Judy Ringland-Stewart

Judy Ringland-Stewart

Pretty and petite

Judy’s flamenco design

Leaving work at 2.00pm on a chilly Dunedin afternoon I wandered past all the 50% off sales in George St and headed down Stuart St to meet Judy Ringland-Stewart. Judy was ‘on duty’ at the Stuart St Potters Co-op but with winter being the quiet season for the gallery we were able to have an uninterrupted chat.

We hadn’t met before so a lot of my questions initiated sidetracking and backtracking to bring me up to speed. Religion peppered our conversation, it’s obviously an important part in Judy’s life. And then we had a chat about our families, our backgrounds, good books………and Judy guided me around the gallery telling me a little about the 11 other potters. Several times I gently reminded Judy this chat was about her – she had a canny ability to try to move the topic away from herself!

WNMS – Let’s start with your background Judy
Well I didn’t work until the children (3 boys and a girl) were older. I did some door to door research work but I was abysmal at that – you’ve got to be a special character and it just wasn’t me. Then I worked in a pet shop/garden shop for a while but I was really looking for something that would be fulfilling for me.

But first, way back in 1976 I went to adult classes run by Otago Polytech’s Art School, remember when they ran excellent adult education courses?  I went to a weekly ceramics class. There was a group of us who would re-enrol each year. We all got on very well.  I think I went for four years – it was terrific. Then I left it for a while. I think it was 96, gosh that’s  20 years isn’t it. Anyway in November 1996 I decided I’d make all the family a bowl for a Christmas present. My kick wheel was in the passage – the children grew up around it, they played around it, it was just another toy. And my kiln, that was in the laundry. I didn’t know where my life was going and then one morning while I was making the bowls, it just hit me. I remember waking my husband and telling him– I wanted to go to Art School, to really learn about ceramics. This was so out of the blue but he was fully supportive. There is a quote from Goethe saying  “ The moment you definitely commit yourself, then providence also moves. All sorts of things occur to help which would not have otherwise happened.”

I just loved Art School – the first year was like being at adult  kindergarten – all these toys for me to play with. It was an excellent course, ( at our adult education classes the glazes were all there and it wasn’t so demanding) we were given all the tools and technical information needed to be a ceramic artist. I used, and still do, the kick wheel – it really influences what I make. Everyone else was either making ceramics by hand or using electric wheels but I don’t want to move on or away from the kick wheel, I love it.

I set off to get a diploma in ceramic arts. First year was euphoric, second year I placed too much pressure on myself so it wasn’t so great and the third year, that was the best. Madeleine Child, my tutor, had a huge influence on me, taught me to be less judgmental. After that I decided to take a year off, concentrate on our new venture – gardening at Selwyn College. And then I returned to art school for my graduate year. I specialised in salt firing and glazing. So in 2001 I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the Otago Polytechnic School of Art as probably one of their oldest graduates.

Teapots that are definitely ‘my cup of tea’

WNMS –  So when and where was your first exhibition?
At graduation at Polytechnic.

WNMS –  Do you remember your first sale?
I sold a cup, or maybe two, to another student at Polytechnic – that $25.00 I kept for ages.

WNMS –  What was your best exhibition –in terms of enjoyment?
Well three years ago I was invited to be a keynote speaker at the National Potters Conference in Wellington. I think the organisers suddenly realised they had all these speakers, even internationals, but they were male. When they were trying to think of a female someone spotted one of my cups and it just seemed I was an easy answer. Well no it wasn’t quite like that, but there I was with my kick wheel and all these other potters, some with hitech design systems. I so enjoyed it, a great few days, brilliant. So what was the question? Oh yes, that was my most enjoyable exhibition – at the Wellington conference.

WNMS – Have you travelled outside New Zealand?
Yes I’ve been to the UK. And three years ago, straight after the Wellington conference actually, I flew on to Auckland.  Two friends and I made a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, in north-west Spain, where legend has it that the remains of the apostle, Saint James the Great, are buried. El Camino de Santiago de Compostela is the walk they made the movie about, The Way. Not that it was anything like the movie.

More of Judy’s work at the Stuart St Potters Co operative

WNMS – Tell me about the Stuart St Potters Co operative?

Well we’re 12 potters. We all work one day a fortnight or two half days a week. At the end of each year we meet and commit for another year or pull out. People pull out for various reasons – family, retirement, moving out-of-town. The winter is difficult but the summer is good – passengers off the cruise ships walk past here to and from the railway station. We’ve been here 7 years. We each pay $135.00 a month and that covers the rent, power, eftpos. I use my shop time to catch up on reading or write in my journal. Some of the others will use that time more creatively…….

WNMS –  It sounds as though potting isn’t your fulltime occupation.
No. Life happens in between and all around my work. With 30 acres there’s always something to be done. Now a lot of our land is leased to a farmer who grazes sheep, but we still have a large vegetable garden which we need to protect from the rabbits except for onions, leeks, potatoes and tomatoes which they don’t seem to like. The rest of the garden is flowers, shrubs and trees. We also have an orchard and a larch  and a pine plantation. And then there are the Selwyn College gardens.

We’ve already swapped some book titles so it goes without saying that I love reading. And of course religion – I’m a bit of a religious nutter. I have an elderly mother who is now in care, excellently cared for, at St Andrews. I also have the most beautiful 10 week old granddaughter – Eulalia Bellbird Berry – who is the most delightful distraction. So no, I’m not a fulltime potter.

A design inspired by flamenco dresses

WNMS – Do you prefer to be on your own while you work?
With a wheel in the hallway I just work in the middle of whatever is happening in the house.

WNMS – Do you work in silence or have music/radio in the background?
In the mornings I usually listen to the National programme, and then turn over to the Concert programme at lunchtime. Sometimes I stay with the Concert but mostly go back to listen to Jim in the afternoons.

WNMS – I guess with a kiln to fill you have multiple pieces on the go at any one time?
Yes that’s right. I fire the kiln perhaps once a month

WNMS –  And how about commissions?
I don’t do commissions. Not at all, ok. I’d hate that.

WNMS – Has the influx of social media changed the way you market your pottery?
No I don’t even have a website, I’m very lowtech. You were lucky I even responded to your email, I’m that lowtech!

Judy’s latest designs

WNMS – Do you work with sale in mind?
No, not really but if something  doesn’t sell then it doesn’t get made again.

WNMS – How does place – Dunedin –influence your work?
Well I don’t know if it influences my work but I love Dunedin, just adore it.

WNMS – What are you currently making?
I’m working towards my piece for your exhibition and for the Co op Teapot Party, and for my window exhibition. I’ve always used white clay, but now I’m thinking of playing around with brown clay – it’s interesting.

Two hours later we emerged into the Stuart St evening, and with a hug from Judy I headed homeward, head buzzing with information, impressions and ideas.  I now know where to direct my family for future birthday or Christmas presents!

Vase complete with insert

One Response to “Judy Ringland-Stewart”
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  1. […] exhibition in Bellamys Gallery, Macandrew Bay, Dunedin (to November 26). The ceramic jug is by Judy Ringland-Stewart. The haiku by Sandra Simpson. The staging by Ruth […]

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