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Tending Tradition Exhibition

Tending Tradition, a solo exhibition by Hannah as part of South Australia's History Festival in May 2023. Held at Hahndorf Academy, Peramangk Country/South Australia. The project was supported with funding from Arts South Australia.

Tending Tradition

Marie Littlewood


“Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth that around every circle another can be drawn; that there is no end in nature, but every end is a beginning; that there is always another dawn risen on midnoon,
and under every deep a lower deep opens.”[1]


The accomplished body of work by ceramic artist Hannah Vorrath-Pajak - Tending Tradition, marks a thoughtful evolution in Hannah’s work. Coinciding with History month 2023, Tending Tradition offers the attentive viewer a porcelaneous passage between past and present. 


Hannah has constructed a narrative in the ancient way, using the haptic, heartfelt, language of clay. Within the wheel formed walls of these pieces Hannah curls tales of cultural, historical and personal worth.  Exploring the pottery made by early German settlers in South Australia, Hannah bears witness to the struggles of the diasporic- hopeful and hardworking, transporting old traditions and beliefs to that of another ancient land. 


Tending Tradition is also a tale of proclivity and dedication; the romance of apprenticeship to a demanding material. Hannah uses her technical mastery to tenderly create a contemporary exploration of pioneer pastoral pottery. 


Cast your mind if you would, to a solidified love song, a poem or a fairy tale. 


Using a ‘Goldilocks’ [2] vessel, one that is ‘just right’ and performs its function admirably, say for example a cup - a cup that fits the folds of your fingers just so, holds the desired volume, possesses an aesthetic that melts your heart, is undeniably, a sensual pleasure.


Becoming proficient in the production of such a marvel, in porcelain, a clay body notoriously challenging, is an ambition honed in repetition and discipline, founded upon multiples of mathematical might and chemical majesty. Skill such as this, takes a craftsperson much longer to acquire than ever conceived at the outset.  Perhaps a lifetime of application.  Put simply, the magic formula is devotion made palpable. 


Since graduating from the University of South Australia in 2017, Hannah has sought experiences that keened her relationship to the medium and matured her making skills.  A residency in  Onishi, Japan, surrounded by lush countryside and living cultural tradition. Wood firing in the Tasmanian bush and breathing in the stark beauty of the Australian arid lands are all potent destinations. Destinations that have enriched Hannah’s connection to landscape and whispered wisdoms to extend her ceramic vocabulary. Add to this, a mentorship with Susan Frost[3] and Hannah was perfectly placed to create herstory, weaving her own cultural heritage into her unique ceramic experience and the historical craft of other travellers.  


The years 1838 through 1846 saw sailing ships arrive on South Australian shores, transporting Lutheran refugees escaping religious persecution in Prussia.  Subsequent settlements in Barossa Valley, Hahndorf and Klemzig areas were established. Settlement intentionally sequestered from English camps – thus enabling the continuation of culture and lifestyle that the free German folk were now at liberty to pursue.[4]  The production of pottery for pastoral and personal use became a part of this cultural continuum. 


Having German and Polish heritage, Hannah felt drawn to explore the ceramics of the early German potters. Works made by the settlers were mostly functional including table ware and storage vessels, their decoration modestly informed by technical and material availability and a virtuous bias toward austerity.  


The works in Tending Tradition directly reference the functionality of these early pieces. Consider fermentation vessels, a hermetic lidded structure designed to preserve and pickle produce for later consumption – an investment in the future, insurance against hunger, an edible time capsule of sorts. Hope. 


Plates dressed modestly in simple glazes attract our attention with their chiselled features.  Patterning that calls across time, establishing a new deep, embellishing the ceramic surface while cleverly linking Hannah’s childhood memories of delicious offerings upon European cut glass ware. Sweet remainders of the contents of cupboards past. Each precise press into clay as careful and deliberate as the barefoot step of those early women traversing the long dirt track to market.[5]


Tending Tradition teaches us that all makers of ceramics stand on the shoulders of potters past, indebted to their endeavours, discoveries and technical achievements. Many of the processes, despite technological advancement, remain the same. The kiln is, and will always be, a magical place of transformation. Like the crops planted in hopeful anticipation all those years ago, the outcomes are never guaranteed.   In this way we continue, a magical, ceramic(al) Ouroboros. Understanding that, even freshly finished, unloaded from the final firing, each ceramic vessel is full to the brim of human story, struggle and celebration.  


Marie Littlewood is an artist, educator, writer and healthcare professional, living on Kaurna land in Adelaide, South Australia. 


[1] Circles, Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1841

[2] Goldilocks and the Three Bears, 1837, Robert Southey

[3] Susan Frost is a ceramic artist living and working in Adelaide, South Australia who uses the evocative properties of colour and decoration to highlight the sculptural qualities of form with her wheel thrown porcelain vessels.

[4] Ceramics in south Australia 1836 -1986 from Folk to Studio Pottery, Noris Ioannou

[5] The Pioneer Women’s Trail honours the early Europeans who settled in Hahndorf, and supplied Adelaide with fresh produce at a time when most foodstuffs had to be imported into South Australia. Within weeks of their arrival in 189 the women and girls were walking the rough bush track to Adelaide, 35km away. They left the village at midnight, carrying baskets of vegetables and dairy products on their backs or on yokes across their shoulders. 

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