As a young potter studying in Canberra during the 1970s, I was conscious of what I saw as a strong stylistic difference between the pots being made in Victoria and those being made in NSW, especially the pots made by the graduates of the East Sydney Technical College, (now known as the National Art School). If the leading influence on pottery at that time was Leach’s Anglo-Oriental style, my feeling was that pottery in Victoria was more influenced by the Anglo in Anglo-Oriental (and maybe more influenced by European ceramics), while Sydney-based potters studying under Peter Rushforth displayed more of the Oriental in their work. For me, the Sydney style seemed to be based around two ideas: firstly, a process-driven virtuosity of the wheel (where the wheel was used as a design tool), and secondly, an interest in the clay surface itself rather than the ceramic form simply serving as a canvas for the application of decoration.
Obviously this is an oversimplification of what was occurring at the time, but it hints at the sources of influence that have guided Janet Mansfield’s potting career. Mansfield says of this time, ‘With Peter Rushforth as the teacher and mentor, we received a mix of mingei and Leach, and admired the rebels too.’ At this time many of the most exciting experiments in ceramics were occurring in the US at the hands of the ‘rebels’ – West coast potters such as Peter Voulkos and Paul Soldner who, with others, started what became known as the ‘Abstract Expression Ceramics’ movement. These artists, and others who followed, were influenced from within the world of pottery by 16th century Japanese tea wares and Picasso’s ceramics, and from outside pottery by modern jazz with its ‘unpredictable syncopation, occasional dissonance, free form structure’, and ‘the spirit of Zen Buddhism that had permeated California after the 1950s’.
Mansfield first travelled to Japan in 1970, leading a Ceramic Study Group tour. In 1977 she spent two months in Japan, initially based in Tokoname but travelling and looking at different kilns. Later she again led a tour group to Japan visiting other kiln sites, including Shigaraki and Imbe (Bizen). So Mansfield’s introduction to the world of Japanese pottery occurred gradually over a considerable period of time. However, Japan was not her only direct influence. In 1975 she was a resident at the Anderson Ranch Art Centre in Colorado (at the suggestion of Paul Soldner), where she was introduced to salt-glazing. Mansfield had been interested in raku firing as it was practised by Soldner and others in the US, but found that salt-glazing was more was more likely to give her the outcomes she desired. This fortuitous introduction to salt-glazing started her on a path producing the types of pottery that Jack Troy coined ‘kiln-glazed ceramics’ – the vapour-glazed ceramics produced in salt-glazed and woodfired kilns. Mansfield later adopted the technique of ash-glazed ware produced by the natural interaction of ash and clay, from firing her own woodfired anagama kiln based upon the Japanese Bizen and Shigaraki traditions.
The aesthetic foundation of Mansfield’s pottery can be found in this combination of influences. In the spirit of ##mingei##, Mansfield’s work is made to be used. In the spirit of Zen, her action of making on the wheel is quick and decisive, as is her incised surface decoration. Her throwing is fluid; the rim and the whole form can be seen as an analogy of the brushwork circle drawn by a Zen calligraphy master – a record of the moment of its making. The forms are influenced by Japanese pottery but filtered through the prism of the Leach tradition and the Abstract Expressionist ceramics from the US, but, ultimately, they are personal; they are Janet Mansfield.
When Mansfield built an anagama kiln at her property at Gulgong in 1987, her work began to more directly engage with the aesthetics of Japanese ceramics, in particular, the aesthetics that developed during the 16th century in the restricted space of the Japanese tea ceremony.
51 In correspondence with the author, 2012
 Clark, G. ‘Abstract Expressionism Revisited, Part One, the Otis Years 1954 to 1959’ in ##Shards: Garth Clark on Ceramic Art##, edited by John Pagliano pp 274-6
 Troy, J. ##Wood-fired Stoneware and Porcelain##, Chilton Book Co., 1995
In a time of social turmoil and civil war in Japan, an aesthetic that rejected the perfection of the work of the Chinese potters of the Sung and Ming dynasties in favour of the use of local materials and domestic needs made in Shigaraki and Bizen was introduced into the developing tea ceremony. Initially the pots used in this way were ‘found objects’; that is, those woodfired, unglazed pots made for rural use and considered of no value that became recognised by tea masters as containing a beauty worthy of being introduced into the tearoom.
The aesthetic that developed from this is known as ##wabi##, and consists of three aspects: a simple, unpretentious beauty; an imperfect, irregular beauty; and an austere, stark beauty. Mansfield’s woodfired works display these aesthetic qualities – austere and complex, and, at the same time, simple, with irregular falls of natural ash glaze. With little or no applied glaze they are about the clay, the fire, and the marks left by her hands during the making.
Typically, Mansfield’s anagama-fired pottery receives ash deposits that melt during the firing to form a glossy glaze. The surfaces that do not receive this natural glazing develop flashing effects, which, with Mansfield’s Gulgong clays, can produce a rich red or dark burnished-leather appearance. Pots that become covered with ash and charcoal near the firebox build up a rough surface of less molten ash and this will sometimes give a rich black ‘scorched’ quality as carbon is trapped in these deposits.
Mansfield’s work often exhibits runs of molten ash and these often end in a round drop of glass. These ash runs follow the pull of gravity, so on her tumble stacked pots the ash runs horizontally around the form. Rich flashing can also occur between the tumble-stacked forms, and the wads used to separate the pots leave contrasting pale areas. Cracks that occur during the firing are judged aesthetically and not considered a reason to reject the work.
Although these qualities of anagama firing can be defined within the tradition of woodfired pottery in Japan, the presence of these effects in no way makes Mansfield’s work ‘Japanese’. Mansfield makes the point that in the three solo exhibitions she had in both Kyoto and Tokyo, as well as several group shows in which she has participated in Japan, ‘the reaction from the Japanese collectors is that the work looks Australian, maybe because of the high feet, the colours, the shapes; I don't know.’ 
I’m not sure if there is such a thing as an ‘Australian aesthetic’ in relation to woodfired ceramics, I am perhaps too close to the subject to be able to have an opinion on the matter. However, it is clear that there is an aesthetic unity to the work that Mansfield creates – an aesthetic whole that is, knowingly or subconsciously, driven by many aspects of the Japanese aesthetic of wabi. As mentioned before, Mansfield’s pots are made with an economy of movement, at the same time dynamic and decisive, and this shows in her thrown forms. Sourcing material from her local area, the district of Gulgong, Mansfield has utilised a clay body that fires beautifully in the anagama: a clay that is neither Bizen nor Shigaraki, but is Janet Mansfield.
In contrast to the pine and softwoods used by many potters, particularly in Japan, Mansfield uses the hardwoods from her district that give different qualities of ash fall and a darker coloured natural ash glaze. And although Mansfield states that ‘the pots I like best are mostly Japanese’, her own pots are an amalgam of her many influences, with undoubtedly the most important contributory factors being her energy and her own artistic creativity.
Ian Jones is a woodfire potter from Gundaroo, NSW, Australia.
He is currently a candidate in the PhD program at the Canberra School of Art, Australian National University.
 Haga Koshiro, ‘The Wabi Aesthetic through the Ages’, Paul Varley and Isao Kumakura (eds). ##Tea in Japan##, Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989, pp 196-200
 In correspondence with the author, 2012