The aim is to teach new ceramic techniques and develop new designs for ceramic products which could be mass marketed through the National Aboriginal Design Agency, creating enterprise opportunities and, more widely, nurturing a meaningful Aboriginal design industry.

During the labs, funded by Arts NSW, Aboriginal artists develop designs for ceramic drinking vessels, as well as learn production techniques of model making, mould making, casting and firing – producing prototypes for possible production and sales.

Steve Williams, the internationally respected Australian artist who facilitated the projects, has more than 30 years’ experience specialising in wood-fired ceramics and 22 years’ experience managing TAFE Art and Design Schools. He has taught the Cert IV in Aboriginal Design at Great Lakes TAFE for the past three years and was integral in the establishment of the Yili Designers, the Aboriginal training brand within Great Lakes TAFE.

He said:

“It makes me so proud to be able to share these traditional skills and culture.”

“To make objects that people can use and enjoy with a sense of the traditions of pottery is compelling.”

Speaking of the first time he was introduced to clay as an undergraduate arts student, he said: “I was stung by the physicality of the material, the fact that you could use your hands and natural materials, clay, water and fire to make stuff. The fact that you could transform it into a ‘synthetic rock’ material was powerful and magical. It still is.”

A major goal of the project was to reseed the ceramic drinking vessel ideas developed under the Yili brand. It received overwhelmingly positive feedback from a number of industry partners, designers, and galleries.

The Ceramic Lab created a range of original and stunning hand-made ceramic drinking vessels with a tactile three-dimensional surface. Eight different designs and moulds were produced with seventy cups in total being made during the period of the project. The artists embraced the design process to evaluate and refine the process, continuing to use story to develop design ideas.

This range of drinking vessels and other ceramic pieces are handcrafted for sale through a private enterprise in collaboration between Williams and six Aboriginal artists. The ceramic pieces are made using local resources including native clays fired by local and native timbers in a wood fired kiln – handmade products which are sure to be treasured by fans of tactile, authentic Aboriginal design for many years to come.