Far from ordinary, Central Otago ceramic artist Marion Mewburn creates fantastic and idiosyncratic teapots, featuring intricate and sometimes hidden elements.
"For me, a teapot is something which is used every day. So it must be completely functional - it must be well-balanced, must pour perfectly, and feel comfortable to hold. Which means all the functional elements - spout, lid and handle - must have specific characteristics in order for them to work properly. There are some 'rules' which can't be broken ... though it's always fun (and challenging) to see just how far I can s-t-r-e-t-c-h them.
So I start with a completely functional teapot, then embroider it with textures, relief work, structural and mobile elements, often with the aim of capturing humorous, poignant or dysfunctional moments in life."
You create the most wonderfully whimsical teapots, that are totally functional too! Where do your ideas and inspirations come from when you create your teapots?
In 1986 I bought a really cool ceramic teapot in Greece and by the time it had survived a year in Germany and a year in Australia, it got broken here in Millers Flat. So when I started potting, all I wanted to do was to recreate that teapot. Which led to me getting obsessed with making teapots. For 25 years now I have had this feeling that the next teapot I make is going to be the perfect one. Which of course will never happen, probably for the reason that I don’t even really know what that would be exactly! I love throwing on the wheel most of all. And the challenge of making all the different bits come together. The process of throwing calms me in a meditative sort of way, and I love it. Over the years though, my teapot bodies have become rather a canvas for my stories.
If I enter exhibitions, I use this opportunity to grapple with issues which bother me, and I make a story out of it on my pot (therapy!). Most stories on my pots are happy stories, and I suspect I am that girl on my pots, an ideal version of me (one that suits polka dot dresses!! … and has geese and lambs and hares etc as pets) as it is, we have lots of chickens and a cat.
You are based down in central Otago, does your environment inspire what you create?
Everything I see all around me are green hills. Just green hills and open Central Otago skies. And sheep and cows. Lambs and calves right now (as I am writing this, two little belted Galloway calves are chasing each other through the field next door). There are wild geese up the creek, which I get to see if I walk up far enough. There are ducks everywhere. And hares and rabbits at night. And of course the birds!!!
You teapots and ceramic works often depict animals. Do you have pets and animals of your own?
I love watching the animals 'do their thing'. It makes me forget the troubled world we live in. And this is what I recreate on my pots. As I make them, I am in this world, where everything is just fine and dandy and it’s always spring… (again - therapy!)
What does a regular day in your studio look like?
I like to sleep in in the mornings and dawdle, so I work in the afternoons mostly. I make my teapots in batches of 6 (my electric kiln holds 12 pots). So on day one I work in total silence, throwing the bodies, and making some bits to go on it. On day two I turn the pots and make more bits to stick on it the next day. On day three there is loud music (60s and 70s, or when I need to get lots done I listen to Rammstein, a German heavy metal band) and that’s when I put all the bits together and make all the little flowers to stick on after. And then day one, two and three starts over. After that I spend a few days painting what needs to get painted. During the drying and firing periods I have time to play and make other things (like jugs and sugar mummies), presently I am playing with clay which was delivered to us as “lovely topsoil” many years ago… I spray my pots with oxides/stains and then clear glaze. I fire to 1200°C. The process from start to finish takes about three weeks.
Is there an area that is special to you near your home, or somewhere in New Zealand?
I travelled a lot when I was young. These days I rather like being home! We have a lovely cottage (with a grass roof and an open fire) which we built ourselves, big gardens and lots of fruit trees, the chickens (and lots of eggs) of course, a creek at the bottom of the property where we swim in summer. This and the friends we share it with is my tūrangawaewae, this is where I belong now.
And of course the odd trip to town (Dunedin) for some cultural entertainment and/or to meet with artist girlfriends and go to savemart to buy more lovely linen dresses for my collection… always bypassing the polkadot ones, because they just don’t look right on me. (This is why the girl on the teapot is getting to wear them, lucky her!)
To view Marion Mewburns ceramic works, click here