On a bright winter Sunday last weekend, we indulged in the North Coast Mud Trail. A boot camp you may wonder but no! The only mud we experienced was beautifully crafted and fired in kilns. We meandered through the homes and studios of North Coast potters. And what a creative bunch they are! Twenty one visual artists from Murwillumbah to Lennox Head and as far west as Wollongbar near Lismore displayed their wares for sight and sale. This fabulous initiative happens around the third weekend of August every year. The Australian Ceramics Open Studios was begun in 2013 and the North Coast ceramists came up with The Mud Trail as a local response. And it’s been going strong ever since. Not only can one visit studios but there are workshops and demonstrations scheduled over the two day weekend.
We have dipped in and out of the Mud Trail since it began. In 2013, there were only 5 studios featured and we travelled out to Mullumbimby and Federal via Suvira McDonald’s pottery at Goonengerry. Suvira has taught ceramics in the Lismore Byron area for over 20 years and has mentored many. His sculptures are a feature of the Mullumbimby Sculpture Walk and the Byron Writers Festival and on the day we visited we were fascinated with his depiction of the volcanic activity of the surrounding area.
This year however we decided to take a more northerly journey and began our tour at Marie-France Art off Smiths Creek Rd, Uki. Born in Quebec, Marie-France has made Australia her home and what a home it is. We parked outside and wandered down a slope, beautifully landscaped into her courtyard passing Pom, the gardener, complete with face mask. Here we were instructed on appropriate COVID safety procedures.
Marie-France herself welcomed us into a home bursting with creativity, even offering us some citrus fruit picked that morning from their fruit trees. We had seen her 3 dimensional paintings of towns around the local area at the Nimbin Art gallery. These were featured but more interesting to us were the strategically placed sculptures around the garden, wonderfully exuberant mainly female figures, oozing fecundity.
The drive to Uki with the iconic Mount Wollumbin becoming ever larger as it towers over Uki was spectacular enough but the drive from Uki along the Tweed River towards Murwillumbah is one of our favourites. That is the way we drove to reach our second destination, Round Mountain pottery, close to Cabarita.
The journey out of the valley up over the Condong Range to the coast at Cabarita detours via Round Mountain Rd. The sign to the pottery took us off onto a private dirt road with quirky signs telling us we were half way and then three quarters of the way there. Fortunately we met no oncoming traffic as the ground dropped away steeply on either side. The drive was well worth it though because Round Mountain pottery sits looking down to the sea between Cabarita and Pottsville.
Peter Smith is a retired teacher and has devoted his time to understanding the idiosyncrasies of crystalline glaze. I particularly liked a red one with a Chinese ambience but was too slow to buy it before it was snapped up by another! Outside the garden featured huge blue glazed pots strategically placed around the landscaped garden. Again we felt we were in a type of art gallery.
A quick coffee at Pottsville and we continued our journey home along the coast to one of our favourite ceramists, Catherine Lane, at North Ocean Shores. Catherine is one of the original exhibitors from 2013 and like Suvira McDonald has a long history as a visual artist, including teaching at Murwillumbah TAFE. She has spent time both in Japan and Ubud, Bali, learning different techniques and her work includes incorporating adobe, papier mâché, steel, bone, natural dyes and artificial grass. She has exhibited internationally as well as locally at sculpture festivals in NSW. Being part of our local community it is a joy to meet her regularly on the beach with her ball obsessed dog.
This year Catherine featured several Leafraker sculptures, a favourite topic of conversation among the local community, where there appears to be a plague of brush turkeys. It was a change to celebrate these rather maligned birds. Like the other artists, Catherine’s studio is an extension of her home and garden – a peaceful and gratifying way to end the weekend.