Jena Bedson – A Way With Clay

This week we caught up with successful local potter Jena Bedson. Jena has created her own little oasis at her beautiful home in Warburton. Jena has her own home studio that she creates and teaches from and also runs a B&B. Jena has an eye for detail and a natural flare for interior design which is very evident to those that visit her home. Jena has been a successful potter for 40 years and was kind enough to share her story with us.

Jena grew up in North Ringwood with her 3 sisters and 1 brother. She had a pretty normal childhood and was always creative from a young age. Her mother was a dress maker so Jena enjoyed making clothes and was always drawing and making things.

When Jena got to high school, her school started to offer ceramics as an elective. Jena jumped at the chance and fell in love with the art of ceramics. Ceramics were extremely popular in the 70’s when Jena was a teenager and she was surrounded by potters in her local area. By age 16 Jena was enjoying pottery so much, she started to attend classes at Potters Cottage in Warrandyte. “Potters Cottage was the pottery place of the 70’s” Jena said.

Jena learning the art of pottery.

In 1980 Jena made a big move to the Goldcoast and was working and travelling at the time until 1983 when she decided to make a change and move to Brisbane and enroll in a 2 year Diploma of Ceramics course.

After Jena gained her qualification she started a traineeship with a well known potter of the time called William Reed. “In those days you could get a job as a potter” Jena said. There was a big market in the 80’s for pottery as it was very popular at the time so there were many pottery businesses operating in Queensland.

After her traineeship Jena went on to work as a wheel thrower and worked at two large pottery businesses called Beechworth Pottery and Javeenbah pottery. Jena was mainly making functional wear like mugs, jugs and sugar bowls. There was a lot of craft shops and gallerys around in the 80’s which which would stock pottery.

Jena spent most of the 80’s as a wheel thrower.

In 1988 Jena started renting out a studio in West Burleigh in Queensland and was making her own pots. It was very much a solo pursuit and not something Jena had done before. That same year Jena also got married. The following year Jena and her husband welcomed their son Jordon into the world. Jena then spent the next 5 years at home raising their beautiful son.

In 1994 Jena decided to combine her love of motherhood and her creativity to write 3 children’s stories. She traveled around to kindergartens and pre-schools to perform her stories to the children. Afterwards the children were encouraged to make the characters from the story out of clay. Jena named her business ‘Clay Play for Kids’ and it was something Jena really enjoyed doing for the following 4 years.

In 2002 Jena’s husband was offered a job in the Valley which required them to move states. It was a very big move to Warburton as they knew nobody. Jena had previously been to Warburton when she was a kid camping but she really knew nothing about the area. They moved to Warburton that year but unfortunately that year Jena’s marriage ended. Jena then bought a home out in East warburton where she lived with her son.

Jena started her own studio in 2002 at her new home and starting working 7 days a week. “It was a very busy time for me as I had a child to raise and a mortgage to pay” Jena said. Jena kept to herself throughout these years as she was very busy and knew very few people in the area.

Jena would sell her items at the St Kilda market and she also supplied 11 shops around Australia with her items. Jena’s style of pottery was very different at this time. “My style at the time was very quirky and wacky” Jena said. She was making very quirky teapots and decorative spoons. She was very successful at selling her art.

One of Jena’s wacky teapots.

Jena also made a connection in 2003 with the Warrandyte Potters Expo which was held on the banks of the Yarra River in Warrandyte every year. It was a great way for Jena to showcase and sell her work. Jena continued to participate in the event for the following 10 years.

In 2006 Jena was honoured to participate in Les Tupiniers du Vieux Lyon in France with 7 other Australian potters. It is a potters expo that is held in the city of Lyon. Potters from all over France and Europe exhibit their work but Jena and the other 7 potters were the only Australians there. Jena had a wonderful time travelling to France meeting and visiting many other potters homes and studios.

Jena continued to make her artwork from her home studio in East Warburton until late 2010 when Jena decided to make a radical change. She felt it was time to get back out into the world after spending many years being introspective. Jena had been very successful creating and selling her work in this time but it was time for a big change.

Jena had always dreamed of studying art therapy and through what she can only describe as serendipitous situations, she kept bumping into people who would be talking to her about art therapy. She felt it was the universe giving her a little nudge and so in 2011 Jena enrolled in a Diploma of Art Therapy at Chisholm Institute in Frankston. Jena closed her studio down and started studying full time.

She lived off savings for a while but knew she needed to get some work. Through a stroke of good luck the very first job she searched for she got. It was working at Wesley Mission designing a range of garden products for people with mental health issues and disabilities.

The job was 4 days a week in Lilydale which was handy as it was not too far from home. She was juggling work and school until the end of the first year but it became too much to work 4 days a week and travel to Frankston 3 days a week so she made a decision to go part time at school in 2012.

Wesley were very generous to Jena and actually helped pay for Jena’s art therapy course. They could see the benefits of Jena’s study to their own business. Jena also started up a creative arts program at Fire & Clay in Lilydale around this time. Jena completed her diploma in 2014 and continued to work for Wesley.

In 2015 Jena felt it was time to move and started to look for a new home. Jena was very particular about what she was after and 3 months later she found her new home. She walked into the studio and even though it was not being used as a studio at the time she loved the light and could see the potential. The house had all the elements Jena dreamed of. It had a space to teach, accommodation to run a B & B and the home was light filled and beautiful. It ticked all of Jena’s boxes.

“It was everything that I had dreamed of, it was that big. I felt like it was years of hard work coming together.” She also felt it wasn’t just a space that she could live in and make pots in, it was a space that needed to be shared with others.

Jena’s studio that she is happy to share with others.

Jena moved into her new home in February 2016. The move proved to be very significant for Jena and created a lot of change in her life. She decided to start teaching out of her new home studio in 2016. Teaching wasn’t new to Jena as she had already been teaching people with mental health issues for many years at Wesley, but she was ready to run her own workshops from home. In 2018 Jena then resigned from Wesley and is now a self employed potter.

Jena has created many different styles of pottery over her 40 years but now describes her pieces of pottery as sculptural garden art. She hand builds these days after spending many years as a wheel thrower. It was her years of working at Wesley designing garden ornaments that changed Jena’s creative journey.

Jena’s creations are spread throughout her amazing garden.

Her main job at Wesley was to design pieces that could be made and handled by many people so the process had to be very clear and structured. I was designing work that someone with no ceramic skills could make. It opened Jena up to a new way, as she began to explore the world of hand building and hasn’t looked back. “It was very much a self propelled journey” Jena said.

Jena also creates molds for some of her pieces. She has taught herself the skills of making moulds, plasters and how to make templates since working at Wesley. Jena uses theses skills in the making of some of her clay creations. Jena will create a basic shape or structure and then layer her creations with wonderful facial expressions, intricate patterns, birds, moths and flowers and then uses glazes to highlight the beauty of her pieces.

One of Jena’s wonderful bird inspired creations.

Jena describe herself as a story teller and has always been interested in folk stories. “I am passionate about what I do, but I am also very self disciplined. I have a rhythm in my studio and in my work” Jena said.

Jena’s inspiration comes from nature as with a lot of artists. “I need to live near water, animals and birds. I want to be surrounded by beauty which can come in many forms.” Jena loves to spend time in her garden enjoying a cup of tea and taking in the beauty around her which she then uses as inspiration in her studio.

Jena relaxing in her beautiful garden.

Another of Jena’s inspirations is moths and admits to being totally fascinated by them. You will often see them used on Jena’s wonderful hand drawn cards and also on her amazing clay creations. “They are nocturnal, but they are always seeking the light” Jena said. This resonates deeply with Jena.

One of Jena’s beautiful drawings inspired by moths.

All of Jena’s creations have a meaning and none more so than her beautiful Serenity pots. They have a very special place in Jena’s heart as they are inspired by her late mother, Maisie. Jena’s mother was dignosed with Parkinsons disease when she was 64 years old. She lived with the disease until aged 90 when she passed away in 2017.

Jena shared with me that she observed a real serenity within her mother in the final year of her life after struggling with Parkinson’s disease for so many years. Jena wanted to honor her mothers memory by creating her beautiful Serenity Pots. People will often buy Serenity Pots from Jena to place in a memorial garden that they have at home for a loved one. Jena loves the connection people feel to these pots. They are made with love and straight from Jena’s heart.

Jena’s beautiful serenity pots, inspired by her late mother Maisie.

Jena has started teaching and running workshops out of her beautiful home studio. When Jena put the word out 4 years ago that she was teaching she was overwhelmed with the response from the local community. “They were so supportive of me and still are to this day, which I am very grateful for” Jena siad. Jena now fills most of her courses during the Yarra Valley Arts Open Studio weekends. Jena now has people come up from Melbourne and surrounds but she still has a locals attended her workshops as well.

Jena describes herself as a passionate teacher. She loves to see her students responses when they make something that they love. “I want all my students to be proud of themselves and have a great experience” Jena said.

Jena encourages her students to take on ambitious projects.

Jena classes are very structured but is happy when someone comes along with a project that they would like to make, and is more than happy to facilitate that. In fact she encourages her students to make ambitious projects. “I make things simple and share all that I do and know so my students can then go home and have a go at it themselves” Jena said.

Students busy creating.

Jena told me about a very special workshop that she ran 3 years ago in her studio. All the ladies that were attending were all strangers to each other but by the end of the workshop they had all formed friendships and ended up starting a group together. They have met every Wednesday since they attended Jena’s workshop. Jena is really thrilled that these group of women have formed such strong friendships. Jena even had lunch with the group just before Christmas last year.

Students that book a workshop can also book her accommodation, that way they can immerse themselves thoroughly in Jena’s creative world. Jena loves to teach and gets a lot of pleasure sharing her space and inspiring others.

Jena’s studio is a wonderful inspiring space.

Jena offers a 6 week clay course, a one day workshop and a 2 day flower workshop. Jena’s workshops are all fully booked at the moment but if you would like to be put on her cancellation list then please go to her website at www.awaywithclay.com or her facebook page awaywithclaypotterystudio. Jena did share with me that she was hoping to open up a new workshop later on in the year so if you are interested keep an eye out on her pages for details.

The B & B Jena runs from her home is called Away With The Birds Retreat. Her B & B is set among her beautiful garden and is right next to Jena’s light filled studio. Jena offers her guests the opportunity to stay and enjoy being around a creative space. They can also watch and chat with her in her studio while she works and enjoy seeing her create her beautiful clay creations.

Away with the birds Retreat

One of Jena’s other loves is collecting a discarded piece of hard rubbish and bringing new life to it. Jena has a natural flare for interior design and has a real passion for restored items and using them around her own home and garden. “I like to think of myself as a transformer” Jena said.

Even after so many years of making and selling Jena still gets a thrill when people buy her clay creations from her. She feels very humbled that people like her work and want to display it in their homes. She never takes it for granted when she sells her work.

Jena is such a passionate and prolific artist who lives and breathes her craft. She is so generous in spirit and always makes you feel welcome in her home or studio. Jena has spent 40 years honing her clay skills which is evident in every piece she makes. They are all beautifully crafted and you can see the attention to detail she puts in each piece.

Her clay creations always make me smile. Each piece is beautifully decorated with flowers, birds and moths and lovely symmetrical patterns. You can really see what inspires her. Jena puts a lot of love and thought into each beautifully hand crafted piece she makes.

Jena feels like she has arrived at her happy place in life. It has taken many years of hard work and sacrifices. “I still feel grateful everyday for my life and my home, I am very lucky to have this space to share with others” Jena said. Jena is not afraid to try something new and always brings a positive outlook to life and it shows by what she has created and achieved in life.

You can only imagine the amount of pottery Jena has made over the years and how many people enjoy her work in their homes everyday. We are very lucky to call this special lady a Warby local. Thank you Jena for sharing your creativity with us all.

About Noelene Davidson

Hi, I'm Noelene, I've spent the last decade or so dedicated to raising 3 beautiful children, and now they are getting a little older I'm enjoying writing about the wonderful people and places of the Yarra Valley where we live.

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