This interview was conducted by Michelle Genders and originally posted on the Australian Wandarrah team website.
Let’s get to know Jan Hornett from Sunbird Pottery. Jan sells wheel thrown ceramics with sculptural forms and a specialist kind of glaze from her home at the top of Australia.
Where do you live and how long have you lived there?
We live in Bowen, Queensland, population about 10,000. We came here 20 years ago from Paraburdoo in the Pilbara WA. That’s almost straight across the country.
Bowen is at the top of the Whitsundays. It is known as “the salad bowl of Australia”, award winning beaches, fantastic fishing and 27 murals. It is also home of ‘The Big Mango’.
Can you describe the landscape of the place where you live?
Bowen is mainly flat, so the couple of hills provide you with great lookouts. There are 8 beaches to choose from depending on your likes or the weather. You can snorkel the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ from a couple of the beaches. Farms surround the town with mainly vegetables grown in the winter. They depend on underground water because the local Don River rarely runs, especially during winter time. Bowen can be very, very dry at times. We can go for months without a drop of rain. Luckily we have a bore water to keep our gardens going.
What do you like most about where you live?
The climate, easy going friendly people, no traffic lights, slow pace of life. It’s very close to the beach, only a five minute walk across the golf course.
I love far north Queensland! I’ve visited the ‘Great Barrier Reef’ three times. Sometimes I can’t believe it is a part of the same country. It would take 3 days to drive from where I live to where you live. Can you tell me a bit more about the beaches near where you live? Which beach is your favourite and what do you like to do there?
The prettiest one is a small one called Grays Bay. I mainly just admire it as we drive past to our favourite Chinese restaurant that overlooks the bay and beyond. Then there is Queens Beach. It is the longest beach and my favourite to walk on. It pretty, quiet and you never know what will wash up to be found or who you will meet.
Tell me about the ceramic items that you sell on etsy. How did you come to work with ceramics?
After coming to Bowen to start our retirement life I had to find something to do that was interesting, time consuming and could do at home. There were pottery classes at the time so I tried that and became addicted. I spent years trying to perfect the pottery wheel after doing some hand building first. Wheel work is my favourite.
I stock my shop with crystal glazed pottery. My main item is knitting bowls. I haven’t stopped making them since a lovely lady named Sharon and I worked out how to make them. Functional and non-functional items are included in my shop in large variety of colours and shapes. All of my items are one of a kind and cannot be repeated.
When I look at the picture of all of your pottery pieces lines up it reminds me of the colours of the forests, desert, beaches and rivers in far north Queensland. How is your pottery inspired by the place where you live?
I do strive to repeat the colours of these but mainly ocean and reef colours that can go from blue to turquoise and all in between. Sometimes I will get a piece that looks like you are looking though the water to the reef below. These are special but to repeat is near impossible as every firing gives different results even using the exact procedure.
I started my creative journey back in 2002 doing ceramics at a community college. So I know just how difficult it is to make your piece ‘Oriental lidded ceramic container’. It is simply beautiful, well done! It would take a lot of skill to make the lid so that it fits perfectly into the container. It would also take a lot of skill to make the form of the container and fire correctly so it does not crack.
It is all practice and for large items I always make a second lid in case the first one doesn’t make it through firing. I do love making larger items and altering them, but I only put ones in my shop that I know will arrive safely.
Where do you make the items that you sell?
All my work is at home as I have my own kilns and equipment.
What is your favourite tool or piece of equipment?
I love my new Venco direct drive pottery wheel I got a few years ago. It is so quiet and runs smoothly compared to my old one.
I can see why you’d love your new pottery wheel – it looks like a powerful beast! And what a beautiful place to create in. I can see the remnants of clay around the place and it reminds me of how messy making pottery gets. I used to get it all over myself! Is getting your hands (and everything else) dirty on of the parts that you like about ceramics?
Yes it is a messy game but to keep partly clean I wear an apron and have a towel across my lap. At least when my area gets too bad I can hose it out.
It is not that I like getting dirty but the feel of the clay, especially the white clay on the wheel, is just so creamy and smooth. The whole process on the wheel is so relaxing. Until it all falls in a heap, as occasionally it does when you push the limits.
I’m intrigued by crystalline glaze that you use. What do you like most about working with this type of glaze?
The whole trip has been one big challenge from the beginning. I still feel that I am still in the experimental stage. I never enjoyed glazing before. It was always a chore as I really hadn’t found niche. Now I look forward to glazing.
I always admired crystal glazing. It’s more difficult, time consuming and fascinating. After buying a new electric kiln I decided to give it a go. I read a lot of information and set to it. Just love it now because of the challenge of developing my own glazes that will work for my clay in my kiln.
There are so many variables to be tested. You have to consider the shapes that you’ve made and the way the glaze will run. Each glaze is slightly different depending on the colourants added and whether it is for an upright or flat item. Also some oxides don’t like other oxides. Exact measurements are so vital. Even the same batch of glaze in different firings can give a difference. It can be hard to work out what went wrong during a firing. I am really pleased with the results I am now getting.
I can see from the pictures that you sent that your husband is also creative! What are his sculptures made out of? Can you tell me a bit about how he makes them?
Bill is always doing something very different. He loves creating with wood. Fence palings are his main material. Our yard is full of his structures. He says he only does it to attract visitors to our garden so they can buy my pottery, if you can believe that. We charge a gold coin donation for a wander through the yard. It all goes to local charities. The stone look comes from sprinkling sand onto the wet paint – very effective.
You mention that the weather in Bowen is very dry. Does this help or hinder the process of drying out your pottery in preparation for firing?
The humidity or the dryness is a continual battle. One way I slow the drying when needed is to put it in an old broken fridge I have. It’s wonderful – you can alter the shelves to suit, the door seal is not good so my work will slowly dry. I keep my unused clay in the freezer area as it seals well and the clay stays at the same moisture level and is ready for use.
Thanks for sharing your story Jan.