Hidden in the Titirangi bush is a group of potters who come together to celebrate what they love to do – create with clay
If there’s one trend that’s really taken off recently, it’s pottery. Eager amateurs are willing to pay upwards of $100 to get a seat at workshops that sell out in seconds. However, on the other side of this popular movement are those who have enjoyed this mindful art form for years, such as Titirangi Potters. Established in 1974 in the lounge of current member Quentin Whitehouse’s home, the once dwindling club is now thriving at its 55-member capacity, with a waiting list of 20 people hoping to gain a spot.
The tight-knit society operates on a “break even” model, with an honesty system for payments and 24-hour access for members, all of whom have their own key. The current chairperson of the club, Victoria Parsons (below), has made it her goal to evolve the group by establishing regular club nights, formal workshops and cementing the club’s position in the wider Waitākere community. Victoria chats to us about what makes Titirangi Potters so special.
What age and ability range are the club members? All ages and all abilities! To join the club, you need to be able to pot independently. This is not to say we don’t help teach each other, but there are no tutors so people need to have some idea where to start.
What are some memorable stories of the members and their work in the time you’ve been there? There are so many interesting members, all locals. A really special memory was last year when Elma Soulje, the wife of Chris Soulje – one of the long-standing members – died. Elma had been a part of the club for decades too and was a very creative potter. Her funeral was in lockdown so we couldn’t attend. Instead, we had an evening where Chris brought along some of her work to share. Her children came along and probably thought it would be a 15-minute thing, however we discussed her work, the technicalities of how she got certain things to not explode and how she used glazes, for over an hour. It was a really lovely way to remember her.
What does being a member mean? We have wheels, kilns, glazes, clay and workspaces that everyone can access. Members share ideas and skills; when you come into the studio, there is generally someone else there. People will see you struggling with a technique, and give some tips, or offer to come and pot with you to teach you something new. It’s all informal and done as a kindness. What you find is that people who are good at something really love to share that skill; when I started I was quite nervous asking anyone anything. Now, the culture is very much discuss and learn.
What makes the club unique? It is a simple studio where members have full access. We have an affordable yearly membership, which gives us 24-hour access (we have a young doctor who sometimes comes in at 3am after night shift to relax), so it’s run very much to cover costs. Simple values, honesty systems – it all works.
What does the club do for the community? We offer a beginners class each term and every year we do a fundraiser for the community. The charities we choose each year have a link to a member. We do our ‘bowl for…’ model where we make bowls, and sell them with soup in them (and then the eater keeps the bowl). We also open the studio regularly for the Deaf Education Group, local playcentres and schools and retirement villages to come in and have a go.
Tell us about your kilns. During 2020, we had two ageing kilns that were on their last legs. We arranged grant submissions and were very grateful to be supported by Foundation North and the Waitākere Local Board. We now have two brand new kilns. We ran a naming competition in the local community for ‘the twins’ – they are named Tahi and Rua. Plus, we have an older gas kiln, named Kilny McKilnface.
Why do you think pottery is so popular at the moment? I think the mindfulness mega trend is the main driver for interest. When I joined about a decade ago, the classes were half full. Now we have full classes and locals who are desperate for membership. Pottery is repetitive and process driven (well, throwing on the wheel is). This discipline is welcomed by people living lives in flux.
What is happening in pottery right now? Wonky is in. The big chains are selling items that look misshapen. When shopping for pottery, or dining out, always look at the bottom of the plate or mug and check for a pottery mark. If you don’t see it, it’s mass produced. A potter’s mark is their signature. Some of our potters make plates for SidArt [Auckland fine dining restaurant] and eateries in Paris (high breakage rate in transit, though).
Interview by: Bea Taylor. Photography by: Kate Battersby.