Lovely nude ladies, brightly-coloured bird and fish bowls, and geometrically decorated plates are some of the art works in local potters Rick and Suzanne Hatch’s Weemala Pottery shop.
This is the 29th year the couple have held their Christmas shop in the Armidale mall, from the last weekend of November to Christmas Eve.
It’s an Armidale institution by now – but 2018, Rick says, is something special.
“Our shop this year is actually the most beautiful we've ever had,” he said.
"We got focused early on in the year on making lots of what we call our domestic ware: things we've made in the past that people can use to eat and drink with.
“Both of us, within the idea of making domestic ware, have innovated new patterns.”
Rick is particularly pleased with a dish with an interlocking diamond stamp motif, part Middle Eastern, part M.C. Escher.
“I've been aiming at this my entire working life,” he said. “It's ultra-simplified Escher.”
Rick discovered Escher 46 years ago, back in the California where he grew up. In 1972, when he was 18, he went to the biggest collection of original prints by the Dutch artist ever shown in the USA, at San Francisco's Vorpal Gallery. Since then, he's been a fervent admirer of Escher's designs.
“This piece alone makes my whole year's work worthwhile, as an artist.”
His wife Suzanne has made a series of stylized bird and fish sculptures.
“She's simplified them, and abstracted them, and got the characteristic elements: the essentials, and not too much,” Rick said.
She moved onto plump women, floating in a bathtub. (A real dish, you might say.)
"They have such wonderful expressions," Rick said. "You feel like you know these girls!"
Over the last couple of months, Rick has produced ceramics that satisfy him as artworks, as well as being functional domestic ware.
Some are influenced by Chinese and Japanese art, focusing on the negative space between forms, and the relationship of colours.
Others are hexagonal dishes made from slabs of clay – an unusual shape which, he feels, frees him to experiment.
“I've really perfected the colours in particular of my bright coloured floral pots and my fish motifs, and I've focused on making the simple pot a painting.”
The Hatches are internationally recognized artists. Suzanne has been a professional potter for 50 years, since 1968; Rick for 38 years, since 1980.
Suzanne, born in Sydney, studied with some of the most famous potters in Australia at the National Art School in the 1960s. After several successful one-woman exhibitions, the Crafts Board Australia Council gave her a grant to complete further studies in England. She won a gold medal at the Faenza International Ceramics Exhibition, Italy, in 1976. While studying drawing in California in 1979, her pottery was exhibited in the World Craft Fair, Toronto. Her work is held in art museums and private collections in USA, Australia, UK.
Rick's grandmother taught him to make pots at the age of four, on her Texas property. His high school art teacher was a potter, trained in Japan – and by senior school, Rick had his own studio in his garage, where he made pots every night and all weekend. He trained as a professional potter at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
He works as a production potter – able to make a quantity of pots very close to identical in a short enough time that selling them was viable to support himself. He can make 20 cups, 10 big bowls, or half a dozen vases at a time.
“I work as a production potter,” Rick said, “but I don't make really simple things cheaply on purpose. I make the most beautiful things I can imagine, as quickly as I can, so that people are buying the very best things I can make.”
The couple have had their annual Christmas pottery exhibition in Armidale since 1990, when they relocated from Uralla.
That year, they had their shop over at the Richardson Centre; only three people came, and they sold $200.
“Business has steadily improved since then!” Rick said, laughing.
Since then, they’ve held their exhibition in 12 different shops in the Mall, from the east to the west.
Armidale, the Hatches feel, is an ideal place to live and work.
"The reason Suzie and I can be professional potters is because we live in such a great place,” Rick said.
“People in Armidale are sophisticated; they know how good our work is; and they make a special effort to buy our work and support us. We're very grateful."
The Hatches also welcome visitors to see their studio and residence on 37 acres outside town.
"We love having people come to our studio,” Rick said. “They're welcome to bring their children and their friends. We'll give them up a slap-up tour, and there's a fantastic range of pots available!"
The Weemala Pottery Christmas Shop is at 171 Beardy Street, Central Mall, near the fountain. Open weekdays 9.30 to 5.30, Sat 9 to 1pm, Sunday December 22. Phone 6772 5371.