Making clay while the sun shines

Meet the team creating gorgeous handmade ceramics from their rural Bay of Plenty pottery studio.

Words Natalie Cyra. Photography Alice Veysey

Nestled among the rural surrounds of their Te Puna studio is where you’ll find Jennifer Watt, her husband, Tom, and their small team of talented artisans carefully and passionately curating ceramic homewares that soon fly out the door to meet popular demand. We asked Jennifer about her ceramic journey thus far and future plans for growing the business. 

How did you and Tom meet? Do you both have backgrounds in the creative industries?

We met through mutual friends here in Tauranga. I’ve always been creative – choosing all the creative subjects at high school and then making ceramics my first serious job. Tom is more mechanical/engineering minded – which is great when it comes to fixing kilns and day-to-day business operations. 

Tell us a little bit about how JS Ceramics came about.

When I was 21 (13 years ago) I got a job in a small local ceramics studio and eventually saved up for my own kiln and rented a small premises. It had a little gallery/store in the front, and we made mostly Kiwiana art tiles and I also sold my own paintings. 

Your offering now includes ceramics and other adornments for the home from two different collections – the JS Ceramics and George & Co. collections. How are they different from each other?  

From our Te Puna studio we handcraft our JS Ceramics collection, then travel abroad to curate and design unique pieces for our George & Co. brand. We visit trade expos overseas and hunt out smaller makers who have beautiful quality and craftsmanship, and are open to working with us. Then we select ceramics that they already make and modify them to fit our style, and we also design new things from scratch. Our makers are really talented and can even create something just from a drawing, but we make our own prototypes here too.  

Products are slipcast using pure white earthenware (slip) clay, before being decorated with patterns using glaze, brush and pencil applications. 

What do your plans to expand look like?  

We also collaborate with Paper Plane store in Mount Maunganui for the Seed and Mist collections and we’re currently working on expanding our handmade studio capacity with a new, larger kiln installed in late 2017. With George & Co., our plan for 2018 is to try and find some new real unique/rustic artisan makers – off the beaten track.

What are some customer favourites? 

Our Pink Sand ceramics and coffee drippers are very popular. 

Right: Fiona, Lynda, Jen, Peter, Teresa and Tom make up the JS Ceramics team. Below: Tom and Jen at work creating the gorgeous products from the JS Ceramics and George & Co. ranges.

Is there a recurrent inspiration when designing your pieces? 

We both love the outdoors so nature is a constant inspiration. Sometimes we choose a theme and work with it to develop our own story from there – for our latest George collections we created Mattise-inspired floral patterns. Our handmade items often evolve out of experimental processes and combining different materials to create a pleasing outcome. We’d like to include more foraged natural materials into our products in future too.

How long does it take from design to production to make one product (slipcasting, trimming, smoothing and glazing included?) 

Probably one month minimum.

How do you both personally go about living a conscious-living lifestyle?

We (and our makers) all live quite close by, so we mostly walk or ride bikes to work. We grow our own fruit and veges and avoid being wasteful, reusing/recycling what we can. Then for household items/clothing we aim to buy timeless, good-quality items (preferably NZ made) or second-hand. 

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