Farewell to Australia’s ceramics ambassador

Janet Mansfield’s contribution to ceramics was made not only through her outstanding work in clay, but through an enthusiasm for the medium that led her to teach, inspire and support other ceramicists.

Ms Mansfield died on Monday, February 4, following a year’s battle with cancer.

“She was dismayed at the lack of oncologists in country areas, but she was very much in fighting mode,” said her son, Neil.

“In the role of the diplomat she is unequivocally the most important figure in Australian ceramics, working as an agent for international exchange,” wrote Dr Owen Rye, Head of Ceramics at Monash University, in 1997.

“She travels widely, taking part in international juries, symposia and workshops ... Her friendly personality facilitates worldwide contact with prominent ceramists, many of whom are subsequently invited to Australia to participate in workshops and conferences.”

Born in Sydney on August 19, 1934 and schooled at Pymble Ladies’ College before training in physiotherapy, Janet Mansfield studied ceramics at the National Art School in the mid-1960s after leaving work to raise a family.

She lived in Turramurra with her husband, Colin Mansfield, and children Neil Mansfield, Elizabeth Mansfield, Gayl Leake and Clare Cherikoff, where she built many kilns, “much to her neighbours’ fear and trepidation,” according to Neil.

When her children were grown, she moved to Paddington, where she established a gallery and a publishing house, and went on to exhibit salt-glaze and anagama woodfired vessels across Australia and around the world, from Tokyo to Yugoslavia, from the UK to the USA.

Drawn by Gulgong’s white kaolic clay, Ms Mansfield moved with her husband to set up a pottery workshop at Morning View, Gulgong, where Mr Mansfield still farms beef.

In 1989, Ms Mansfield began the popular ceramics festivals held in Gulgong every three years, attracting more than 400 visitors and master ceramicists from Finland, the USA, Hungary, Israel, Norway, the UK and New Zealand.

Each festival has borne a different title, with 2010’s Clay Energy inspired by the energy Ms Mansfield saw in her fellow ceramicists, and the upcoming 2013 festival named Clay Push.

Ms Mansfield was the founder of two internationally-respected ceramics journals, publishing Ceramics: Art and Perception from 1990 and Ceramics TECHNICAL from 1995.

Ceramics TECHNICAL continues to publish twice yearly, while Art and Perception distributes 12,000 copies each quarter to artists, curators, writers, collectors, teachers and students around the world.

During Clay Energy, she opened the Front Room Gallery in Gulgong, which has continued to showcase the results of recent firings and offer books and ceramic work to foster an appreciation of unique handmade pottery.

She worked with local artists Chester and Jan Nealie and other artists from Australia and New Zealand to establish the Australasian ceramics museum in China, and advised and supported Margaret Cole in opening Gulgong’s Cudgegong Gallery in 2004.

In 2007, Ms Mansfield created Mansfield Press to publish important books on ceramics, including 2010’s Alan Peascod: Artist of Exceptional Talent, and she has authored a series of books on Australian and international ceramics.

Ms Mansfield had been a member of the International Academy of Ceramics since 1982 and was president from 2006 to 2012. 

She received the Order of Australia in 1987 and her contribution to Australian ceramics was acknowledged with the presentation of the distinguished Australia Council Emeritus Award in 1990.

In 2004 she was awarded a Doctor of Letters from the University of Tasmania.

“She put us on the international stage and she put Australian ceramics on the international stage, and that’s an incredibly huge legacy to leave,” said Merran Esson, head of ceramics at the National Art School.

Janet Mansfield, a key figure in ceramics in Gulgong, in Australia, and internationally. 	050213/janet mansfield

Janet Mansfield, a key figure in ceramics in Gulgong, in Australia, and internationally. 050213/janet mansfield