Potters Chris and Mary-Lou Pittard have worked and lived in their Eltham property for 25 years. Finding a beautiful big block with a tiny house, they saw a huge opportunity to gradually create the home that it is today. Surrounded by lush native garden, mudbrick and thick timbers blend in harmoniously. The couples’ studio spaces behind the house are a feast for the eyes. Shelves of ceramics and works in progress line the converted shed. Mary-Lou participates in multiple Artist-in-Residence programs with local primary schools and she tells us of the excitement young students express when they come and visit. “They love the experience of visiting the studio. They’re very inquisitive, I’ve had kids ask ‘This is all you do?’” Mary-Lou laughs. “I tell them that ‘it’s not all painting and playing, you have to use lots of things you learn at school, like maths and English.’ It’s great the school groups can come here and see what a real-life studio is like, and that it’s possible to make a career doing what you love.”
As well as pottery, Chris Pittard is a painter. He shows us some works in progress - landscapes from recent trips around Australia.
The paintings are made up of layers of different media that produces an energy to the still and tranquil landscapes. When he’s not working in the studio Chris is teaching fine art at CAE in the city. For the last 20 years he has taught a diverse range of students, some who have enjoyed a course as a hobby and others who have gone on to become well established artists in Australia. The couples three girls are all grown up, Jessie the middle child has recently finished studying at RMIT and works out of her own studio space in the home. Bigger than that of her parents, there she works on etchings, screen prints and ceramics. “It’s great that she’s pursuing pottery and has developed her own style which is quite different from Mary-Lou and I.” Chris says.
The couple show us work at different stages and explain their processes. They recently acquired a fabulously pink mold caster. Chris tells us, “It was one of only ten ever made and we know four other owners, so as soon as it came up we bought it.” Driving up to Sydney to pick it up, they carted the 2 tonne machine home. It can press a slab of clay into a four-sided vase simply by guiding a lever on its side. “We’re looking forward to experimenting with some sculptural pieces. It’s fantastic for the school kids too and saves me so much time on my own stuff.” It’s lovely to see the couple still get excited about the creative process and new additions to the studio. So much of the older equipment was just built to last. They’ve only ever worked with one kiln which is set to 1200 degrees each time they do a batch. Mary-Lou says “After 35 years of potting, it’s still a relief to open a successful glaze firing.”
Steve and Vonnie Frazer, owners of Stones of the Yarra Valley, have had a relationship with the Pittards since their first venture into hospitality. When they built a small B&B in Kangaroo Ground Mary-Lou was commissioned to make ramekins and other crockery with unique paintings themed around the cottage and the property. “People used to keep pinching them!” Vonnie remembers. Since Stones opened it’s been tradition to give couples in their final wedding meeting their ‘first wedding gift’, a large platter designed by Mary-Lou. With over 1300 weddings hosted at the venue, that’s a lot of platters. Our most recent commission has been pizza plates for Meletos (pictured). Used within the The Café space, the plates will soon be available to purchase in The Providore at Meletos, due to open later in the year.
Working with local clay and painting flora and fauna from just outside their studio, the Pittards’ paintings have a warmth and nostalgia,
an Australiana style without being kitsch. They portray classic elements of this region and to someone who has grown up amongst those elements there is meaningful sentiment to the Pittards art. Connecting the work with the artists behind them just makes sense.
Their style is beautiful, wholesome and approachable. The couple are down to earth and cheerful, they clearly love what they do.