'Piece by Piece' Helen Streefland November 2022

Posted by Fiona Cable on

Helen’s Dutch origins are evident in the refined elegance and beauty expressed through her porcelain objects. “I love the fragility, pureness and tactility of the material: making the objects by hand slab, pinching the porcelain as thin and light as can be... it is captivating.”

Ceramics was an elective when Helen was completing her Bachelor of Design. She majored in painting but has always enjoyed making objects with porcelain. No one pot or plate is like the other. Helen blends her artistic flair and love of style, as artist and passionate foodie – she imagines different gourmet delights being displayed on the objects as she is making them.

Porcelain by the modern definition is said to date back over 2,000 years. Some of the first evidence of porcelain pieces have been traced to the Eastern Han Dynasty in China. However, the method for making it remained a mystery to Europeans until the early 18th century when Johann Böttger discovered the magic formula. Böttger was an ‘alchemist’ who bragged that he could make gold, in part due to the ability to turn inexpensive minerals into highly valuable objects.

The method of construction is seen in Helen’s finished objects. Porcelain is flesh without bones until firing is complete so a base is made to support each piece. To create an exhibition brings failure up close and personal as breakages are prolific.  

Helen Streefland porcelain objects of beauty art Auckland crafted porcelain

Working in porcelain takes patience as well as skill. The smallest amount of water can change its texture. If a bowl’s walls are inconsistent in thickness, the bowl can crack as it cools, because the ceramic must be vitrified at extremely high temperatures (somewhere between twenty-two hundred and twenty-six hundred degrees Fahrenheit). Edmond de Waal a leading ceramicist recounts the amazing historical journey of white porcelain being invented and reinvented out of mystical longing. “You can get away with unevenness with other kinds of clay, but it is chancy with porcelain. Your errors, your slapdash decisions, are revealed,” de Waal writes. But this risk of failure is worth the outcome of success: if made correctly, there is nothing thinner, no other clay that possesses that luminosity, that unbelievable strength. Tap a finished bowl with your spoon, and it rings hollow, like a metal cup. Glass shatters, earthenware crumbles; porcelain is otherworldly in its beauty and strength.

Helen’s timeless and exquisitely crafted objects are available in the gallery from 3 – 30 November.

Helen Streefland porcelain objects of beauty art Auckland crafted porcelain

Helen Streefland porcelain objects of beauty art Auckland crafted porcelain

Photos courtesy of MUSE.

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