Steve Williams – Focus Magazine August 2018

Posted by: Dolly Flat Studio | On: August 6, 2018 | In:

Steve Williams’ pottery is natural and earthy, with a tactile quality that almost begs you to pick it up. The pottery is produced through a process known as woodfiring – and helping to add to the unique finished quality of these pieces is the fact that the clay and wood used in their creation is sourced locally. Steve’s work is currently leading him on the path of some interesting collaborations …

Hi Steve. What led you to settle in Dollys Flat … and how long has it been “home”?

In 2014 we began the search for a block of land that offered a bush setting, natural materials for clay making/woodfiring, proximity to a village and of course not too far from the beach. Dollys Flat Studio is 7km from Wingham, a lively town with a lovely mix of talented people, history, natural beauty, food and music.  In Feb 2017, after two years of owner building, Deb and I moved from Tuncurry.  Our Dollys Flat build provided opportunity to pull ideas together for a modest place of making and living, powered by the sun and nurtured by rain.

What are your origins as a potter – how/when did this art form become a part of your life?

In the late seventies I trained as a high school art teacher, majoring in ceramics. I fell for this material that was playful, plastic and responsive. A material, that when heated to high temperature is transformed into a ‘synthetic rock’.  That allure continues to captivate and inspire.  I use a 90 year old kick wheel for a lot of my work.  This ‘off-the-grid tool’ encourages quietness and efficiency.  Objects thrown on the wheel are completed in one sitting, that is, the base of the forms are pushed, rolled and compressed in the soft state to form a foot or base.  Postgraduate studies in design in the late eighties solidified a pathway into woodfiring and the use of native and local materials.

You use wood to fire your kiln. What’s unique about this process and the way in which it helps to develop the qualities of your finished work?

High temperature Woodfiring (1320 degrees celcius, white heat) is an atmospheric process where the drafted ash and vapours from wood combustion are deposited on the forms inside the kiln to create a ‘natural’ glaze.  It is amazing that wood ash, the grey powdered residue from combustion of wood, contains glass forming oxides … silica, calcium, potassium, iron and others. The oxide composition of the ash varies greatly depending on the locality and growing conditions of the tree.  The surface of each fired piece tells a story of flame path, heat work and kiln atmosphere over 2 days of firing.

Whilst it may be labour intensive to make clays, the satisfaction of translating effort and native materials into a truly local product makes it all worthwhile. Tests of new found material for application as clay, pigment or glaze find their way into every firing.
What types of materials do you use to create your work – and where do you source them?

The raw materials used to make the clays are sourced from a number of locations nearby.  I’m always on the hunt for new ‘native ‘materials to extend the local palette and conversations with local earthmovers and brickmakers has been fruitful. Sourcing and using local materials translates into an ‘Australian character’ in the fired work and the fired colours mirror the palette of colours in the surrounding bush. I have recently bought into service a jaw crushing machine to refine course materials.  This is a 1960s machine once used to process fluoride for Sydney’s drinking water.  Whilst it may be labour intensive to make clays, the satisfaction of translating effort and native materials into a truly local product makes it all worthwhile.  Tests of new found material for application as clay, pigment or glaze find their way into every firing.

White Mahogony, Spotted Gum, Casuarina and Iron Bark sourced from our 130 acre property are used to fire the kiln.  Each of these timbers generates different heat value and ash glaze quality.  Clearing for the build generated a good supply of kiln fuel.

Your career background includes working as Head Teacher at Great Lakes TAFE Art and Design School. What was your focus as a teacher then – and what’s your focus now, when you offer workshops/teaching sessions at your studio?

The introduction of Aboriginal design training in 2010 was certainly a focus in my time at Great Lakes TAFE, Art and Design School. Learners prototyped a range of objects within the fabric, print, furniture, digital and ceramic disciplines.  I have a passion for empowering learners to design from personal triggers, to build direction and to refine through testing and making.

Introducing learners to the magic of clay through classes is an exciting direction for Dollys Flat Studio.  We are running one day taster sessions that introduce first timers to   a range of handbuilding, wheelthrowing and surface treatment techniques.  A number of workshops and classes for those with some experience are in the pipeline.

You’re working on some interesting collaborations currently too. Tell us a bit about Nick Gardner, the Hampden Deli, and how you’re working together …

Nick is a brilliant young chef with a serious commitment to quality, local produce and the handmade.  Originally from Forster, Nick won the Sydney Morning Herald Young Chef of the Year Award in 2013 and has worked at Quay, Tetsuya’s, French Laundry and a number of Michelin Starred restaurants around Europe. Nick and his wife Stevie opened the Hamden Deli Dining and School in Kangaroo Valley early this year.  Nick has always preferred the use of handmade, artisan objects for food presentation and the dining experience.  Nick and Stevie, together with Dollys Flat Studio, have designed a dining event entitled ‘Fired Earth and Canapes’ to be held in early August.  At a more local level, I would love to engage with foodies and producers for a unique handmade object and dining collaboration …  local produce, local clays, local makers.

Some of your work was recently on display at the Makers Gallery Australia (in Queensland). What upcoming exhibitions and/or workshops do you have planned?

Complimenting their online gallery/shop, Makers Gallery Australia in Brisbane are pushing beyond the traditional gallery set up and creating smaller pop up displays in collaboration with architects and designers. These popups provide opportunity for new audiences to view and enjoy handmade objects in relaxed, inspiring settings, alongside furniture and paintings.  I am working on an installation piece for ‘Manifest’ a juried exhibition of 20 Australian ceramist for The National Ceramic conference in Hobart 2019.  In October I will be conducting workshops with local Aboriginal artists to explore and develop ceramic forms. This is a Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance project to coincide with a touring exhibition of ceramics.

I am really enjoying sharing Dollys Flat Studio with interested learners through one day tasters and one day monthly clay sessions.  We recently hosted a family birthday celebration … a day of clay making, food, music and laughs.

In October I will be conducting workshops with local Aboriginal artists to explore and develop ceramic forms. This is a Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance project to coincide with a touring exhibition of ceramics.
Are readers able to visit your studio space … and what’s the best way to contact you/find out more about your work?

We open the studio for tours and sales on two weekends each year, mid June and early December.  These weekends provide opportunity for people to tour the studio and kiln and to earn a little about clay preparation, making and firing.  Enjoy a cuppa using a handmade cup made from local clay.  www.dollysflatstudio.com is a good way to connect and stay in touch with the happenings at Dollys.  phone. 0437869037.