A New Plymouth artist throwing her mark in clay

From pastels to pottery, Juliet Larkin’s studio in Moturoa is a place to try your hand at clay.

The large space below Tiger Town Café used to be the production kitchen for Anderson’s Pies, but is now filled with clay sculptures of an organic, almost sci-fi flavor, some functional pieces, including bowls, mugs and glasses, and bold ceramic earrings.

There are four potter’s wheels that he uses to teach, two kilns, one that his grandfather used to work the glaze, a printing press that belonged to his grandmother, a selection of handmade inks, and sketchbooks.

“There’s definitely a clay pattern that comes and goes in my life, like it’s not over yet.”

For the first time, Larkin will open her studio for the Taranaki Arts Trail from October 28 to November 6.

She is one of 79 artists on the trail, which takes place in conjunction with the 10-day Taranaki Garden Festival with 43 entries and the Taranaki Sustainable Backyards Trail, with 30 properties.

The New Plymouth-based ceramic artist was introduced to clay through a neighbor in Dunedin when she was four or five years old.

“Artist Zuna Wright invited me and other neighborhood kids to make clay animals on her kitchen table,” says Larkin.

Larkin's second experience with clay was as a teenager at night school.


Larkin’s second experience with clay was as a teenager at night school.

When he was 15 years old, Larkin and a friend participated in a night class on hand-building with clay; previously, the couple had attended night polytechnic silver jewelry classes.

At the end of the clay course, they freed themselves from unwanted work.

“We took all of our ugly pieces and tore them up outside in an old parking lot. There is a great release when you break the pottery.”

In the early 1990s, he studied for a Diploma in Fine Art at Otago Polytech, specializing in sculpture.

He also made some modules in ceramics and enjoyed doing a raku firing and working with heat and fire, including soldering and soldering.

In his early twenties, Larkin spent two years in Japan teaching English and joined a small group of neighborhood potters.

“The teacher was this little old man in his 80s, who had been a prisoner of war,” she says.

“Japan was where I learned to wheel and fell in love with pottery, met some great people and was welcomed into a community.

“There were all kinds of people in that class, from a truck driver to students to mothers.”

Before ceramics, Larkin worked in journalism and communications.


Before ceramics, Larkin worked in journalism and communications.

Back in New Zealand, he made pottery sporadically at the Invercargill Pottery Club, then moved to Taranaki in 2012 (after living in the region in 2000-2002).

From the early 2000s, Larkin followed a path into writing and journalism and then communications and public affairs.

But the clay kept bothering her.

In 2021, she was laid off from her communications role at Methanex in North Taranaki and had time to pause and ask herself, “What do I want to do?”

He had been giving wheel classes at the New Plymouth Pottery Club for a couple of years and loved it.

The answer became clear: “Calm down, I’m going to do more of this, do what makes me feel good.”

“This” is his art-filled studio full of light and promise. “This place feels like it’s perfect for me.”

In addition to devoting herself to the art of making, she spends two days a week working as a communications advisor for Wild For Taranaki, Tō Tātou Taiao – Maranga Papatūānuku, an organization dedicated to restoring, enhancing and protecting Taranaki’s unique biodiversity.

Although she does make dinnerware, Larkin says she is not a production potter.


Although she does make dinnerware, Larkin says she is not a production potter.

Fit and energetic, she loves the outdoors, particularly surfing, rock climbing, skiing/ski touring, and running.

In his studio, Larkin also focuses on the environment by recycling clay and water, never pouring clay or glazed water down the plug hole.

Making with clay, especially working on the wheel, is a calming process for the artist.

“When you’re totally in the flow, you’re not thinking much,” she says.

“You are so absorbed in work that nothing else exists. I think it’s just a feeling that time stops, you’re not thinking too much, you’re not full of thoughts, (it’s) a kind of well-being and joy.”

Laughing, Larkin explains that it’s not always wonderful.

“I can have a horrible fucking day at the wheel and you don’t get it (the flow).

“I’m definitely not a production potter,” she says.

But she enjoys making dinnerware and appreciates using and connecting with handmade pieces rather than mass-produced ones.

“I think we don’t value objects in general,” she says.

“We are disconnected from how things are done and that is part of our discard society and the environmental problems facing the planet.

“When you make things, whether it’s sewing, knitting or cooking from scratch, we begin to value things more.”

Larkin's focus at the moment is hand-built sculptural pieces.


Larkin’s focus at the moment is hand-built sculptural pieces.

The mother of two points out a table made for her by her husband Greg Larkin and their son Harrison, which she fully appreciates because it was built from scratch.

“I am focused on my hand-built sculptural pieces at the moment. I like to push it as far as I can, but that means I have absolute failures,” he says, picking up a large piece of work that has collapsed in the oven.

“For now, clay is my main medium, although I am interested in other materials. I am interested in the materiality of objects, which informs my work. I am not interested in making pretty objects.

Daughter Sylvia would agree to that.

In December 2021, Larkin was named the overall winner of the 48th Annual New Plymouth Potters Show, with a large hand-rolled bowl, which took her two weeks to make during lockdown.

“My daughter said it was the ugliest thing she had ever seen in her life.”

But to the potter, the bowl represents growth and change.

“Making, building things by hand, shooting behind the wheel, or just a variety. It’s about seeing your ideas realized.”

Sometimes those creative thoughts pop up at odd times, especially at night when you’re in bed.

“I have to get up and write things down, otherwise I’m messing with my mind too much.

“The topic of ideas has been going on for quite some time and now I just need to go ahead and do a body of work and then do an exhibition.”

local treasures

For brunch, lunch or dinner by the sea, head to Gusto Restaurant Café and Bar in Port Taranaki. When the tide comes in, you may be able to watch stingrays glide by as you feast on seafood, top-tier burgers or eggs Benedict, or enjoy a meal while sipping coffee, cocktails, wine or craft beer. Open seven days at 31 Ocean View Parade, New Plymouth.

Sentiments Flowers is a place for flowers, gifts and cards, focusing on New Zealand-grown flowers and kiwi-made products. Found in the Moturoa shopping center, the long-time flower shop is the perfect place to find those extra treats, including candles, soap, bath salts, jewelry, wall art, books, and candy. Open Monday through Saturday at 502 St Aubyn St, Moturoa, New Plymouth.

For high-end second-hand clothes, the Moturoa Shopping Center is the place to visit. It’s home to three such stores: August Pre-loved Boutique, which specializes in New Zealand and Australian brands, The Style Counsel, which describes itself as “New Plymouth’s most stylish and playful pre-loved boutique.” ” and Petals Pre-loved, a place to find treasures.

• This story is published as a partnership between the Taranaki Daily News and the TAFT arts festival charity.

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