About Katrina ….

It all started for me back in Year 11 at high school.  My parents moved me into a private school to, as they said, ’round off my sharp corners’.  They were putting some finishing touches on their creation before letting me loose.  Stumped, I looked at the curriculum not knowing what to enrol in. Textiles, would be nice I thought, but on arriving at school I learned that the timetable didn’t work in my favour and I was placed in jewellery making instead.   I remember anxiously attending my first lessons and making my first soldering joins.  I was very apprehensive, but as I soon discovered, I had a natural aptitude for the skills.  My forever encouraging teacher suggested I enter my work in the Royal Melbourne Show’s jewellery competition, where I was surprised to be awarded first place.

By Year 12 it was a given, I would re-enrol in Art and jewellery making, it was the only class I was excelling in!  My new teacher was inspiring and went out of her way to enable us to grow and excel.  I was given the opportunity to attend the school to work on the weekends.

Just prior to sitting my final high school exams I was invited to Canberra School of Art (CSA) for an interview.  I remember sitting in the CSA Gallery with other young applicants and listening to the School Director Udo Sellbach tell us that not all applicants would be accepted. I was then very nervous, my hands trembling, as I passed my work around at the interview as the Director Udo Sellbach and Ragnar Hansen my soon to be Professor, were quietly daunting for a young 18 year old.  The beautiful thing was that Udo Sellbach invited me during that very meeting to join the school as a student the following year.  Wow! What a privilege it was, to be accepted as a student by Udo Sellbach.  I didn’t come across another student that day who shared the same experience as I did.

Three years passed quickly at Canberra School of Art. I enjoyed studying with Ragnar Hansen and the various technical assistants (previous students of Ragnar).  Ragnar’s origins were Norwegian and we all suffered the tasting of a roll-mop threatened with failing if we failed to eat one. Ragnar was very firm about form and technique. He himself makes superb hollow-ware found in collections world-wide. Our theme song as students was Steely Dan’s “Go back Jack and do it again”.  If there was a fault in our technique we did it again and again until we got it right.   My first lesson at school was in patience.  Ragnar also very kindly gifted me a silver wishbone that he had made for my 21st birthday.

At Art School I also enjoyed studying photography, life drawing and art history and theory.  In Art History I developed a strong interest in African Tribal body adornment in the lessons of Sylvia Kleinert, who shared beautiful pictures and insights into West African Art including the Dogon region of Mali.   It would be a while longer though before these lessons were to impact on my work. At art school my work was linked to the growing landscape of architecture found in Canberra. I wrote a paper at school about Architecture and it’s influences on Gold and silversmithing.

I graduated from Canberra School of Art in 1983 with a Diploma of Visual Art majoring in Gold and Silversmithing.  Three years at art school was enough for me.  I was keen to get out into the real worId and do my own thing.

In early 1986 after travelling through China, across Russia on the Trans-Mongolian Railway and around Europe, I returned to Australia and established my studio at Gorman House Arts Centre in Canberra. If you were in Canberra at the time you might have seen me trying to break into the market with a stall at Gorman House Arts Centre market.  My first solo show was at Solander Gallery in 1988, which was a collection of architecturally inspired perspex hollow-ware.  Some of these can be found in my Gallery page attached to this blog. I remained the longest individual artist tenant at Gorman House Arts Centre until I returned to my hometown Melbourne in 1994.

Racing Tea pot © Katrina Newman 1986 - 1988
Racing Tea pot © Katrina Newman 1986 – 1988

Canberra had become my home so it was with reluctance that I moved back to Melbourne.  I had been diagnosed with severe Rheumatoid Arthritis and was seeking access to a public hydrotherapy pool to help with my rehabilitation.   Canberra was severely lacking, there was no public hydrotherapy pool.  As I settled back into Melbourne I wrote to the Canberra Government Chief Minister and told her about the move,  advocating for a pool to be built in Canberra.  Now over 20 years later I believe there are several public hydrotherapy pools in Canberra.  It was regular hydrotherapy that saw me return to good health and a medicated remission.

I have been a practicing artist now for over 27 years, I never gave up on my rehab, and I’ve adapted where necessary to meet my creative needs.  “I call myself an artist / gold and silversmith.  Each piece I make is personal and will never be repeated, they have a character all of their own, each with a special feature and design.”

I now live by the coast on the beautiful Mornington Peninsula. I remember in my research into Rheumatoid Arthritis that living by the sea can be beneficial to your health.  I love the climate and the sea air and walking my trusted friend Izzy the dog, on the beach each day at Somers where I settled for 13 years.

In my first years at Somers I decided to explore the technique of Cuttlefish casting.  The technique is simply as follows.  I cut the cuttlefish in half, carving out a basic design and then join the two cuttlefish halves together again with binding wire before pouring in molten silver or gold. It’s adrenalin pumping the process of filing your cuttlefish mould.  There’s the noise of the gas torch that is almost like a jet engine, the sweat that pours from my body, as it can take a long while to melt the silver or gold, and the moment when your nervously holding the crucible of molten metal and pouring it carefully into your cuttlefish.  I admit there been a few misses. The result is a very rough cast.  At this stage I take the piece to my bench and spend many hours cutting back the very rough finish. I start with files and then move  on to various grades of emery paper. The final stage is polishing with a tripoli and then a rouge compound to produce the final stunning works you see for sale in my shop.

'The Elegant Sea' Sterling Silver Pendant © Katrina Newman
‘The Elegant Sea’ Sterling Silver Pendant © Katrina Newman

The result is that my rings and pendants are a very modern approach to an ancient technique, representing both a primitive and personal response to the environment. It is no coincidence that these pieces are representative of the sea and its sands and objects that can be found on its shores.

Coincidentally just prior to experimenting with my first cuttlefish casts, I travelled independently to Ghana in West Africa in 1999. I explored the local gold and silversmith workshops, I watched and studied the primitive but very successful casting techniques used by the local gold and silversmiths and attended ‘Cedi’s’ fabulous glass bead industry in the east near Odumase-Krobo. I also collected several local textiles that still hold a fascination for me. It was a wonderful 6 weeks of colour and excitement.

Several years later after studying the french language in Alliance Francaise I booked myself into a tour of Mali, landlocked in West Africa.  Part of the tour involved a 5 day trek through the remarkable landscape of the Dogon escarpment, which had been on my to do list since the early 1980’s.  As I descended the Dogon escarpment into a small village, meeting the local Chief and witnessing a funeral dance I was overcome with tears of joy and almost disbelief. I was finally living my dream that I had dreamt all those years ago at Canberra School of Art, in an Art History and Theory lecture with Syliva Kleinert.

Dogon escarpment
Dogon escarpment © Katrina Newman

Approximately ten years ago I enrolled in a weekend workshop with Pauline Delaney glass artist / lamp work bead maker.  Pauline was a great teacher, and I went away inspired to use lamp working to reintroduce colour back into my creations.  I purchased a new torch and now have two work benches in my studio; one for the gold and silversmithing and the other for the lamp working. My beads are very organic, I recently described the process of making them as not that different from applying paint to a canvas, they are all created with a palette of different colours.   My recent works are influenced by my natural environment and studies of West African tribal body adornment and my travels in West Africa including Ghana, Mali and Morocco.

Getting comfortable at the bench © Katrina Newman
Getting comfortable at the bench © Katrina Newman

In 2014 I was able to buy my first home.  I found a modest house in McCrae with a fantastic artist studio already established at the front of the suburban block. I have beautiful views to the west across the Mornington Peninsula and Port Phillip Bay, and views of Arthur’s Seat State Park to the east.

It is also wonderful that I now have the opportunity to sell directly from my studio.  In 2013 I joined the Peninsula Studio Trail of artists and we open our studio’s regularly to the public throughout the year.  If you would like to visit my studio please contact me via the form below or on the Contact page. I am available by appointment.

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My McCrae studio © Katrina Newman

I manage this blog as a compliment to my online shop at http://katrinanewman.etsy.com. Here I hope to share images of the techniques I use, daily influences on my work, and of course to have a little fun along the way.

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