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Something at Mary's One Session Pottery Wheel Throwing Class

Home > Sydney > Art | Art and Craft Centres | Day Trips | Escape the City | Girls' Day Out
by Erica Enriquez (subscribe)
http://mylocalworld.com.au/
Published April 5th 2017
Learn the basics of pottery in a tranquil Bundeena studio
There's a lot that can be said about creating something from nothing, and in an age where most of us "create" in front of a computer screen mainly by uploading thoughtful memes into the world (really just quotes that are meant to empower, but only serve to induce anxiety and "undeservedness"), in exchange for likes and follows, the idea of moulding and producing something tangible isn't something a lot of people these days get to experience.

The antithesis to that is pottery. Taking an unforgiving hard slab of clay, throwing it (that is the term!) onto a pottery wheel and moulding it into something not only useful, but also beautiful. That's what you encounter at Something at Mary's.

Canadian artist Marion Stehouwer started the pottery studio about 11 years ago, after originally coming from a corporate background. Before she opened Something at Mary's (the name, I'm assuming, though I never asked, comes from the street the studio is located on – Mary Street), Marion was accepted onto the Bundeena Maianbar Art Trail, an event that opens up local artists' working to the public, get to know them and acquire their pieces. "It made sense to open up my studio, not just to display my works but also to encourage others to explore this amazing medium," Marion explains.

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Marion Stehouwer from Something at Mary's. Image courtesy of Something at Mary's

The Something at Mary's studio is located in Bundeena, about 29 km south of the Sydney CBD. No matter where you're coming from, be it in the Sydney city area itself, in the Sutherland Shire where the studio is located or even further like the Northern suburbs of Sydney, getting to the studio is like an exercise in anticipation. Getting the ferry from Cronulla station or driving through the Royal National Park to arrive at Marion's home studio gives students the impression you're about to do something unique.

For the class I take, Marion teaches us the basics, making just three items which she will then fire and lacquer/paint herself. When I arrive at the studio (after a pretty spectacular drive through the national park), I notice there are three other people there for the same class. They are three friends; all from Sydney's southern suburbs, and one of them tells me they just wanted "to try something different". We wait patiently for the class to start, in her quiet garden, making friends with Marion's little dog, who greeted us with curiosity before zigzagging back to inside with Marion's display of artwork which are also for sale. There's a few pleasantries exchanged but we're all eager to get cracking.

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Tranquil and peaceful, the studio is the perfect place for creating art

"Many people who come and take classes with me comment on how therapeutic and relaxing it is". That's perfect for anyone wanting a welcoming break from the drudgery of office life, or life in general. Classes are small and intimate, with Marion offering full attention to each student. That's not always the case for many classes like this, and is the point of difference for Something at Mary's. The studio also caters for large team building classes, or events like Hen's and birthday parties. For larger groups, Marion hires trusted artists to assist her, whilst her partner, John, manages the administrative side of the business.

"When you take one of my classes you will learn what that really means, and what took me 6 or more months to figure out, you'll be doing in an hour. My classes are small and intimate, and you get my total attention. That's just one of the things that makes Something at Mary's different".

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Utensils used in making clay pieces


Marion studied psychology at University, where she took some Art therapy classes using clay as the medium, and from there her love of the art form grew, even as she travelled extensively around the world.

Moving to Australia didn't stop her desire to learn about clay. She started studying at Gymea TAFE, where she honed her skills in the technical aspects of clay (firing methods, glaze development, decorative techniques etc.) for two and a half years. She's since attended numerous workshops and retreats, which make her a very knowledgeable teacher.

Marion leads us to her little workshop, filled to the brim with clay, utensils, books, materials, you name it. It's exactly what you'd imagine an artist's studio to be. If you think that you'd get a lot of information in a short amount of time, don't worry. Marion is thorough, but not overwhelmingly so. She says, "I condense what took me over 6 months to learn in a couple of hours. The traditional approach to pottery is quite hands off, and you are expected to learn by watching a demonstration by the teacher and then learn through your mistakes. The approach I take is very different".

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Marion's blue marbled glaze tea set. Image courtesy of Something at Mary's


Marion talks a little about the clay we'd be working with, and tries to get us to break down the clay, kneading it like dough, although it's much, much harder! Marion tells us it's like using your core strength, and breaking the clay down so it's soft enough to use is very important! Because she has adjusted her teaching technique to suit a workshop style class, Marion places a lot of emphasis on stability within the body, so that your hand and body positions are placed to support the clay and ultimately, a spinning pottery wheel. The emphasis on using our body's core is set up from the very beginning.

She says, "One of many things I love about clay and porcelain is that there is always something new to learn and to explore. I don't take myself seriously in that I'm open to trying anything and everything, so expect the unexpected is my general theme".

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
All items help to create finished pieces


She leads us outside her workshop to a set of four pottery wheels, and here's where the fun really starts. I'd never sat at a pottery wheel before (actually, maybe once, in high school, but we mostly hand-built items because our teachers didn't trust not to muck up and start mud-slinging the clay all over the place), so even just sitting at a proper piece of pottery equipment was exciting. Marion taught us how to control the clay we'd be forming into something on the wheel, using the palm of your hand and your thumb. It's weird at first, thinking that something spinning on a wheel will turn into anything you want it to, but it can, and it's fascinating to see a shape developing from your own hand. I dawned on me that this is exactly what I fascinated me about pottery and clay, turning nothing into something, and that this will probably appeal to a lot of other people, too.

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Pottery wheels for the students


However, that was all very well and good, but my first piece turned into something completely different from the other three attendees. I think I handled the clay a bit too much (note to others, if you're one of those people who loved Play-Doh as a kid, or just mucking around with Blu-Tack as an adult, this will probably happen to you too!), but luckily Marion was able to salvage my piece, and, luckier still, my classmates were all good-natured enough to laugh with me. Throughout the workshop, and while working on all our pieces, Marion made sure we were always aware of how we were sitting and holding/cupping/handling the clay, making sure the clay didn't dry out, and making sure, at all times, we were having fun.

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Working on our pieces, with Marion's help

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
More assistance with Marion was greatly needed!


Our next pieces built up the skills we learnt earlier, although each time, someone else would master a "new" technique (i.e. create something we weren't actually supposed to) and have to be saved by Marion's deft hands! Even with all the rookie mistakes, the fun of creating, being in a safe, home studio and surrounded by peace and quiet in a bushland setting makes the workshop very enjoyable. Much like a cooking class, a pottery class at Something at Mary's ends with a sense of accomplishment. Marion explains, "Everyone is amazed when they finish a class and have something that they made themselves and can use".

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
We were all beginners at the workshop, so all mistakes were part of the fun!

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Carefully, carefully ...


If there's any doubt in anyone's mind about how working with clay can be a memorable experience, not just in the making of it but in the receiving of something made from clay, Marion shared a story about a metre-tall commissioned piece she did for a client. "The present was for his wife", she explained, "but he wanted to have all of the kids and grandkids to make their mark on it. So just before Christmas he brought everyone over and I had them all put their hand prints all over this large pot, and wrote their names under it, then glazed and fired it. It was such a thoughtful gift, and his wife was very moved by her very special present".

Something at Mary's, Bundeena, Pottery, Clay, workshop, art, courses
Finished products, waiting to be fired in the kiln
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*Erica Enriquez was invited as a guest
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Why? A great place to learn the basics of ceramics and pottery in a fun, tranquil environment
When: Monday—Sunday: 10:00am–4:00pm
Phone: (02) 9523 3758
Where: 8 Mary Street Bundeena, NSW 2230
Cost: Call (02) 9523 3758 for pricing, or email info@somethingatmarys.com
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