Through years of experimentation - see-sawing from frustrated despair to elation with each kiln firing - I had concocted my own method of majolica glazing on pottery. I had financed a study trip to Japan and had not applied for a grant in 15 years of majolica practice. By 1990 I had reached a plateau in my work. I needed to get more technical expertise. Going on without improving the technical aspect would cramp the creative aspect of my work. The recession meant I had the time, but not the money, to go to Europe...
In 1992 the Visual Arts/Craft Board of the Australia Council approved an application by myself and Leigh Copeland for a study grant to work at established majolica studios in Deruta, Italy. Deruta is a village in Umbria where majolica has been produced for 700 years.
Last year Leigh and I and our nine year old son Rafiq spent 2 months in Deruta. Living in a foreign country you live more intensely than at home - the senses are all on alert. With no mind numbing radio or television you tend to reel off reams of diary entries and letters to longsuffering friends. A few quotes indicate that the emotional see-saw did not even out in Deruta, but that eventually I succeeded in jumping off the plateau and flying. I hope my experience might encourage more craftspeople to look to the Australia Council for help to further their development:
“The dining room looks of the house has a completely over-the-top 'Franco Cozzo' dining suite with sideboard with gilt curlicues, mirror and travertine top. That is my studio. I work on the oval travertine table - with the doors on to the balcony open - listening to the wind in the pines. No radio, no telly, no phone". (letter 13/4/93)
"I just had to plunge into doing 4 plates he had dipped for me. I got one of his books from the desk - flipped through and found a platter with a man's head and Memento Mei on it. I copied it from the book straight on to the platter - the other decorators all seemed impressed - they use cartoons. I worked solidly to 7.30 pm. They were still working, talking volubly and smoking when we left". (Diary 6/4/93. First day at work)
"Got up late - really aching all over from standing on terrazzo floor for 2 days decorating platters. Of course Marcello arrived at 9.30am it was obvious I had slept in. He says I should go and talk to the artist in the shop next door. They sure work hard! I am expected to be up early, to socialise, etc. etc. I spent all afternoon doing a platter of the Creazione. I will need to rest on the seventh day!" (13/4/93)
"Back to studio - MM smoking furiously kiln still cooling. Finally got my pots out and my heart sank - we had mixed up green and manganese. (They are both dark
powders) every place I had done green was now a khaki brown - the Creazione is now ruined by my colour mix-up. All my exhausting work wasted". (1/4/93)
"MM grabbed a pot of tar and a brush and covered the castle platter with tar (I
thought Oh well! another one lost!) He desperately rubbed it with turps - soaked
newspaper - rubbed it with sandpaper, and generally mangled it - while explaining how to make a fake antique". (24/4/93)
"Running nose, sneezing, sore throat, headaches, etc. Came to end of crisis about
platters. Decided just to work on small ones for a while and push the glazes to their utmost - and get to know them and see what they can do". (27/4/93)
“ ...They are all fab. The yellow I mixed with orange makes a huge difference. The
yellow they use is unbearably horrible and mucks up all the other colours. The little plates in this kiln were all experiments with different colour combinations and thicker glaze laid on more heavily. All look good. I gloated over my first lot of little successes… All of a sudden I am not depressed. I am about to go into a frenzy of work - try to get some good ones done before we go on our tattie to Florence. (6/5/93)
"I'm feeling exhausted and fed up. Should be glad to be so productive - but I just feel like a weary slave again. I can't get time to read, and have no-one to talk to. No radio. No telly. No phone". (15/5/93)
"Drank young green spritzig wine. MM harangued me for hours about how we could
make more money by doing production line versions of my work... The general
underlying message: - cut the artistic crap. He says I am the only person in Deruta who can do a medieval jug in five minutes. (Little does he know that even I can't do a medieval jug in five minutes!' (23/5/93)
"I finished the border on MM's platter and worked all day on a similar one for the museum Poor Leigh was packing all day... The sky over the Tiber valley was all in shades of pink and delicate blue - a fitting end to our stay in Deruta - far away in the distance a field of poppies glowed like coals in the pink and blue light". (26/5/93)
Thanks to the generosity of the Australia Council and the people of Deruta the trip was more successful than I had hoped for. Improved technical skills, fresh stimulation and a new outlook will fuel me for many years to come.
A Sojourn in Italy
REPORT BY ALEXANDRA COPELAND
[Published Craft Victoria, April, 1994.]