November is BAYCLAY – the annual exhibition of work of this long-established pottery club – it’s the first thing President Wendy Forsyth tells me (that’s after Secretary Jane has given me a cup of tea and piece of cake).

Years of “hard yakka” mean the Club owns the property and equipment at 13 Bethlehem Road, Bethlehem. It’s a like a little group house just round the corner from the SH2 roundabout and almost opposite the entrance to the Palmers Garden Centre. There are parking spaces on the roadway directly in front of the Club and also parking on their own property. The building has its own gallery with work for display and sale (more later).

This is not a beginners Club – they can refer you for tuition elsewhere. They do have visits from local schools and recently hosted the Omokoroa Arts Society. While there are no strict entry levels I’m told “you need to be familiar with equipment and understand clay and its principles”. I laugh when one of the potters says “people come and think they can make a dinner set on the second day!”

So the Club is really a collective of potters of a range of experiences and styles. There are currently about 60 members of whom there is a “hardcore” of about 25 and some master potters working from their own studios. There are two Club days Tuesday and Thursday and the Gallery is open from 10am to 3pm and when the flags are out. However the Club is so popular there are people working there on Wednesdays and Fridays and after 3 months members can have their own key.

This morning while the potters have been working they’ve also been discussing a weekend workshop taken by Greg Barron of Northland (Greg will be the guest potter and exhibition judge for this year’s Bayclay). There’s also a cluster of clay “ladies with attitude” on the shelves opposite me like Tauranga’s version of the terracotta warriors. They’re the result of a recent seminar/workshop and they are waiting for brightly coloured raku glazing. I think they look amazing as they are. They tell me they’re always learning new ways with clay. Some let the inspiration take them. Others are planners and organise their work schedule. One of the potters shows me a thick book with designs and text of future work – it’s all meticulously presented “like a senior art student’s workboard” There’s laughter – this potter was a teacher. Today they’re quite honest that it can be an expensive craft and that they generally do not recoup their costs from sales.

Jane takes me on the tour – the kilns, the workroom and drying shelves and into the Gallery. When I go in I’m instantly mortified that I’ve never bothered to come here before. There’s a wide range of work and styles and for the quality of the work the prices are more than reasonable; low in fact. Even though it’s a comparatively compact space there’s a lot to look at, including several original paintings and collages. There are large lustre pieces which would be significant decor features, traditional or classic pieces and witty pieces with pictures and text on them. At the back shelf are several shiny off-white pieces like sponges or kina. They are the work of President Wendy Forsyth. Wendy says you first hole punch flat clay and then create the individual shapes. It’s delicate work because the overall stability of the clay is undermined by the created holes.

Before I go I sit and flick through “The Bethlehem Pottery Club Story” written by Val Sinclair and Norma Hudson in 1999. It’s a minutely detailed history of the development of the club – dedication to the development of the club epitomised by ‘The Year of the Cake Stall’.

Interested in the Club take a look at Pottery Club

Rosemary Balu



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