Passion for pottery as much about craft as community in Sumner

Polly Hutchinson has taken up pottery classes in Sumner. Photo: Supplied
Polly Hutchinson has taken up pottery classes in Sumner. Photo: Supplied
Pottery is seeing a resurgence in popularity, with sell-out classes at the Sumner Hub. Samantha Mythen reports on the hobby and the hub, and why it’s become an epicentre of the community.

Polly Hutchinson’s current pottery project is a mosaic-like, colourful square platter.

Working with her hands, the Sumner resident creates long rope shapes out of clay, draping, folding and layering them on top of one another to capture texture, movement and rhythm on the plate’s surface.

Hutchinson is a part of a growing resurgence of pottery in Christchurch. Demand for classes and workshops has grown exponentially in recent years.

Raewyn Smith with two of her children Victoria and Carlos took part in a recent pottery workshop...
Raewyn Smith with two of her children Victoria and Carlos took part in a recent pottery workshop to celebrate Sea Week. Photo: Supplied
Hutchinson, an “absolute beginner” at pottery, took her first class at the Sumner Hub in February.

“I never felt like I succeeded in art during school but I wanted to do something creative,” she said.

“Painting and drawing were never going to be a hit, but I thought I would have a go at pottery. I saw this opportunity and liked the idea of the small class and the local community base.”

In spite of having “hands full of thumbs,” eight pottery classes later Hutchinson ended up with a collection of coffee mugs, plates, platters, pinch pots and a planter, all of her own creation.

At the end of the introductory class, Hutchinson decided she loved making pottery so much she would sign up for the next course.

She especially loves the social aspect of the group.

“I’ve met people whose paths I wouldn’t have crossed otherwise.”

With their heads down and their hands busy, the intimate class of eight share funny anecdotes from their week as well as advice on household dilemmas.

Pottery also helps Hutchinson express her creativity and gratitude, form connections and learn new things – a holistic pot of gold for her well-being.

“I like to do things with my hands, like gardening,” she said.

“This is a natural segue from working with my hands in the soil to working in clay to create something usable.”

Teacher and talented ceramicist Nikki Wallace-Bell guides people of all ages in the classes at the hub.

The classes are taught by Nikki Wallace-Bell (centre). Photo: Supplied
The classes are taught by Nikki Wallace-Bell (centre). Photo: Supplied
The first thing Wallace-Bell teaches beginners is how to create a pinch-pot. This is made by pushing your thumb into a ball of clay, making the round ball hollow. The end result is a quaint dipping bowl, good for holding hummus in a platter.

“It is great as Nikki gets you making things right away,” said Hutchinson.

Wallace-Bell teaches her students techniques and then encourages them to experiment and explore what their creative juices can fuel.

Hutchinson said everyone always ends up with something quite different, even if the base idea is the same. After Wallace-Bell’s intermediate school art teacher inspired her to pursue art, she studied 3D design at university and then became an art teacher herself.

Three years ago, she left her full-time job teaching art at Christchurch South Intermediate, hoping to pursue community work.

She did not know what this would look like until she joined the Sumner Community Residents’ Association and thought several rooms in the Sumner Hub were being underutilized. They were still full of furniture leftover from when the hub was a police station.

In March last year, Wallace-Bell proposed turning one room into a pottery studio and holding community classes.

Wallace-Bell teaches four classes a week, two for adults and two for children. Photo: Supplied
Wallace-Bell teaches four classes a week, two for adults and two for children. Photo: Supplied
She paid community members in handmade ceramic pots to help build benches, then paint and decorate the room. It now has hanging plants and student-made art adorning the walls.

As the classes got busier, Wallace-Bell took over the second room in the hub, 12 months after decorating the first. There are now four pottery wheels in place.

Wallace-Bell teaches four classes a week, two for adults and two for children, with one-off workshops for the community held throughout the year. Many are subsidised to remove any barriers preventing members of the community from trying out pottery.

“Every pottery class I know is fully booked with wait lists,” said Wallace-Bell.

“My classes are packed and one-off workshops sell out in just two hours.”

Due to the popularity, social pottery nights will start today, running every Wednesday evening for those who have pottery skills but want to keep practising, as well as form new connections with fellow potters.

“It’s not just about developing clay, it’s about developing personalities and relationships in my classes,” she said.

For Wallace-Bell, the essence of her role is fostering connections and improving people’s well-being, rather than seeing the marvellous creations her students produce.

Creating something out of clay is a lengthy process. Many things can go wrong, but Wallace-Bell believes people are craving this kind of activity.

“Pottery is a process, you have to follow steps to make something out of clay. It’s not just a quick push of a button to make something happen,” she said.

“Pottery provides an opportunity to get away from our life of looking at screens.”

The hardest things for potters is the time and patience needed to complete a project. But Wallace-Bell said this is also the best thing.

“People really enjoy making something with their hands. They especially want to make things they can use,” she said.

The most popular objects to make are cups, mugs and planters. However, everyone’s desires are catered for, whether their preference is for sculpture or homewares.

Wallace-Bell hopes that in the future she can work with Women’s Refuge and the Red Cross to offer classes, to spread her passion further into the community.

Sumner Hub co-ordinator Charlie Hudson (left) and Sumner Community Residents’ Association co...
Sumner Hub co-ordinator Charlie Hudson (left) and Sumner Community Residents’ Association co-chairperson Liza Sparrow. Photo: Geoff Sloan ​
‘An incubator for local projects to happen’
Demand for community skill-sharing is at a high, as seen by the sell-out workshops and classes at Sumner Hub.

The hub was originally established in 2011 in the old police station by the Sumner Community Residents’ Association, as a community response to the February 22, 2011, earthquake.

The hub started out in one room and has since taken over the entire building, including the driveway where the hub van sits on standby, waiting to transport residents to their next community activity.

Advocacy and providing community assistance is also a large part of what the hub provides.

The rest of the hub is packed full of workshops and community projects.

These include the Bikery, for bike maintenance, the Goat Shed, which makes surfboards and the Refillery, where people bring reusable containers to refill pantry items. It also includes the plant-powered workshop, where people learn to make eco-friendly skincare and household cleaning products, the pottery workshop, and other art workshops.

When activities are on your doorstep, it is easy to engage and take part.

Sumner Community Residents’ Association co-chairperson Liza Sparrow said: “The Hub allows people to connect in a physical place, and it offers a one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about the community.”

The space is available for everyone to use.

“It is not exclusive to those already in there. Anyone is always welcome to come in and chat about their idea,” said Sparrow.

Sumner Hub.  Photo: Geoff Sloan
Sumner Hub. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Sumner Hub co-ordinator Charlie Hudson said: “Having a space like the Hub provides the opportunity for people to share their skills without the normal set-up cost of setting up a long-term lease.”

The hub not only provides a skill-sharing place with all the necessary facilities, but it also helps with setting up and promoting the event.

“This breaks down many of the barriers that daunt individuals to share their skills,” said Hudson.

Nikki Wallace-Bell, who holds the pottery workshops, believes the hub is so important for the community.

“It is an incubator for local projects to happen,” she said.

  • If you are interested in sharing your skills at the hub, or joining the Sumner Community Residents’ Association, email










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