Imagine for a moment that you are blind. Denied to you are the verdant green of our rolling hills, the azure of our seas. What is more, you are denied so much of the pleasure that you and I gain from the warmth of alizarin crimson or the chill of cerulean blue in a painting. But then you reach out your fingers and find whorls and shapes creating a journey of discovery of a piece of art that has been created for your senses. Not only can you feel it, you can smell the freshly carved timber.

The art work is a totem based structure in Drouin created by Sue Acheson. Sue is passionate about the role of art in human health and wellbeing. She believes most particularly that art should be touched.

Growing up in York, England, Sue was always creative. Her father taught her to sew, (“Well Dad sewed better than my mum,”) and so she was always creating her own designs and then making the clothes that she wore.

She took art at school but was not encouraged by her parents (or, for that matter, her art teacher) to pursue an artistic career. Her teacher went so far as to deny Sue access to her student portfolio when she wanted to use it to gain admittance to a Diploma in Graphics and Communication Design. Her response? She sneaked into the school and took it, of course.

Naturally, Sue got accepted. She loved being really engaged in art, passed her qualifications and started a career in graphic design. After 10 years she followed her heart and took a course in ceramics and broke her burgeoning career to apprentice with a wood fired earthenware potter. She learned a great deal but needed to return to her career to make ends meet, eventually running her own consultancy business in graphic design.

In 2002, seeking adventure, she emigrated to Australia with her husband. On arrival her husband told her, “You can get a job if you want, you can work for nothing, or you can do nothing if you want. The choice is yours.” And so, Sue went back to her passion of ceramics. She apprenticed to Robert Barron of Gooseneck Pottery for four years. Under his tutelage she learned the art of creating wood fired pieces. Wanting to create her own kiln, she took a course in kiln building at the Chisholm TAFE. Kilns, says Sue, are an ancient technology, each one having its own character. It is what you wish to create that will determine the shape of the kiln.

Most artists find a house and build a studio. In Sue’s case she bought a cottage, lived in it whilst building a new house, and when that was done transformed the cottage into her studio. Finally she built her catenary arch kiln. It is an impressive structure more than 12 feet tall and comprises three layers – solid bricks, porous bricks and adobe. Sue says it takes 36 hours to fire the pieces and 6 days to cool. In order to stoke the fires she has to wear a welding mask, gloves and apron to protect herself from the glare and incredible heat—temperatures reach 1327°C. Sue knows this temperature exactly – but it the only thing that she knows exactly. Spurning the strictures of graphic design she now revels in the multitude of outcomes depending on the flow of the fire and the fall of the ash.

Even though she may create a set of bowls that look fairly similar before firing, after the firing they take on a unique qualities —each one is slightly different to the other according to where it was placed in the kiln. Each has unique markings on them, almost cuneiform, which are the reflections of what Sue sees everyday – the shafts of light and the consequential shadows through the trees at her home.

Taken from a piece by Liane Arno.

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