Bruce Rowe of Anchor Ceramics in his Northcote studio.  Photo – Sean Fennessy.

Pendants and vessels in various stages of development in the Anchor Ceramics studio. Photo - Sean Fennessy.

Anchor Ceramics handcrafted vessels.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

Bruce Rowe of Anchor Ceramics in his Northcote studio.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

If you are paying very close attention to every teeny tiny caption on TDF, you might have noticed the name ‘Anchor Ceramics‘ pop up once or twice recently!  We included some of these beautiful handcrafted pieces in Kirra Jamison’s recent Tasty Tuesday posts, and they also featured in the gorgeous ‘Pop Up Posy Shop‘ in Melbourne we covered in the lead up to Valentines Day.  Soooo we figured we better follow up with some proper information about this brand new Melbourne-based ceramics studio… before someone else beat us to it!

As it turns out, Anchor Ceramics is the impressive side project of architect Bruce Rowe, who took up ceramics in 2009.  After many years of creating drawings on paper, Bruce was inspired to turn his grid-like sketches into ceramic tiles, for potential use in his own architectural projects.  Before too long, he was hooked, and when he stumbled across a vacant studio space at the Pop & Scott Workshop, Anchor Ceramics was born.

Bruce still works fulltime as an architect at MAKE architecture, but spends evenings and weekends in his beautiful new studio, creating his stunning range of simple handcrafted ceramic vessels, tiles and pendant lights.

Bruce’s ‘Potter’ pendant lamps are available to purchase through MAKE architecture.  His tableware isn’t quite ready for retail sale yet… but he’s nearly there!  An Anchor Ceramics  open day and launch is planned for a few months time… I’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, a few questions with Bruce about his background, and the launch of Anchor Ceramics! -

Tell us a little bit about your background – what did you study, and what led you to launch Anchor Ceramics this year?

I have a background in art and design, and studied architecture at The University of Western Australia in Perth. I moved to Melbourne in 2006 and worked with the celebrated architect Graeme Gunn. It was a great introduction to the culture of the profession in Melbourne. By 2010 I had started working with MAKE architecture, a young practice doing really interesting work.

Connected to my practice as an architect is a regular practice of drawing.  I began making drawings in the late 90′s, and after 15 years of making them, I have come to look upon them as a kind of necessary companion to the built work I make as an architect.

My drawings are grid based, and I began to think about the possibility of translating them into ceramic tiled surfaces. During a chance meeting in 2009 with Ilona Topolcsanyi, who runs the Cone 11 ceramics studio, I discussed these ideas. Ilona, with partner Colin Hopkins, were at the time making wall tiles for Andrew McConnell’s Golden Fields restaurant in St Kilda, and were in need of project volunteers. I spent a few days helping make their tiles, and as a thank you, Ilona offered me a spot in her wheel throwing class.

Starting on the wheel was new and unfamiliar at first, but I took to it quickly – it felt almost as if I was remembering an old skill rather than learning a new one.  Ilona is a skilled artist and teacher, who was very generous with her time and knowledge. As well as continuing with the classes, I spent additional time in the studio learning the fundamentals of the craft. By this stage I was committed to making ceramics a part of my daily life, so I purchased a lovely Shimpo wheel from Japan… despite not having anywhere to use it!  Not long after this I noticed an ad on Creative Spaces for a studio in the Pop & Scott Workshop, and Anchor Ceramics has unfolded naturally from there!

Anchor Ceramics is now another of those ‘necessary companions’ to my practice as an architect.   For me, ceramics is a kind of reconnection of the designer with the maker; ultimately it allows me to undertake both designing and making with an understanding of the requirements of each. I’m excited that some of the projects we are working on at MAKE will use the pendant light fittings or the tiles. In some cases we have developed the ceramics to fit the space, and in others we adjusted the architecture to take greater advantage of the ceramics. This kind of feedback loop between designing and making is a genuine joy, and something I have aspired to achieve for much of my working life.

What processes are involved in the creation of your pieces?

I use what would be more commonly associated with a design or architectural process to develop my ceramic work. I work with ideas explored through drawings and small scale models, either thrown quickly on the wheel or made from timber or rigid foam. Initial prototypes are made from these tests, usually with a few steps of refinement along the way. From here, the resolved designs are thrown on the wheel.

All my pieces are produced by hand, so subtle variation is evident across a range. Once the pieces have dried to a leather hard state, they are turned over and the base of each piece is finished using a number of different tools. This stage is called turning, and is similar in some ways to wood turning. Once dry, the pieces are ready for their first firing, called the bisque or biscuit firing. They are then glazed and fired for a second time to a much higher temperature.

One of the most inspiring things about ceramics is that these processes are thoughtful and are effectively unchanged across time. The tools are a little more advanced these days, but the combination of earth and water spun on a wheel and then fired, dates back around 6000 years.

Bruce gets his hands dirty.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.
Do you work alone or do you outsource any significant aspects of your practice?

I’m generally in the studio doing the physical making by myself, but the design process is often a collaborative one.

There’s incredible expertise in Melbourne; I have the utmost respect for makers who have dedicated their lives to their craft. I’m currently working with a mould maker to explore the best methods of making my ceramic lights using a casting process. As part of this process, I’ve been collaborating with a wood turner to develop the forms for casting. This will ultimately allow for a greater level of refinement to the shape of each piece, and will also make larger scale pendants possible.

Conversations with my colleagues at MAKE architecture has also played an important role in the development of the pendants.

The ‘Potter’ lamp by Anchor Ceramics, hanging in Bruce’s studio.  Steel and timber table (right) by Thomo & Coach.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.

Anchor Ceramics studio details.  Photo - Sean Fennessy.