“I knew I wanted to be a present and involved mum who could work, but always be ready when my children needed me. I am so proud to have created a successful business that allows me to work from home and be able to be the mother to my boys that I have always wanted to be.”
Ceramic artist, founder of The Clay Barn and Hand Made Hire and mother of two, Zani McEnnally, is one of many creatives living in Byron Bay realising her dreams. After creating her ultimate workshop space at her home in Bangalow, Zani now runs workshops for amateur artists and professionals alike, whilst also running kids programmes for budding little artists. “I cater for a mix, from beginners who haven’t worked with clay since preschool to experienced potters who want a shared creative space to work with all the tools required at their fingertips.” We caught up with the inspiring artist to talk pottery, the Byron creative landscape and how the resurgence of bespoke, handmade pieces is helping her not only create a business, but also a collaborative community spirit. Words: Marisa Remond | Photography: Raegan Glazner | Go to www.theclaybarn.com.au
You run The Clay Barn in Bangalow, can you tell us a bit about how the concept came about?
The Clay Barn has evolved from my studies at Southern Cross University Lismore, where I completed a Bachelor of Visual Arts majoring in ceramics and my own studio practice over the last 15 years. My children and I lived in a sprawling home in Mullumbimby where I had my workshop tucked away in one half of my garage. I held a Christmas art sale including other local artists, potters, painters and sculptors. The next year the Australian Ceramics Association initiated the open studio’s event nationwide, where a small group of Northern Rivers potters collaborated and started the Mud Trail in the area under this event where there were 5 of us. Today, the Mud Trail has evolved and includes over 20 studios in the region. I started to teach holiday and home-school groups from that space during the week.
I knew that I needed a bigger space to share my passion and accommodate the resurgence of interest in ceramics. During 2015 I searched the region for a property that had the perfect space for a larger ceramic studio…… and a place that had the magic Byron feel about it. In May 2017 I found the ideal family home on a beautiful piece of land with a stunning view. It had a huge rundown shed with light, space and a lot of history that I knew could be renovated into a perfect workshop. An additional shed would be needed for the kilns to be housed – but I could feel it had great potential. And so, with some blood, sweat and tears I created a space that I had held in my heart for a decade.
The Clay Barn has evolved into a ceramic studio that offers casual workshops to expert and amateur adults during the week, children’s workshops in the school holidays, Master potter workshops throughout the year, weekend clay escapes for groups of city people, birthday parties, bridal parties and, of course, spontaneous gatherings of local people from all backgrounds that share the love and magic of the clay. Connections are made, emotions are shared, and laughter echoes.
How do the ceramic workshops you run work - can students learn the basics of pottery or is it more for aspiring artists and professionals?
Our workshops are for anyone. I cater for a mix, from beginners who haven’t worked with clay since preschool to experienced potters who want a shared creative space to work with all the tools required at their fingertips. I also offer a firing service for their convenience.
There are many options available for workshops. I start the week with the group vibes. Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are adult group workshops. Then I shift into the more intimate space with private sessions on Thursdays and Fridays. During school holidays we offer a few days for children’s clay classes and always welcome visiting adults to have a session. Each month we host a special clay getaway weekend.
My first Fusion date is coming up. In May, chef Samantha Gowing of Byron Bay Cooking School will do her Raw Food as Medicine demonstration and provide a shared table for lunch. The participants will have a clay session to make their own plate and bowl. I am so excited to be bringing this together.
We have a Clay Social Club that offers local potters a monthly Friday evening cheese and wine get together. Being creative can be isolating at times, so we come together to share, laugh and create. Beginners are always welcome because we all start as one.
There seem to be a slew of creatives relocating to Byron Bay - how does the Byron landscape fuel creativity?
Byron Shire is such an incredibly eclectic mix of creatives. The Aquarius festival held in 1973 was a counter-cultural art and music festival that led to many communes and creatives choosing to settle in the region. The Clay Barn has provided a therapeutic creative space to locals and visitors who have a passion for creating. There is nothing like playing with clay to soothe the soul.
The Indigenous Arakwal people of our region traditionally came to the Byron Bay area to meet and share with other groups in the Bundjalung Nation – I feel that this communal sharing of ideas is a very strong pull for all of us in the area. Gathering together and encouraging creative energy is a joy and I am so proud to be contributing to this today.
Byron Bay attracts so many creative people and now serves a destination for people who want to get back in touch with their creative energy. The increasing demand for places such as The Clay Barn comes from exhausted parents, to burnt out executives to wanderlust backpackers.
How does the sense of community help with the success of small businesses like The Clay Barn?
Our community is very supportive of small businesses like The Clay Barn. On a personal level, my social network is made up of people who migrated here with their own individual personal histories. To carve out a life and connect with others, we have all needed to give our love and support and take it when it is reciprocated. It truly is a beautiful soulful place to live. All my friends encourage, support and spread the word about The Clay Barn.
Locally, we have regular weekend markets in different towns all around the shire where new businesses can share their ideas, products and ventures – they have been the launch pad for so many thriving businesses.
The twilight artisan market every Saturday evening in the heart of Byron opposite the Community Centre specialises in showcasing local artists. Here we are all able to promote and sell our products and services.
You have two sons, can you tell us how you juggle motherhood with work?
I have two busy active growing sons, Luke and Zac. They both are in primary school in Byron Bay. When I had Luke, I knew I wanted to be a present and involved mum who could work, but always be ready when my children needed me. I am so proud to have created a successful business that allows me to work from home and be able to be the mother of my boys that I have always wanted to be. I can go to school events, meet them at the bus stop, watch them play sport on the weekends. True to the collaborative nature of the Byron Shire, I have great support from other parents helping me with those moments when things clash!
We live on the edge of Bangalow at the top of a macadamia farm, my boys are able to come home from school and ride their motorbikes all over the farm with the neighbour’s children or go for a swim at the property’s swimming hole.
I am quite sure that they are largely oblivious to what happens while they are at school! My workshops during school hours Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday each week and then on Thursday and Friday I make private orders and gallery commissions in between teaching throwing skills to the keenest of potters.
And just when I thought I had a spare moment, another idea evolved! I am starting up a new business called Hand Made Hire. My business partner and I plan to launch two ranges of beautiful handmade tableware (including ceramic goblets) this winter. The tableware will be available for hire for functions, weddings, parties, private events… anything really! With the resurgence in people wanting to create their own clay pieces, there has been an equally large resurgence in the love of the bespoke. People want things that are handcrafted and not mass produced – it is my own version of the “paddock to plate” movement, but this is “hand to table”!
What does a typical morning in your household look like?
Mornings are truly special for us. The boys and I get up at 6am and get ready for our day ahead and together we walk our two dogs at the local recreation field in Bangalow from 7:15am until they hop on the bus at 8am. I am able to get into the studio to unload or load the kilns and prepare for the day before students arrive at 9:30am. This hour and a half is my time to reflect on the things that have been created in The Clay Barn and to get excited about all the beautiful things that are to come.
Let’s talk ceramics - what sort of colours and shapes are you drawn to at the moment and why?
My ceramic muse is anything earthy and raw. I have found that my practice over the last 15 years has taken different directions depending on my inspiration. But this is really not jumping from one trend to another, but rather a growth and expansion to the next muse based on what I learned from the previous one. I feel I am almost being led along a creative path that is a little beyond my control – I suppose this is the creative urge, in essence. I have always been inspired to bring the natural world inside, creating awareness of our natural environment.
My Mullumbimby years are predominately porcelain-moulding small bowls and then applying delicate butterfly decals. I continue to be amazed at the number and variety of butterflies we have in the region. Just incredible. These have been very popular and continue to sell still – it seems like everyone loves a butterfly as much as I do!
In the last few years, I have moved to making tableware. I love hand-building and wheel-throwing so I mix up the techniques to create different ranges. I am so excited every morning and have nightmares each night that I will not live long enough to make every design I have in my mind’s eye!
Last November I travelled to Ubud Bali and did a two-week immersion with legend potter Hillary Kane at the Gaya Ceramic Centre. This was a new direction for me as the workshop was learning everything about making big pots…… and I mean BIG.
I love making big pots when I have the time to make for myself that’s what I like to make. I throw them on the wheel in sections and add large coils or large sections to get the height. It really is like playing for me.
What advice would you give someone wanting to start out in an artistic field - anything to know or prepare?
A number of my students have gone on from learning with me to producing their own ranges and selling locally whilst others have gone on to set up their own creative spaces. I encourage anyone to give it a go and live creatively. I do feel a bit like a proud Mum watching over my family! It can be daunting to trust yourself and your work, I try to give people confidence in themselves to trust in their creations and follow through with their ideas.
In an era where there are so much information and imagery thrust upon us at every moment, it can be easy to doubt yourself and your product. But I know that it is better to give it a red hot go than wonder “what if?” Big magic can happen if you allow it to.