Why Potter Alex Wilkinson Chose Ceramics Over Chemical Engineering

Mystery Creek Ceramics is the brainchild of potter Alex Wilkinson. Each year, the studio creates over 5,000 pieces, some sculptural and others for use around the home.

A dedicated pottery teacher, Wilkinson came to the craft the long way, having first studied to become a chemical engineer.

XANDER WILKINSON: I make functional tableware, I’m also a sculptor. My sculptural work is a little rarer than some of my other work, and I teach.

Teaching is very important to me. I quit making art in 10th grade and my happiness basically didn’t recover until I came back. So I want to empower the next generation to choose art rather than being told it’s not a viable career option, because that’s how I saw it.

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I came here in a really strange way. I first went to university and studied chemical engineering at Canterbury. I hated. I went to business school at the University of Waikato. I quit that too, because I hated it.

It just wasn’t for me. I fell into what I do now. I took an evening class seven years ago, and pottery takes over your life.

Alex Wilkinson with some of the over 5000 pieces she makes each year.

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

Alex Wilkinson with some of the over 5000 pieces she makes each year.

My studio is at home. I don’t live in Mystery Creek anymore, but when I started I was there, so I just kept the name. We have two sheds on our property and they are mine to do ceramics.

I’m very strict on clay staying in the studio and not migrating home. I have an office in the house, but everything else is done in the studio, because it’s so dirty.

Having a studio so close to home is great, says Wilkinson.

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

Having a studio so close to home is great, says Wilkinson.

It’s really hard to balance the administrative demands with the business and how much you really want to hit the clay, but I manage to keep it pretty chill. Clay is incredibly addictive, but when it becomes your job, if I don’t take care of myself, I can’t do anything.

My studio style is clean, very functional. This is largely due to dust. You must keep the studio clean. We made more than 5000 pieces last year, so it’s a real production.

Some favorites from Wilkinson's vase collection, left to right: a blue mug by Royce McGlashen, a glass by Keith Grinter, a mug by Paul Masyk and a mug by Kim Morgan.  A piece of Wilkinson's work was in the Mary Quant exhibit with the glass Keith Grinter, when she saw it in the exhibit she had to have it.

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

Some favorites from Wilkinson’s vase collection, left to right: a blue mug by Royce McGlashen, a glass by Keith Grinter, a mug by Paul Masyk and a mug by Kim Morgan. A piece of Wilkinson’s work was in the Mary Quant exhibit with the glass Keith Grinter, when she saw it in the exhibit she had to have it.

My house is also clean. My personal fashion style is a bit as bright as it gets, so my home is neutral, then I bring the colors in with objects or artwork. I’m definitely not very good at interior design, but I’m a bit of an object collector.

In my ceramics, I push for intense colours, patterns and vibrations, and in the objects that I collect. I tend to do things that I don’t do. For example, in my collection of mugs, they’re quite clean and neutral, and I love them.

Luise Charlton's evocative black and white photography:

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

Evocative black and white photography by Luise Charlton: “It’s a bit isolated, but at the same time, it feels familiar, even though it’s an island I don’t know. It’s just a beautiful photo.”

With works of art, I do things that I don’t do as well. So I have a lot of illustrations, I have a few photographs. I watch it and want to celebrate how people love what they do and how they do it really well. I like to collect a bit of this passion.

I have three cups that I love because they are all handmade, very simple and functional. Many of them are quite matte, they are more satiny, pleasant in the hand and really functional. They’re even more functional than the work I do – bright in comparison.

Satin glazes are so hot right now. It may be inspired by Crown Lynn, but to be honest, I’ve never collected it. I don’t know Temuka either. I tended to stay away because a lot of them have that brown 80s vibe, which I really couldn’t connect with for a long time. However, as I learned more about wood burning, I grew to like certain aspects of it.

This little rocket man is by Libby Cameron, a friend of Wilkinson's:

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

This little rocket man is by Libby Cameron, a friend of Wilkinson’s: “She makes these incredibly human and amazing expressions on what she calls her ‘weirds.’ She did this giant rocket once, and I was like, ‘this is epic’. So I asked him to make me a mini.

In terms of ceramics, it’s really hard to get a functional satin piece without staining, so it’s a bit technical, in a way. This is something our pottery is celebrated for.

A coral illustration by Hannah Goodwin: "I met Hannah a few years ago and am obsessed with coral.  Its color, its vivacity, its fragility.  So this piece really spoke to me.  When he went up in the exhibition, I just had to nab him.  We actually use the material coral is made of - limestone - in the glazes.  And the first piece I ever made was a ceramic coral reef hanging on the wall.

Kelly Hodel / Stuff

A coral illustration by Hannah Goodwin: “I met Hannah a few years ago, and I’m just obsessed with coral. Its color, its shine, its fragility. So this piece really spoke to me. When it went up in the exhibit, I just had to grab it. We actually use the material coral is made of – limestone – in the glazes. And the first piece I ever made was a ceramic coral reef on the wall.

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