Barbara Ritchie exhibits her artwork  263 Million Years .
Barbara Ritchie exhibits her artwork 263 Million Years . Boni Holmes

Potter creates piece using 263-million-year-old gems, clay

IT HAS been a piece in the making for 263 million years.

Maryborough potter Barbara Ritchie, who lived in Rubyvale - a town of the Sapphire Gemfields, west of Emerald - for 25 years, has created an artwork that depicts how her materials where formed.

Before moving to Maryborough two years ago, Ms Ritchie said she worked with sapphires and landscaped a one-acre block and built a house.

"Since my introduction to pottery in the late 80s with hand building, I still find myself influenced by the land and its multitude of colours," she said.

"Years ago I began to use a natural deposit containing ochres of earth tones with an added enhancement.

"The end visual results of earth tones suggest simplicity of design.

"My pottery sphere of the earth and its content are displayed to show the millions of years it takes to create this bountiful beauty.

"This is the start of where sapphire, zircons and the iron stone comes from - out of the volcano which creates this clay as well as those stones."

The piece, 263 Million Years, is valued at $6000 - the sapphire embedded is valued at that alone.

Ms Ritchie's artwork is displayed at Maryborough Art Gallery as part of the Mudlarks exhibition.


Mudlark members (from left) Audrey Reece, Judith Miosge and Barbara Ritchie with some of the artworks on display at the group's exhibition at the Maryborough Art Gallery.
CLAY DISPLAY: Mudlark members (from left) Audrey Reece, Judith Miosge and Barbara Ritchie with some of their artworks on exhibition at Maryborough Art Gallery. Boni Holmes

The potter said she joined the group after an impromptu meeting when she showed off her raku firing to members.

Ms Ritchie said pottery peaked her interest after her sister joined art school and came home with diabolical creations.

"They were terrible," she laughed.

Over the years she maintained an interest, befriending one of New Zealand's leading potters, Royce McGlashen, and started pottery classes in 1986.

She moved from her homeland in New Zealand to Australia with her son in 1991.

"When I moved to the sapphire fields I found a new interest because of the local clay," she said.

"It wasn't actually a clay and it is not found anywhere else. It was very slippery, very shiny and very difficult to handle but looked spectacular when it was fired.

"I had it analysed by a geologist - the report showed it was 70 per cent mostly talc, the percentage of clay was negligible and 30per cent ochre.

"It is an interesting material and you get the colour variations because of the ochres - it's quite amazing."

Not only did the potter have the clay material tested, she sent one of the zircons she found to the University of Southern Queensland in 1991.

"It was being sent to Canada along with a lot of other zircons collected on the gemfields and they were to be carbon dated," she said.

"They did each one individually and the zircon that came from my area was dated 263 million years old - hence the name of my artwork."

Ms Ritchie has held many workshops and was nominated for the Queensland Shell Art Award, receiving a highly commended.

"Shortly after that I won a scholarship to take me to the McGregor School in Toowoomba for two weeks and from there was accepted into art school," she said.

"I had the opportunity to attend the classes in Hervey Bay and that was how I moved to the area.

"During an exhibition where I displayed some of my work, some of my pieces were stolen and found in a teacher's possession.

"You don't know how good you really are until someone with an art degree and a known master potter wants to take your stuff."

The piece 263 Million Years will be part of the Mudlarks exhibition on display at Maryborough Art Gallery, Kent St, until the end of the month and all pieces are for sale.

Mudlarks hold workshops at Bottlebrush Craft Centre, corner Ferry and Queen Sts, Maryborough, on Fridays from 9am-noon.