INTERVIEW : HELEN A NAYLOR

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Working with artisans and supporting traditional crafts gives us great satisfaction and is a huge part of the driving energy behind St Barts.

It is the people who use their hands and hearts to form things of beauty, of purpose, things that enrich our daily lives, that we celebrate in our store and in our own range of homewares.

Usually the journey to find such creators takes us far from shore – to Morocco, Africa, China, Indonesia – but with ceramic artist Helen A Naylor, we found her right on our coastal doorstep and immediately fell in love with her works’ earthy, tactile and imperfect charm. (Read one of our first ever journal posts about Helen here)
Taking inspiration from the infinite manifestations of form and beauty in the natural world, Helen A Naylor has teamed with St Barts to produce an exclusive range of hand-made, slow fired ceramics that will be available to the public this Sunday for Inside Out at our Southport store.

We asked Helen to let us in on her relationship to her work and process as a ceramic artist.

How did you come to work with ceramics?

Well that is a long story. I am a traditional Animator, you know cartoons on TV made the old way, without a computer. It is pretty involved and having a perfectionist personality really helps. Except when you want to relax. Don’t get me wrong it is relaxing for me, but I felt I needed to let go. I don’t know why I decided on working with clay, I just knew I needed an art form to feel totally free in. It is over twenty years ago that I started this curious playing. It could have been from my father. He used to go pot-holing for his own clay. I really hoped the clay would be freeing from the precise procedures needed to make an Animated film or TV commercial. I am still trying to convince the clay it is in charge and that I am not.

What is it you love most about the process?

Oh that’s a tricky question ! The start, I love the start. Having an idea pop into my mind is such a fun moment. It is like oh hello nice to meet you. I love when it first bounces around in my head for a while. Like a woodpecker tapping away. Then the collecting starts. Finding exactly what I am going to need to undertake the new series is like a treasure hunt. I have various collections up on the shelf in collecting or development mode waiting for their time. Some-times they can not wait their turn and have to be started ahead of their time. I call it my next glittery distraction. I love that I can not wait. So the start of the process is always exciting.

Opening a new bag of soft wet mushy clay is such a thill. It has been sitting there on the studio floor awaiting for the next stage in its life. Taking a substance that was in the ground and manipulating it into the form I would like it to become is definitely what I love, maybe the most.

Opening the kiln after the final firing is like Chrissy morning. I still hold my breath with anticipation. Even if the results are not what I expected I am still smiling.

What I do really love is imagining the pieces I have made with love in their new homes being used in daily life. That is very pleasing. If only they could send me postcards to tell me how they are !

Where do you find your inspiration ?

This is going to sound annoying to some but the simple answer is inspiration finds me. Pops into my head when I least expect it.

We are so excited to be the exclusive stockists and wholesalers of your latest range, can you talk us through the idea behind this range and why stocking with St Barts is important to you?

Thank-you it is such an honor to be part of the amazing phenomenon that is St. Bart’s. I loved your store the moment it opened its doors. You have a style that works with my eclectic, relaxed style. Having said that, yes my home is full of your treasures that you bring back from your travels. I feel your ethics mirror my own. Which is one of the reasons my heart sung and my feet did their happy dance all those years ago when you asked to stock my work.

I had been working on my Botanical Series for a while perfecting it when Jasmine stopped in for a cup of tea. It started with the fallen Brachychiton leaves from the tree I planted outside the kiln room. I adore this tree. I wanted to preserve and celebrate its life and beauty. Pushing the leaf into clay was the obvious answer. That started me taking leaves off other trees in the garden to see how they would work in the clay. I am a nature girl. Always looking at the plants where ever I go. I started collecting seeds and leaves to experiment with. Friends even started sending me seeds. Now I travel with plastic bags at the ready. You know, just incase I see a great leaf of seed. The wholesale range that we put together is from the original series. Each piece is still hand made and one off, not slip cast and mass made from the original. Because this range is rather seasonal we needed to create a collection that I could reproduce many of. The flora that has been used in these bowls are pieces that are strong and can be used over and over again without them disintegrating after the first press. Much flora wilts shortly after it is taken form the tree or plant and I only get one use out of it. I am carful where I take from. Only taking what I need and only if the tree is healthy and has plenty to spare. I always return them to the ground when finished so they can complete their cycle and decompose in the earth to feed it.

I was thrilled that Jasmine was drawn to what I was doing straight away which confirmed to me that I was producing a range that was beautiful to others as well as me.

You know I still pinch myself to make sure it is all not a dream when I see my work in your shop or some-one tells me they saw my bowls in your shop. Thank-you for indulging me and sharing my passions. You are all amazing woman to be involved with.

What’s next for you?

Arrrrrhaaa, well you shall all have to watch the windows and IG feed of St. Barts for that answer but I will say there will be more bowls and some-thing big is brewing.

Thanks so much Helen!

Helen will be showcasing her beautiful works in store at Southport for the Brickworks Inside Out event this Sunday, September 11. Come along and join in discussion with this talented artist.

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