Potter, Publisher and Personal Friend to a Cast of Thousands
Born Sydney, 1934 – Died Mudgee, 2013
Janet Mansfield with Brunyfire (aka Penny Smith) overseeing Steve Williams during the ‘The Reedy Marsh Woodfire Challenge’ which was held at Neil Hoffmann’s home and studio at Deloraine in northern Tasmania back in 2011.
The following piece is not intended as an obituary to Mansfield – it is not intended to highlight her huge influence on international ceramics – or her enormous contribution to the field of woodfiring – or her influence in creating an Australian aesthetic – or in her publications that benefited us all – or to reflect upon those of us whose work she exhibited – awarded prizes to – assisted in grant applications – gave references for…….
……..but this is an account of the last time I ate with her at her homestead at Morning View, Gulgong, NSW. The occasion was to interview her (she whom I’ve known for the past 3 decades) as her biographer.
Brunyfire had spent the previous day traveling with friend and colleague Janet de Boos from Sydney to Gulgong, a 5 hour road journey that had started rather late in the day, complicated by a wrong turn which extended our travel time by another couple of hours. Not knowing where the hell I was in the pitch black darkness, we finally arrived at Janet Mansfield’s farm, Morning View, well after midnight.
Bunking down in the sleeping quarters designated for just such late arrivals, and feeling completely disorientated, I didn’t know what to expect of the following day – was I in for a surprise. Firstly, it was the noise that awoke me – flocks of galahs and cockies…………….slipping quietly out of the bunkhouse at the break of dawn, I came to realize why Janet so often made the grueling 5 hour trip from her Sydney gallery and publishing office in the city to her home and studio in Gulgong for so many relentless years.As the sun rose, I was able to look around this magical place. Morning View is the working farm and location of Mansfield’s home, pottery studio and a plethora of buildings, dedicated to housing pots, ceramics books and potters and has been the site of many a successful ‘clay’ event since their inception in 1989. The property is littered with the evidence of these occasions, that grew initially from a hundred or so participants, to over 500 at the most recent. Pieces that relate the history of these ceramics happenings stand as silent sentinels………….………such as the late Joan Campbell’s ceramic communal ‘flower showers’ – constructed during ClaySculpt in 1995 or the more recent work of Indian artist, Adil Writer’s ‘bath house’ – a fire-stabilised mud-brick dome constructed during ClayEdge in 2007.This was built from clay from around the property – constructed raw and fired in situ. Later, the addition of the ingenious stove (from what looks like old farm machinery) and a couple of stout wooden benches were added to create a hothouse, sauna effect. These latter needing careful butt placement if splinters in rear orifices were to be avoided.
This ‘make do and mend’ philosophy that was the trademark of the early pioneers in their quest for survival in the harshness of the Australian bush, so alien to them, is liberally applied all round Mansfield’s place. Like the outdoor wood oven…….
…….that sits below the outdoor communal dining area and above the kitchen. Again, an ingenious use of local materials, the rocks, the kiln bricks (left over no doubt from the 8 kilns currently housed in the kiln shed), a double ended grilling space with wood feed grates and open grills for fast barbecuing and a neat oven in the centre made from remnants of machinery and a plough share as a door.
In Janet Mansfield’s case, it was a natural progression of ideas and ideals to go from the raw materials of clay, wood and ash to create functional pottery………….her kitchen is stacked from floor to ceiling with bowls, mugs, beakers, plates – and the mantleshelf over the old wood burning stove groans with cooking pots, all designed and made to be used with food and heat. That she should have extended this concept of the raw and the cooked into the outdoor structures she created, be it for cooking or storing her vast collection of books or storing her international ceramics collection, her use of clay as the medium is no surprise.
Along with an Indian bath house, the outdoor kitchen also sports a trio of Indian tandoor ovens with curry pot, created by master potter Cameron Williams. I saw these in action during my first visit to Morning View on the occasion of the ClayModern event in 2004 and later, during my stay in 2012 when a blue tongue lizard had taken up residence inside one of them.Williams’ ingenious system has crossed nationalities and cultural boundaries – the curry pot is not traditional to the tandoor oven, nor is the pizza stone!!!!As the morning sun rose higher and grew hotter, Janet came down from the homestead, an original 1890s building made from clay from the property and fired on site…….
…..carrying eggs from the chooks that are housed next to her veggie patch.By this time, the sun is washing through the whole outdoor kitchen, the glow of pots is evident from cupboards…………..and work benches. And despite all the woodfired kilns to fire pots – wood fired ovens in which to cook and bake – open hearth fireplaces to fry and grill – Brunyfire whipped up a couple of poached eggs in the outdoor microwave!!! Sitting there in the sun, feeling the sun on my face, talking pots, smelling the morning and feeling the textures of life……Thanks Janet.