The story behind Albany ceramicist Janelle Peterson’s sculptures

Josiah McMeekinAlbany Advertiser
Ceramic artist Janelle Peterson.
Camera IconCeramic artist Janelle Peterson. Credit: Laurie Benson

From digging up clay from the quarries near Serpentine Road to a fortunate Gumtree purchase as an adult, making art has always been part of life for ceramics sculptor Janelle Peterson.

Born in Albany, Peterson moved to Darwin with her family when she was eight where she spent her teen years.

She spent her early 20s working at a bank in Perth, before making her way back down to Albany, where she’s been ever since.

Ceramic artist Janelle Peterson.
Camera IconCeramic artist Janelle Peterson. Credit: Laurie Benson

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“Once I came back to Albany, it just felt like coming home, even though I’d been in Darwin longer,” she said.

“I just felt more at home than I probably ever did in Darwin.”

Always the artistic one in her family, Peterson studied at TAFE and then university, developing her creative skills and experimenting with different forms of visual arts.

“We cover a few different types of things, in TAFE you cover a bit of ceramics, and so I got to try it for a bit,” she said.

A Janelle Peterson piece.
Camera IconA Janelle Peterson piece. Credit: Laurie Benson

While she enjoyed working with ceramics, the cost of vital tools like a kiln steered her towards other forms of visual arts such as printmaking and textiles.

“I just pursued other things that I could afford to do,” she laughs.

“Which was like scavenging for things and picking things up off the side of the road and using recycled and secondhand things for art.”

It was later, after joining a pottery club to give it another go that, she was scrolling through Gumtree and found someone selling tools she would need, including a second-hand kiln.

“The guy had just bought it off of a friend and I don’t think he ever used it,” she said.

“I think I got about $10,000 worth of stuff for $2000.”

Ceramic artist Janelle Peterson's budgerigars.
Camera IconCeramic artist Janelle Peterson's budgerigars. Credit: Laurie Benson

Peterson’s workshop is a testament to the true value of that purchase.

The walls and shelves are lined with brightly coloured works — ceramic budgies sit on stands and there are painted dolls, decorative lamps and sculptures of women painted to give their faces a blue hue, the latter inspired by Vladimir Tretchikoff and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, and many more.

Peterson laughs as she says part of what she likes about clay is how instant the result can be.

“I mean, it does come with a lot of problems, but the immediacy of it, and I was able to start creating things that I wanted to,” she said.

The challenge, she says, is that you can’t get too attached because of how it changes. Clay shrinks when it is “fired” in the kiln.

And if you aren’t careful, firing a sculpture too many times, or at the wrong temperature, can cause it to crack.

A Janelle Peterson piece.
Camera IconA Janelle Peterson piece. Credit: Laurie Benson

But despite the technical challenges, it’s a process she loves, and there is always something to make.

For Peterson, ideas are rarely a challenge, something she’s grateful for.

“My mind works by itself in the background and I don’t realise, so I’ll get a lot of those leaps of inspiration where I’ll be thinking about something and then it’ll just appear to me.”

And then she gets to work.

“I feel it’s a feeling like falling in love sometimes or, I know, that’s probably a bit too dramatic, but I work a lot by feel,” she said.

Janelle Peterson works in progress.
Camera IconJanelle Peterson works in progress. Credit: Laurie Benson

Sometimes that is with a rough idea in mind, other times it’s more of an experiment, making multiple separate components and combining them into a final piece.

“When I start putting things together and it starts giving me a feeling, then I start to feel excited and think this is kind of working,” she said.

It doesn’t always work out though, she explains, showing off an incredibly realistic ceramic Gameboy and ViewMaster, leftover components for a piece that didn’t come to fruition.

The real struggle for Peterson is marketing herself.

“I found it really difficult and I couldn’t promote myself at all,” she said.

“And so I just sit in my shed making things until I have no more room.”

She credits her husband Richard for pushing her to build an online presence to show off and sell her work, with a lot of it now selling over east and in the US, with one piece going as far as Germany.

She hopes to one day have her work represented by a gallery, and while it hasn’t happened yet, she’s not letting it hold her back from filling her shelves with her creations.

Janelle Peterson works.
Camera IconJanelle Peterson works. Credit: Laurie Benson

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