As a ceramic artist, Kate McKay always aims to make something beautiful over something useful – although she reckons it almost always ends up as something practical anyway. Regardless, there are worse things in life than drinking a cup of tea from a unique vessel made with skill and passion.
The artist has just won the 2022 Veolia Creative Arts Scholarship, a $3000 grant distributed annually to artists throughout the region working in disciplines including painting, drawing, music composition, writing, creative dance and photography.
It is a boon to the artist who has a studio in the family’s shearing shed at Collector, just outside Canberra, which she shares with her father and fellow potter Alan Howard.
Creating art has always been a passion for Kate who is known for her functional work such as stoneware cups, plates and bowls as well as creative pieces. But there always seems to have been a connection between her work and her family’s business: she ran the popular Lynwood cafe at Collector with her mother Robbie Howard for about a decade.
The scholarship money will allow the artist to buy a slab roller which will help with her clay work – and it’s already on its way via ship from Germany.
“Being able to use this will allow me to open up a different area of work,” she said.
“I suppose I have been dabbling in ceramics since I left school – and I’m 46 now, but with the kids growing up, it’s something I can get back to now. And sometimes it feels like I’ve never left.”
She said the shearing shed, where she’s set up her studio, makes for a creative atmosphere – except around this time of year when she takes to a warmer kitchen in the house.
“The shearing shed as you can imagine, is a little bit open to the elements,” she said.
But she’s made the historic slab shed into a perfect workplace full of natural space and light fitted out with kilns and pottery wheels.
Although she grew up in Sydney, the family moved to Collector in 1985. Kate graduated from the Australian National University School of Art in 1999.
“There’s something about this area,” she said.
“I’m inspired by the colours, the palette of the environment here.
“I love working in traditional pottery pieces, but I’m also interested in Japanese glazes.
“When you’re potting something, it’s all about the lines you make, the wobble … I love that you’re making things you use in everyday life. It’s quite an honour to make such an essential everyday item. It’s a wonderful thing to elevate the idea of dinner as an art form.
“But as I get older, I like to experiment a little more with things; I’m looking forward to bringing in more sculptural elements to my work.”
The family ran the Lynwood Cafe from 1999 to 2009 with the local family businesses extending to Collector Wines, which is run by her brother-in-law Alex McKay. Kate has exhibited her work at the winery but more recently, has had shows in Collector and Goulburn.
“It’s very much a word of mouth business,” she said.
“People hear about your work and sometimes opportunities present themselves.”
Kate has exhibited her work at the Helen Stephens Gallery in Collector and following that, was invited to show her pieces at the Goulburn Regional Art Gallery.
Her latest exhibition will be a group show in September at First Draft Gallery in Sydney’s Woolloomooloo. Kate said the work would feature the best of both worlds: each artist’s works will be represented as an actual dinner table setting. It is the culmination of a mentoring program she has been doing with Wiradyuri artist Amala Groom.
“The table will be set up in the gallery as a real dinner table,” Kate said.
“The artists will all have dinner together the night before and then we’ll have to clean it all up in time for the exhibition’s opening.”
The Veolia Creative Arts Scholarship is presented annually with artists of any discipline invited to apply for the 2023 prize. More information is available on the Veolia website.