We saw pottery everywhere including a young Koie Ryoji, we experienced Japanese culture, gardens, visited museums, the second hand kimono shop, food from department stores, bento boxes, little hole-in-the-wall bars, public hot baths, accommodation at Mrs. Uno’s ryokan, as well as Japanese style hotels. We visited David Walker (from Orange) who was working in Shigaraki . We filled every minute with discovery, finding pots in every adventure.
Soon after this Janet invited me and others to her recently acquired property ‘Morning View’ to bring pots and fire them in the gas kiln she had built there. We seemed to do this quite often and over the years more kilns were built which were now always wood kilns and we fired them regularly. While we waited for the work to cool we took picnics by the river, collected fruit in the orchard, visited the clay works or the glass maker or one of the wineries – there was no end of local attractions. During this period Janet worked at Turramurra and Morning View, with her apprentice of the time, Coll Minogue, Alexis Tacey or Karen Wells. As I had a van we would load it up with pots (ceramic) and food and sleeping bags and on Friday nights three of us would drive up to the farm. Some nights we wouldn’t get there until after midnight and it was the one who drew the short straw who had to get out of the car to open the gate in the bitter cold on a winter’s night. I was glad to be the driver!
They were fun times, always making pots and experiencing new ideas. There were many visitors from both overseas and Australia wide. Many were young graduates who came to experience life as a potter and who better to show them how. Some of the local potters would come over to the farm from Dunedoo and we would fire a salt kiln together. This may have been when Jane Hamlyn had visited influencing and inspiring us. Around this time Ken Horder became a regular and Ken was invaluable. I never saw Ken flurried and he stoked away with dogged determination even past his designated shift. Wood was plentiful and was usually spread over the adjoining paddock. We often collected, cut and stoked in one continuous action – which was really exhausting in the early hours of the morning. Ken had a fine sharp axe which he wielded with keen accuracy but wasn’t prepared to share.
All through this time Janet was editing Pottery in Australia and receiving proofs, altering, adjusting and fine tuning the magazine. She wrote How to Support Yourself as a Potter, The Potter’s Art and A Collector’s Guide to Modern Australian Ceramics as well as put together Directories for 1977and several other years to 1987. We also had fantastic Sale Days in the drive of the Turramurra home. We put signs out on the highway where there was plenty of passing traffic and together with word of mouth produced a good crowd. The sellers were always different people, depending on whom Janet had been speaking to that week. She was spontaneous and generous: it was a case of the more the merrier. I attended a discussion group which Janet also attended, lead by Peter Travis, held at the original Potters Society premises in Bourke Street, Sydney where each week our pieces was assessed by Peter. Every week Janet produced a fresh body of work – her output was prolific. Her direction was committed. I don’t know where her energy came from. There have been many books, publications, speeches and reference letters she has produced over the years. She has made it seem so easy, so gracious in her generosity of time and energy.
There was a stream of overseas visitors who came to visit at both Turramurra and Morning View. There were editors, practitioners, recent graduates looking for advice and direction also older potters who needed a sympathetic ear. There were lots of dinners after exhibition openings, meetings for planning events like those for the Potters Society, the conferences in Sydney and also events in other cities. We seemed to attend them all! We did demonstrations of throwing at various wineries around Mudgee. Meanwhile the books and magazines came out on time reflecting her capable intellectual ability.
I had two more trips to Japan with Janet always packing in as many experiences as possible. The next trip was to arrange an exhibition of her work with The Green Gallery in Arkasaka, Tokyo. I didn’t see the exhibition the following year but she told me it was received favourably and there were good sales. In 1980s there were few western ceramic artists who managed to have their own shows of their work in Japan. We met up with Alexis Tracey, who had been an apprentice with Janet in Sydney, and was now working with Yoshida Yoshihiku, near Tajimi. We headed for Kyoto where we stayed in an old ryokan that we decided had been a brothel in the 30s and definitely in the red light district. It had smoked glass windows that were quite ethereal and delicately Japanese. We were excited to see Alexis again and I know she must have been glad to see us. She had many stories to tell of life in this alien country, in seriously freezing conditions.
The main goal of the 1997 trip was to get Janet’s work to the Takekichi Gallery in Kyoto and to be at the exhibition opening of this prestigious show. Janet, Clare, her daughter, and I had our bags weighed down with pieces for the exhibition. We got to Kyoto airport struggling with our overweight luggage, customs official curious about our intentions. The reception was a resounding success with many dignitaries attending the opening including Professor Inui, Professor Yasue Arimitsu , the Senior Cultural Officer from the Australian Embassy Sachiko Tamai, and Hirokuni Katsuno a well known ceramist. The day following the opening Shiro Tsujimura invited us for lunch at his home in Nara. It was an all day affair with us sitting on the floor of his ancient farmhouse, inside the fire was burning brightly, looking outside through the window we could see the garden with his “reject” pots lying about casually, some sprinkled with camellia petals or coloured leaves fallen from the overhanging trees. We sat on the floor eating the most delicious food served out of beautiful ceramic pieces – each a different shape and size, each suitable for the appropriate food or sauce well savoured with the best sake until we could eat or drink no more. In his desire to keep us entertained he made noodles on a large wooden board ; he led us to his workshop and threw pots for us to see his relaxed technique throwing off the hump. Still on the entertainment bent he showed us his ancient tea house whence followed a hilarious demonstration of his version of the tea ceremony only to be saved by the appearance of a traditionally dressed Japanese woman who was a tea ceremony master herself and who offered a dignified performance of the honoured ritual. All the stops were out. What a never to be forgotten day.
Another of our ventures was a little house in Gulgong which we bought with Karen Wells, another of Janet’s apprentices. We called it Three Ways. We thought it would be great to offer it to potters to establish themselves in this clay rich town. 1988 seemed a good omen – bicentennial year and with our Australian fervour we found a newly graduated ceramic couple to live and work there, one of whom still lives in the district and still practices as a potter. Next to occupy the house were Mary and Duncan Ratcliffe who lived there happily for several years moving on to a nearby town taking charge of the ceramics department at the Technical College. Chester Nealie and his partner Jan lived there for several years and established their presence in Gulgong – still living nearby. About this time Janet and I started to develop an Australian porcelain made of all Australian materials, even more specifically from the Gulgong district. We tested batches of clay until we were satisfied with the product. It was good clay and it was popular with the wood firers as it produced a warm pink blush. We thought the cottage would be ideal as an outlet for our product while being made up by the local clay maker – all good on paper but unfortunately the owner of the pit was not able to commit to a regular supply of the important white clay. We still have ingredients enough for ourselves but not for commercial production.
So during 2000 while working on our porcelain clay we set off for China to check out Chinese porcelain. In Foshan there was a conference on wood-firing as well as a symposium in Jingdezhen on porcelain and of course Janet was invited to give papers on both. We were feted and entertained then sent off to enjoy the highlights of the country: visits to ceramics museums, towns specialising in ceramics, antique markets, the warriors – it would seem that the whole of China was there for our pleasure to view so much both ancient and modern work. I don’t know how much we learnt about Chinese porcelain!
We had other trips together. I had been sailing with friends on the coast of Turkey so Janet and I arranged to meet in Istanbul, where we were assailed by the vastness of the Topkapi Palace collection –shelves, tables and cupboards full to overflowing with ceramics. We enjoyed the pleasures of the Bathhouse, of the arcades, of the markets, the fantastic tiles of Ayasofya and the splendid architecture of the old city. On to Italy calling in to Grottaglie to pay a visit to Greg Daly’s show for 2nd Biennale Internazionale di Ceramica, up north to Faenza to visit Carlo Zauli who greeted Janet like a long lost lover. Then by train to stay with Claude Presset in Switzerland, who joined us on our way to Hohr-grenzhausen, Germany and the Salt Glaze competition where we had all entered salt glazed work. Again there were many of Janet’s friends who welcomed us so warmly and entertained us in restaurants and homes and the Museums of Keramik of Westerwald and of Cologne where on a sunny Sunday morning there was a wonderful classical music concert performed. We both enjoyed similar classical music, as well as a similar taste in ceramics. This was in 1989.
Even after starting her new magazine in 1990 and running the Ceramic Art and Perception Gallery in Sydney there was still the urgency to continue to make and fire pots. Because the Morning View property was the sole source of ceramic production now for Janet all work was wood-fired, which of course was her preference, she developed a different rhythm in her life. Overseas travel became more important for collecting articles and promotion of the magazines, having started yet another one, Ceramics Technical. In the past 20 years or more Janet has devoted much of her energies to their success. In her first editorial she states the magazine will be onepar excellence. This is indisputable.
I still travel to Morning View for firings, often making work there but mostly work from my own studio. The most popular kilns are the salt trolley kiln and the racing car kiln, a small anagama, which appeals because of a shorter than usual firing time – only about 40 hours.
Every three years, since 1989, we have held Clay events in Gulgong with up to 500 delegates participating. These happenings have that Hieronymus Bosch quality, I referred to earlier, the excitement, stimulation and concentration. Overseas and Australian demonstrators and lecturers fire enthusiasm in the many practitioners who collect in Gulgong. It generally takes a couple of years to pull together such an event and Janet is good at delegating the right person for the job in hand. The whole town becomes involved including the authorities, accommodations, hotels, halls, shopkeepers, schools and local artists –no one is unaffected. She is currently putting together the 2013 event.
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings – nor lose the common touch.......
I think Kipling’s couplet applies aptly to the roles Janet takes on as President of The Academy Internationale Ceramique, judge, speech maker, facilitator, editor and certainly not least important to her as a potter and demonstrator. There are also the many roles we never hear about. She has received the Australia Council Emeritus Award, Order of Australia, a Doctorate from Hobart University and a seriously important American award and more. It is remarkable the amount of diversity she has displayed.
Over the years I have been visiting Morning View the property has bloomed with many plantings of Australian natives, vegetable gardens and colourful flower beds. Many more buildings have been added – all with grand and appropriate names like The Bibliotheque, The Cathedral, The Great Hall – each to house either Janet’s ceramic work, or over 3,000 pieces of others’ ceramics or her comprehensive book collection. All so abundant!
What is beauty but joy found in all of life - Kawai