Daytrippin’ & (ceramic) creepin’
Something that artisan-y people seem to do is visit other artisan-y people on their holidays. They even arrange their travels so as to do this - even to visit people they don’t actually know.
As a recovering lawyer, I consider this decidedly odd. In legal circles people tend to holiday as far away from any mention of the law as they can possibly get. (Native language other than English? Cheap alcohol? Limited email access? Done.)
They certainly do not do ‘tours’ of other legal establishments. Possibly this is due to the difference between product(ivity) and purpose. Possibly it is simply that, were you to attempt a tour of law firms, you probably wouldn’t get past reception.
I mention this because, on my most recent trip to my dad’s house in country Victoria, we stopped off in Newstead, a tiny village comprising a single main street replete with a classic car repair shop, antique-nick-knackery and an actually excellent coffee shop. There was also a little window that said ‘Ceramics Studio and Gallery’.
It was clearly closed but I am also clearly nosey so I meandered around the side only to stumble across a lady (subsequently introduced as Sarah) packing a kiln. Although we had clearly interrupted her morning she sweetly invited us in, showed us around and talked as through the various glazes and materials she uses on her lovely wheel-thrown functional porcelain ware. She also recommended that, were we in the vicinity long, we should call in at the Castlemaine studio of her ex-teacher Phil.
Luckily, Castlemaine has the best bookshop, so we went there the following day and stopped in on Phil. We called ahead, would it be ok? We were in the area, just wanted to have a quick look. Of course of course, anytime.
Other than the stringent cleanness of both Phil’s workspace and the lines of his delicate forms, I was repeatedly struck by the generosity of inviting complete strangers into your workspace and answering their probing questions on process. Sure, people making their living thus have to be nice to customers. But we didn’t buy anything at either establishment (more a lack of means than desire) and there was no awkward suggestion that we should.
Aside from donating their & expertise to curious & impoverished students, they also each provided a further suggested activity – Sara to visit Phil, and Phil to visit the retrospective of the permanent collection on at the Bendigo Art Gallery.
The next day, then, we drove over to the bustling hub of Bendigo. I know I’ve said this before but I am consistently struck by the difference in towns in New South Wales as opposed to Victoria, the combination of old gold money and more intimate scale (of the state) infuses Victorian towns with a sense of richness and connectivity that NSW seldom offers. Bendigo is a fairly grand example; wide tree lined streets with trams down the middle and facades straight out of the 19th century.
It was a truly beautiful autumn day, which of course enhances the halcyon light of my recollection; rays of golden sun warming the grand sandstone steps of the Post Office, still in its original building, built when post offices looked like court houses which in turn were very big, very grand and slightly gothic.
Inside, most of the mysterious gothic has been replaced by halogen globes, glass display cases, commemorative mugs and other tat particular to mail shops and the very different mysteries of a nationalised-but-privatised post service. Much more what we’re used to in NSW. Take the first right into a dimly lit and forgotten alcove, however, and you have the Post Office Gallery, a shrouded space filled with treasures.
The show, entitled ‘Composing Objects,’ claimed to explore the ‘innate creative desire to arrange three-dimensional objects.’ Weirdly… it did. Featuring everything from 19th century blown glass on inlaid native wood cabinets and early 20th century still life oil paintings to more abstracted forms and contemporary ceramics, it was a charming little show, well thought-out and coherent without being the least bit dull.
I was similarly impressed with the main body of the retrospective housed in the Bendigo Art Gallery space itself. Grouped around chosen themes (The Allegorical Tale, Opulent Embellishments, Constructed and Spiritual Environments, Naked or Nude?, Essence and Character) the selections were fresh and the approach welcoming to the viewer. Art galleries in main cities (Sydney & Melbourne I am, perhaps a little unfairly, looking at you) tend to presume from patrons a certain amount of knowledge and background that can feel exclusionary, even if you are reasonably well versed.
In contrast, this show presumed nothing and presented much; the curatorship was playful and kind to the viewer, showcasing works both to their own advantage and to draw out interesting comparisons with their neighbours.
It was really very good. The standout for me was a fridge, a Kelvinator, sitting in a corner of The Allegorical Tale room, next to some truly marvellous indigenous carved spirit statues (all spindly legs and white dotted torsos). Titled ‘Leda and the Swan,’ it was painted by Arthur Boyd for a Women’s Weekly competition that invited artists to paint fridges for an exhibition entitled ‘Art in the Everyday’. It was at once charming, absurd, magical and deeply Australian. Had I a crane, plenty of time and fewer morals, it would have come home with me. (This is my dream: function and form).
Although I’ve only been twice, both times I’ve been deeply impressed by both the collection and the curatorship of the Bendigo Art Gallery. So I’m sure I’ll be back – and not just because this time we sampled the gallery restaurant. Cheese board, excellent!
Bendigo Art Gallery is located at 42 View St, Bendigo VIC 3550 and is open everyday except Monday, 10am-5pm.
Phil Elson’s studio is located at 89 Templeton St, Castlemaine VIC 3450 & Sarah Koschak’s is at 6A Panmure St, Newstead VIC 3462. Best to call ahead with both… or just mosey up and have a look like we did!