NON Awas Salan

Awas Salan - Meet Steve Ryves

Friday, April 14, 2017

Everyone has heard of the ‘quiet achiever’ but this phrase very much describes Steve Ryves.  He came to Norfolk in 1966 and, even as a young 18 year old, had an affinity for the place.  He travelled by ship with his parents, making an unusual entrance by launching their small catamaran, Oahu, from the vessel and sailing it through the reef into Emily Bay.

Steve and his family were keen sailors, and Oahu was built and designed by Carl Ryves, his cousin, and family friend, Ben Lexcen.  Ben, of course, would later be famed for his winged keel and involvement with the 1983 America’s Cup win. Unfortunately a bad storm, one of the worst Steve’s ever seen on Norfolk, destroyed the catamaran shortly after their arrival.

Having grown up in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney, which was then fairly unspoilt and sparsely populated, the Ryves felt right at home.  Steve tried all kinds of casual jobs and then decided to become a refrigeration mechanic like his dad, John.  He started his apprenticeship by correspondence and completed the course in Sydney.   Steve and John had plenty of work on Norfolk as electricity was just coming in and the old, heavy kerosene fridges were being replaced by electric models.

At this time Steve became interested in pottery.  He experimented with local clay and was intrigued.  He was living in a house, Girlie Christian’s place, at Ball Bay and he tried using an old metal safe as a kiln.  This was not successful, but Steve was hooked.  He ordered a small kiln, and other materials, and began Norfolk Island Cottage Pottery in 1970.  He combined this with being a refrigeration mechanic but, after a few years, went into the pottery business full time.

Steve is a self-taught artisan but has travelled extensively to learn his craft and refine his technique.  Pottery, he says, is “…endlessly fascinating…there’s a real excitement in seeing how it turns out.”  The look of Japanese pottery – its symmetry and delicacy - particularly appeals to him and Steve enjoys making porcelain and stoneware pieces.  He concentrates on creating “…beautiful, functional stuff…” and produces his own rich glazes, sometimes using local clays and basalt. It is a very tactile medium and he revels in handling the clay, working the wheel and shaping the piece to its finished form – ‘throwing’ pots keeps him inspired.   

He remembers the Ball Bay days fondly.  Girlie’s house was supposed to be haunted and, although Steve never saw apparitions, he often heard ghostly footsteps and doors mysteriously closing.  Marie Bailey organised his first pottery tours and today, three decades on, Steve still demonstrates his potting skills for tourist groups.  In 1975 he moved to Anson Bay and Dennis Stirling built him a lovely Norfolk pine home, and workshop, on the property.  Steve helped construct it and likes his home’s peace, serenity and nearness to the sea.

Steve loves the ocean – he swam, surfed and sailed yachts from a young age.  He represented the Island in yachting, with Jerry Cooke, at three South Pacific Games.  He was part of a local yachting club in the late 1980s, but is now a keen windsurfer and feels the sport unites the elements he likes most about sailing and surfing.

Steve met Alison when she came to work for Cottage Pottery. They later married and have two children, Jamie (27) and Emily (25).  Alison is an artist and shares Steve’s fascination with clay.  Since 1981 they have run the business together - Steve crafts the stoneware and porcelain pieces and Alison embellishes them with gorgeous glazes and lustres.  Alison also paints on paper, board and fabric, and creates striking jewellery.  Sea imagery and Polynesian motifs feature in their work.

In 1982, with the help of Alison’s step-father, Mike Quantrill, Steve designed and built a large kiln which continues to run well.  He tests different glazes, finishes and firings and gets a ‘kick’ out of trying new colours and blends. The workshop has been enlarged, over the years, and includes an Art Gallery to exhibit the full range of Ryves’ artistry.  Emily’s interesting photographic and collage pieces are also displayed.  If you’d like to buy pottery and original art works, see a master craftsman at the wheel, or just look at Norfolk’s dramatic scenery I’d recommend a visit to Anson Bay.

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