Steve Sheridan is a Wentworth Falls potter whose beautiful work is inspired by the Chinese celadon tradition of blue-green glazes, the materials for which he sources from the Central West.
Q: How did you become a potter?
A: I didn’t really start until I was 28. I initially studied architecture, but I didn’t particularly enjoy that. I was employed doing rockwork in gardens and was married to Trish McMeekin. Her father Ivan was a hugely influential potter and teacher, and I picked up his book one day, Notes for Potters in Australia. It started with a section on rocks, and that sparked my interest. It went on from there.
Q: Do you call yourself a potter or a ceramicist?
A: I’m more artisan than artist. I like making things that are simple and useful. I see ceramicists as more artistic, they create sculptures, or work that expresses some sort of narrative or questioning. I want to make pots for people to eat and drink from. I’m perfectly happy with that, making beautiful things for people to live with.
Q: But you do have a respect for tradition?
A: Oh yes. I had a two-year workshop apprenticeship funded by the Australia Council. Later Trish and I took the family on a trip through China in 1984, to see the pottery. That was pretty unusual for the time. Then we went to Europe to the museums, to see all the amazing pottery that had been looted from China over the centuries. I taught in England for 15 years and then we came back to Australia and opened the studio here in 2001.
Q: How does your own work express that Chinese tradition?
A: I like strong shapes and forms. I like the celadon glaze tradition that began a thousand years ago and continues to this day, variants of green and blue-green. The green is greatly admired in China because of its resemblance to jade.
Q: Why did you settle in the Blue Mountains?
A: Partly family reasons, and partly because of the experience of living in Dorset in England. I like the idea of being in a semi-rural area but able to duck into the city for a day. That has practical value for me, because I mainly sell the work myself at a few markets in Sydney.
Q: Is it a challenge, selling your own work?
A: You have to. There aren’t many galleries left these days. There are potters and people who want to buy pottery, but you need to find other ways to bring them together. The food markets I sell at [details below] are good because the people who go there appreciate the usefulness of the pots.
Q: Still, selling is different to making!
A: I was a bit reluctant about going to the markets at first, but I enjoy it now. People are interested in learning about the backgrounds of the materials. The fact that a glaze comes from a place they know, a place they’ve been to, that’s appealing.
Q: Do your glazes come from the Blue Mountains?
A: Not really, we’re built on sandstone, which doesn’t provide the rocks you need for glazes. I get those from the Central West. They’re volcanic or sedimentary, I pick up some of them in road cuttings, near places such as Gulgong. I crush them and make the glaze.
Q: Are there as many potters around these days, compared with when you started in the 1980s?
A: I don’t think so. But there’s been a resurgence of interest lately, as an activity people do as a pastime. Making pots is a change from looking at screens, it’s a manual activity that demands all your attention. For some people it could be almost therapeutic. I think there’s an increased interest in buying hand-made things, too. People did that 50 years ago, then it dropped off. Now the attraction to hand-made objects could be coming back.
Q: The historian Geoffrey Blainey wrote a book about that. He said societies see-saw between an attraction to technology and an attraction to natural things. Maybe the see-saw is tilting again. Last question, any favourite places in the Mountains?
A: Just down the road, the National Pass walk. Sadly it’s closed at the moment. But at least we still have the valley. When you live here you become a little used to it, but then you bring a visitor to Wentworth Falls and see their amazement, it reminds you how magnificent it is. We’re fortunate to live here.
Steve Sheridan’s work can be seen and purchased via his website: stevesheridan.com. The site explains how you can also visit his studio by appointment, to inspect the work for sale.
You can meet Steve at the following markets in Sydney. He attends each one monthly: to find out when, email him at the address on his website.
Northside Produce Market
Orange Grove Organic Food Market