A Darling Project: Surry Hill’s The Pottery Shed

The Pottery Shed is exactly how you’d imagine a seventies California pottery workshop. It’s an oasis of calm in a busy existence (albeit a modernised one). Located on Nickson Street, just off Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, The Pottery Shed has a warm interior, with glowing tea cups, bowls and vases sited carefully on every surface.

While visiting artists and teachers from overseas work in the back, Culture Scouts sits down to talk with Joe Darling, the founder of The Pottery Shed.

Darling is as welcoming as the establishment itself. He tells me about all the beautiful things he sees created in his class: according to him it happens, “all the time.” He spreads his hands, in excitement. “Especially when the individual has that first spark of ‘Aha!’ … a balanced adult has many inputs but some people aren’t quite balanced so those who do experience that for the first time, often it’s a shocking deep revelation and that’s what stirs me the most.”

“I guess I get more of those wonderful moments than you would imagine.”

Although he is now running a successful pottery business, it has not always been smooth sailing for Darling. “My story is born out of tragedy”, he acknowledges as we sit in the sun dappled entrance room, “My parents passed away when I was a teenager. My life was completely ripped apart and in high school, the people that looked after me in that emotional sense were my teachers.” But the best was craft, “[They] had a focus on [it] and the teachers that took care of me and the parts of craft and art that I most associated with or most loved was silver smithing, wood smithing, pottery, metal shop and automobile work”.

So, what came after school for Joe? “I started doing professional pottery immediately after high school [1976] and I started a range of wares that were popular amongst a sub set of the culture but then decided against continuing a professional career in pottery and wanted to study at university, which I couldn’t afford and I took advantage of [an education] programme in the military.”

Afterwards, he started teaching. Was it about being for another student, what his craft teachers were for him? “I wanted to set that seed and yes that’s what happened.”

“I believe my police and military training I have gathered that strict clarity in teaching that I find was the real answer to bring Pottery Shed to people.”

Pottery is an extremely tactile craft, with palpable emotions emerging from the kneading of clay. “[Pottery] absolutely draws you in, restricting other thoughts; pulling together your centred-ness and focus,” says Darling, “It would have been the thing that would have kept me out of my possibly troubled youth.”

Darling has also achieved significant goals when it comes to The Pottery Shed’s influence on people. “I am affecting a great deal of people with this seed also letting them experience a little bit of this in their life,” he says cheerfully, “A lot of people don’t have a focus or they are misguided through so many distractions in life and it’s never clear until you find or do you see what the opposite really is. So that clarity comes to people often with this experience but they don’t necessarily have to take it up.”

And his rule on Ghost re-enactments? Darling has a strict policy, plus a ready at hand lecture and a ‘demonstration piece’: “There is a $5 penalty for that word and then we have to clarify exactly what the reason behind Ghost is that has been society’s fascination.”

“It’s not pottery. It’s female orgasm and you see we have to talk about this because it’s an issue that’s been left behind with my clan for far too long.”

If you’d like to take part in one of the classes, buy some pottery, or even see the mysterious Ghost “demonstration piece”, visit The Pottery Shed website. Pottery is for sale there or at Glebe Point Road Markets.

You can book a tour of Darlinghurst and Surry Hills here