By Mick Jensen
Pottery wheels have been spinning and kilns fired up at the Ashburton Pottery Society on countless occasions over the past 50 years.
The society celebrates its landmark year with a celebration evening tomorrow night, followed by a public open day and display on Saturday.
Enthusiasts have crafted everything from bowls, plates and casserole dishes through to ornate dragons, pigs and birds over the years.
Fourteen members still come together weekly on Wednesdays and sometimes on Fridays to create and enjoy the hands-on hobby.
The pottery society started in 1968 after a positive community response.
Mrs Hazel Millichamp was the first president and the club became an incorporated society the following year.
A villa at 26 Nixon street, Tinwald was loaned, rent free to the society for three years and was then bought from George Kirk and named Kirk House.
The villa was hit hard by earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 and a new, custom built clubhouse was built to replace it in December 2013.
While there are no foundation members around, long-time members like Raelene Hewitt and Betty Blair are still involved.
Koos van der Borch is still an active potter at aged 91, while Raelene Hewitt’s grandson Luke Prendergast, aged 17, is a recent recruit.
Current committee member Betty Powell, a member since 1993, said pottery was a therapeutic art form for her.
She loved the decorative side of pottery and was known by fellow members as the “pukeko lady” because of her love of crafting the distinctive bird.
Society treasurer Trish McLaren, who joined a year after Mrs Powell, said she had enjoyed a rewarding time crafting countless pieces over the years.
“You’re always so excited to see how pieces are going to look after they come out of the kiln.
“They can crack, blow up, or they can look fabulous,” she said.
Mrs McLaren said potters tried to learn from their mistakes and continued to learn when visiting tutors came in to teach new techniques.
The society has four electric potters wheels set up in the light, bright airy clubrooms and most of the clay used is sourced from Nelson.
Once the clay has been worked, it goes into the kiln, first to be bisque fired and later to be glaze fired. Temperatures can go up to 1250 deg. C, but terracotta is fired at lower temperatures.
In the old days, the society kiln was oil-fired, but today it has three electric versions.
Ashburton Pottery Society secretary Lynne Brewster said Saturday’s open day would feature a broad display of members’ works form the last five decades.