COMMUNITY interest encouraged creative Simone Madigan to open her ceramics business.
As she worked with clay in her Maryville factory, residents and customers of nearby Baked Uprising bakery would walk past her roller door, see her and stop for a chat.
Soon after Madigan, a graphic designer with a Masters in Fine Art who has worked for corporates, government and freelanced, launched Workshopp Ceramics, teaching hand-building [without a wheel] pottery classes.
"It went really well. A lot of us had an opportunity to do [hand-building] at school, and it usually involved rolling coils and sausages of clay and making a really ugly pot and usually there would be some joker who would put air pockets in the clay to blow it all up when they got [kiln] fired," Madigan laughs, adding she doesn't teach the coil method because she doesn't love the aesthetic.
Madigan then opened up the rest of the factory to accommodate seven pottery wheels and ran more classes, firing her students' work in her three kilns.
When coronavirus began to take hold, she closed her doors, the works of her 100 or so students largely left languishing in her studio.
"Like everyone with a small business I wasn't sure I would re-open, every cafe around me shut and people lost their jobs overnight so it was scary," she says.
As an artist, Madigan took easily to isolation, working on her own projects. But she soon decided she wanted to offer others the chance to work with clay in their own home.
She began selling take-home pottery kits, with a choice of clay, tools and instructions. Once the customer's object was made, she would fire it in her kiln.
"It's all about the process; to spend a few hours immersed in [clay] really does take over from the worry and anxiety of what's coming next," she says.
The hand-built pottery popular in the'70s fell out of vogue in the '90s but Madigan says it is back in favour.
"Fifty per cent of the people who bought my clay kits are my current or past students, the rest are new people who either have come in and said 'I've been wanting to come and do a class then coronavirus happened', or 'I am so freaking bored, what can I do'," she laughs.
People buying clay home kits are generally making pinch pots, mugs or plant dishes with holes.
"I'm also getting lots of boobs and the human figure, the torso," she says.
Clay Zoom parties grew in number during the strictest part of the lockdown, then small numbers got together as the lockdown eased.
"That's when the penises started coming because wine was involved," Madigan says with a laugh.
Her customers were elated to make something that could be fired, and grateful for the mental health break.
"The benefits of working with clay is like being a meditation while using your hands. Time just melts and you don't realise you are breathing deeply, in the moment and it does take you to a zone - it changes your mood."
Madigan hopes reopen in July but is in no rush.
"We all find solace in different things - books, gardening, cooking - but for me, and I think most artists, [pottery] is a need, not a want," she says. "And if you don't do it then it's not a full life."
Together, not Alone is a partnership between Out of the Square, the Newcastle Herald and the Greater Bank. Its aim is to inspire some positivity in these difficult times and will feature a series of stories that explore kindness, innovation, creativity, celebration and mindfulness among businesses and the community.
If you have a story worth telling, contact Penelope Green: firstname.lastname@example.org
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