I work with clay, I make pottery for cooks. My pottery is honest, useful, and it is made from scratch. It is the pottery I want to use in my own kitchen.
Like any good culinary creation, the work starts with my ingredients, using the perfect clay to do the job, then giving it the right finish. The clay for my rustic terracotta ware comes from Dunedin, and has rich colour and a smooth soft texture. We put a white slip glaze on top, it’s almost the icing on the cake. Timing is everything in the studio when we’re glazing; I’m like the head chef, working with my team to get the best result. Again, as with cooking, you have to have a feel for this, you have to engage the senses as you’re doing it.
About Tony Sly
When we’ve just made a fresh pot, and it’s sitting there in the studio, it’s so beautiful. We’re trying to retain that fresh feel, and the quality of the materials. When we’re firing, we’re capturing a moment in time, it’s not precise, that’s why we have variations. We use natural oxides to colour the glaze so we get lovely translucency with each piece.
When I think about what I want to make, I think about shapes that are useful for a lot of things. A platter could be for shared food, or a single item, anything. Our style is to simply put beautiful glazes on lovely shapes, and the food completes the story. We want people to decide for themselves what they use our pieces for, so we have no fancy names for our glazes, shapes, and colours. I’m providing a platform for people’s creativity, I’m the behind the scenes guy.
Our pieces aren’t over-designed, they’re a reinterpretation of items that have worked in earlier times, many of them translated from European country pottery. I’m a visual person, I notice shapes wherever I am. When I’m overseas I can be lost for hours in flea markets, or fossicking in junk shops, finding functional shapes that have been in kitchens for centuries.
My colours, though, are about being in New Zealand. I’m doing the Kiwi thing of taking something from Europe and reworking it here, with our clays, and the colours from our landscapes.
When I moved the studio to Raglan Wharf, I began to lighten up my colours, using a watery green palate with glazes of turquoise, soft blues, and whites, drawing on the moods of the harbour.
Often when I wrap pottery up in the store, people tell me what they'll do with it. It’s nice to make things that people really enjoy using. Someone said my pottery becomes a friend for life. I like that.
Raglan potter Tony Sly began working with clay in Hamilton in 1980. He had studios in Hamilton before moving to Raglan 12 years ago, and developing his signature rustic domestic pottery. He later added a classic range, with summery hues, and more recently a finer, modern stoneware series that is perfect for tableware. Tony can usually be found working happily with his artisan assistants in his small-batch production studio in the idyllic setting of Raglan Wharf, with water lapping at his back door.