Have you ever dreamed of disappearing into the countryside to live life as a potter? Where you can wake up and draw inspiration from the environment around you. And with the skills you’ve developed, teach life skills to help those less fortunate.
After meeting Welsh ceramicist Mena Williams, I can tell you that the above is far from a childhood dream. Mena is in fact doing a sterling job of building a career in what she’s always wanted to do. I went to meet her in her studio to understand what it’s like to work as a ceramicist, and to literally be living the dream.
First thing’s first, I won’t paint a picture of a quaint converted barn/studio amidst acres of rolling hills (although the view from Mena’s property is extremely luscious and green). In fact, her current workplace visually conveys her journey so far, and the adversity she is overcoming to reach the good life. It also cements that anyone can do what they love, if they really want to. You just need guts, talent and piles of determination.
Having never visited Mena’s studio, I was surprised to uncover the reality of where she is currently producing some of her best work to date. It turns out that Mena, degree educated, mum of three (yet doesn’t look a day over 23), is a multiple entrepreneur. Amidst building her ceramics empire, initially from the cellar of her previous house, Mena and her husband are now at a crucial stage developing a self-build home.
If you’re envisioning the chaos of a Grand Designs style mid-build site, then you’re pretty much spot on. The family of five are living in a cosy static caravan overlooking their house-to-be.
Her ceramics studio currently takes the form of an extremely well built shed neatly attached to the end of the van. Inside it’s warm and oozing creativity. There’s space for Mena to store and work on her clay, room to turn a small potter’s wheel and her essential kiln, which wheels into the centre of the studio and back, firing her masterpieces into final product.
You simply can’t get a more convenient commute than this. It’s fantastic.
Despite the site work mayhem continuing just outside her window, Mena exudes the calmest persona and happily invites me in to share her story.
The journey into ceramics
Mena found her love for art & design at Pembrokeshire College and although she was naturally talented in painting and drawing, she had the urge to work in 3D and quickly moved towards working with clay.
Her love of still life and natural materials began at Swansea university and her studies later focused on free form structures, resulting in a one metre high tower of 2000 replica porcelain leaves for her final piece. Mena casually dropped into conversation that she broke her hand in her final degree year (apparently slipped putting the rubbish out – I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed there were no embarrassing student drinking stories to explain this). So, she had to think quickly to enable her to finish what she had started.
If you have a weakness, you can always find a way of continuing to work with a product.” explained Mena, “After my fall I could no longer throw clay, so I decided to hand build instead, as a way to complete my studies.
After the degree, came the travels. But Mena didn’t only follow the backpacker crowd for sun, sea and sambuca…she went into the Australian outback to watch and study how other potters worked. As you’d expect, these opportunities aren’t advertised on the back of youth hostel toilet doors…Mena approached famous potter Cameron Williams at an art centre in Sydney and before she knew it, he was inviting her to shadow him in his studio. Here, she lived and breathed ceramics, including watching gigantic pots being formed for the Australian Prime Minister at the time.
On return, Mena worked in the care profession for 6 years and eventually moved into her preferred area of art therapy, working in-house with residents in Broadmoor, Kilgetty.
The Birth of Mena Ceramics
Somewhere in between having three beautiful children, Mena’s love for ceramics led her to start experimenting with paper clay in the flat form. When she wasn’t being a devoted mother and wife or dedicated employee, Mena disappeared into her cellar studio to explore the idea of projecting light through these flat forms and imprinting the surface with natural materials.
The success of this work organically developed into the stunning products Mena is now producing – the self standing porcelain lamp. You really do have to view these in the flesh to appreciate the finite detail of the imprints, the texture, the fragile nature of the porcelain shade, the subtly applied glaze and the soft light as it shines through the delicately punched holes. Take a look at her website for more photography.
Mena is proudly retailing her lamps via chosen retailers in Pembrokeshire. Her long term goal (when she manages to find more time and space) is to increase her exposure by promoting her work online and further afield.
Mena also designs and produces her own range of jewellery (beautifully imprinted ‘mix n match’ charm necklaces, quirky studded earrings and pendants) in addition to working on bespoke commissions.
Ceramics as Art Therapy
In addition to the commercial side of the business, Mena is combining her love of ceramics with her passion for helping others. She delivers 4-6 week educational courses via Springboard (fun and educational courses for families in Communities First areas). She often works with groups of children with behavioural issues and nurtures them to develop life skills through working with clay.
It’s very challenging work and it can be difficult for the group to focus for long periods of time” Mena explains, “yet I get a lot of satisfaction from seeing them engage and enjoy their time with me.
Ceramics Workshops: An Evening with Clay
Having experienced a short taster on Mena’s potters wheel and been to her ‘Evening with Clay’ ceramics workshop at Cwtch Coffee in Pembroke Dock, I am in total agreement with Mena’s comment that working with clay is extremely therapeutic.
From the moment you sit down and begin sketching ideas, through the stages of experimenting, sculpting and perfecting that final piece, your body experiences flow. It’s like your mind has disconnected from the wheel of life, enabling you to enjoy the ‘here and now’ for just a few crucial hours before returning to reality.
Here are some of the results of Mena’s workshop.
[image credit: Tasmin Ayers]
Build Your Own Door
It’s unrealistic to believe that Mena happily floats from one day to the next – hands down to her for successfully juggling 3 kids, a self-build, art therapy, commercial sales and evening workshops. What is realistic, is the fact that Mena has nurtured the life she wants by designing and capturing her own opportunities.
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door (Milton Berle)
Sample Mena’s Dream
If you’ve always fancied experimenting with ceramics, contact Mena directly to ask about her workshops. In the long term, you can also watch this space, as Life Seeker will be integrating activities like this into an array of bespoke experiences.
I love your style Mena, both in ceramic design and life choice. You most definitely #playsmartlivewell