Nobody can rush clay

Nobody can rush clay

The vase created by Lee Hensberg during lockdown
FRUIT OF LABOUR: The vase created by Lee Hensberg during lockdown
Image: Supplied

Nelson Mandela Bay ceramicist Lee Hensberg spent the lockdown creating a two-sided vase. Here, she narrates her journey

Most people are not aware of the struggle we as ceramic artists and potters experience every day in our studios.

Ceramics is so unpredictable.

Art as a medium, compared to working with clay, is almost safe/comfortable.

With the innovations of specialised apps, accessible to all and sundry, anyone can do it now using the right technology.

Even photography is not even nearly as labour-intensive as decades ago.

Remember the processes of developing photos 30 years ago when I was at varsity.

Clay however…

Nothing and nobody can rush clay.

Hours of labour, days of carving or painting, all come to naught in the final showdown.

That moment you open the kiln. And it’s a disaster.

All it takes is a bubble, a blister, a crack or a glaze (there are names for each of these faults, just so you know!).

Those times you wish you had stuck to the predictability of art!

Yet , here I am!

DIY of vase
DIY of vase
Image: supplied

I sell my functional ware under the label “Freakalee Ceramics”.

Odd name ... when I was (much!) younger my friends used to say: You such a Freak, Lee ... and hence the name “Freakalee Ceramics”.

My ceramics are all hand painted, by myself, therefore adding to each piece’s unique and collectable value.

Below is an example of my most recent creation.

During lockdown I was commissioned to do a vase for a guesthouse in Grahamstown.

Unlike most, lockdown was a blessing for me as I thrived in the quiet and beautiful space of the studio that my husband built for me a few years ago.

My boys, aged 11 and 13, have a desks set up in each corner of my sunlit studio, and every day I get to create and have them near me, home schooling … (another story for another day!)


I prayed over this vase! And that’s not normal.

As all potters know, one learns to become unemotional and resilient when it comes to our creations.

Otherwise I’d have had a career change, gone mad or burnt my studio down, during my 20 years working with surely the most fickle of art forms.

But this one... I had just spent too much time over it. Hating it, loving it, hating it again, firing after firing.

Weeks of layering under glaze and several hardening-on firings. Glaze firing.

The last firing was the gold lustre.

Which was lustre I bought from another potter recently. Old lustre.

And it did not adhere properly at first. Made streaks. I left it to dry for a day and touched up.

But then I thought, what if ... you know those two words?

Urgh ... If I open the kiln and one of the myriad of disasters happened ... how do I start again? Pick myself up.

Dust off the weeks of work. Again. And again. But I’m in love. I can’t stay away. It’s in my blood now.

Share my relief fellow potters, the joy when I lifted that lid and realised why I carry on doing this for life.

When it comes together, the reward is worth it all.

All my worries and doubts forgotten.

Only a potter will understand the emotions these words conjure.

PS: No painting on canvas could give you that pleasure and grateful relief.

So this is a vase with many moods.

Just turn it a bit and you have a new vase!


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