Parramatta Clay Arts

Di Turner, President of Parramatta Clay Arts Incorporated, was cleaning floors and building shelves along with her colleagues Rose Daridis and Tony Carr during this group interview in June 2011. They were finishing the set up for the opening of their first-ever shop, part of the Pop Up Parramatta site in Connection Arcade, the following day.

Making the space

Di Turner and Rose Daridis were the first applicants to fill out the application form for a short-term space with Pop Up Parramatta. Nevertheless it was not all smooth sailing to begin with.

"First of all we got chopped and changed into three different shops. We finally got this one, and I think the Gods were looking after us because this is the best space for us," says Di.

"On the day I went to pick up the keys we were so excited and we had a team of eight people here ready to paint. Then I was told we couldn't get the keys so I threw a little hissy fit in the middle of the foyer!"

The issue was resolved by Pop Up Parramatta's Creative Broker, Merryn Spencer, and the keys were handed over.

"If you don't try and you don't push you won't get anything," says Di. "But we really do appreciate the opportunity and we know we can change this arcade and Parramatta to be a better place."

Di Turner and Rose Daridis

The work of up to 30 artists - all members of Parramatta Clay and Arts - who are at various stages as artists, will be sold at the shop. Ten are 'serious, professional' artists, including painters, photographers and jewellery makers. "The range of products will be real mix from tiny beautiful handmade jewellery up to large sculptures and everything in between," says Rose.

The shop will be staffed by members of PCAI, all of whom are volunteers.

Because Di and Rose have had a lot of experience in selling their wares, they have been offering assistance to less experienced members.

"We're in Parramatta, which is a new art market, so we're just going to test and maybe price at what we need to remunerate our materials," says Di.

Space for making

In order to attract people into the shop, Di and Rose will have a pottery wheel in the window, so that passers-by can see them creating.

"People can watch the process as no one normally gets to see it and it will be good to also have a slightly educational flavour to what we are doing," says Rose. "Instead of kids sitting down behind Playstations, let them get their hands dirty and make something."

Both Di and Rose are graduate ceramicists and experienced teachers and would ideally like to be in premises where the kilns are on site with the gallery at the front. "Doing classes here will be a little bit of an issue as to fire work twice we'll have to pack it twice, taking it to the kilns and bringing it back," says Rose.

"When you're in a teaching studio you've got all that. The students just come in and pick it up from where they left off and we don't have to do two or three hours extra work packing and loading and manual handling. So that's a big challenge but we'll do it.  We've done it before."

Part of a clay making heritage

This is the first retail space for Parramatta Clay Arts. But their five-month exhibition at the Heritage Centre, which linked the history of Parramatta's clay and the early ochres, caught the attention of local geologist Tony Carr.

Tony ended up patching holes in the floor of an empty shop today through his history research tracing Parramatta's heritage as a centre for clay and brick making.

"I started by doing courses with Di at Pine Street Creative Art Centre and when this came up it really fitted with research I was doing which shows that most of the industrial arts and craft in New Zealand has its origins in Parramatta.

"Samuel Marsden, an early missionary, set up what he called the 'Maori seminary' in 1815 in what's now known as Rangihou Crescent, off New Zealand Street in North Parramatta. He trained young Maori men in agricultural arts and in brick making, So my interest in brick making expanded into other aspects of fired clay.

"From 1788 onwards bricks for buildings were being fired in Parramatta at the same time or earlier than they were in in the Sydney settlement by English brick makers who came out as convicts. So I've been following this trail which links back to Parramatta the whole time," explains Tony.

Making connections

As with many artists with pop-up shops, building a market will be the main challenge. But Rose and Di are optimistic, and have already made connections with other creatives in the Arcade, as well as other local businesses.

"The barber's been so helpful," says Di. "He came in with a blow-dryer the other day to help us get the film off the window. Hairdressers' blow-dryers are so powerful!"

PCAI's aim is to connect with the local community, establish Parramatta as a centre of excellence and develop participatory opportunities for art.

"We're a professional organisation, working to put Parramatta on the map. Previously, we always had to travel to access work opportunities in the inner city or elsewhere," says Di.

"We value the networks we have developed for example with the Australian Ceramic Association, the Ceramic Study Group and the Macquarie Potters. We would welcome other artists to place work in our new shopfront. Now we've got this retail presence, we can show people that the quality of our work is obvious. It's our opportunity to shine in western Sydney."