If you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting Guild of Objects in Melbourne, then picture this: a well-lit, airy space filled with smooth vases and ceramics, sleek handcrafted jewellery, and a diverse range of wearable fashion. This beautiful store is home to three small-batch potters – Brooke Thorn, Chela Edmunds and Tao Oudomvilay – who started Guild to showcase their ceramics and the work of other artists in the Melbourne makers scene. Chela took time out of her busy schedule to chat to mous about running a small business and the expulsive and magnetic appeal of being an artist.
What drew you to being an artist? What does your work mean to you?
I'm an artist because it’s easier than trying not to be. I make art because I need to express visually something that I can't put into words. My ceramics work is somewhere between art and design, they are functional canvases.
How did Guild of Objects first start?
It wasn't really planned but it came together as 'the right place and time'. Brooke, Tao and myself all had ceramics practices and were ready for a place to show our work and share the process and our work with people. When the lease came up on a shop just around the corner from the studio, it was perfect! We contacted other makers that we knew in different fields - ceramics, jewellery, textiles and illustration - and they all jumped on board. Guild of Objects was up and running in a few weeks.
Where did the concept come from?
We are passionate about what we do and want to share that. Guild of Objects is about the artists, the making process and enjoying the finished product. There is a beautiful story behind every object in the shop. I would say that people who buy a piece from Guild of Objects also walk away with a little information on the maker and how their piece is made.
Can you walk us through a day in the life of working at Guild?
We are open three days a week Thursday to Saturday, and we each do a day in the shop. For every hour spent in-store there are as many hours spent behind the scenes doing book work, marketing and making...it’s non-stop but worth it.
It can be hard to start a small business and get your work seen by the community. How has Guild of Objects you all to gain more exposure for your work?
It has been a long journey for me to get to a place where I'm completely comfortable selling my artwork. There are so many issues, pricing fairly, accepting criticism, promoting and approaching customers...it can be the hardest thing in the world as an artist to put your work on the line and make a living off it.
Tao has recently launched her ceramics label 'Tortoise' at Guild of Objects, whereas 'Brooke Thorn Ceramics' and my label 'Takeawei' both started three years ago. Brooke and I had some exposure through other retail outlets and our online stores but besides the odd design market or open studio we didn't have the opportunity to connect in person with our customers. Guild of Objects gives us that platform to connect with customers and offer a curated selection of works from other makers we admire. We offer those makers a space to use for promoting and selling their work and sharing information on their process through workshops.
Tell me about the practice of artisans grouping together…are there benefits to this arrangement, ether individually or as a group?
To do something well takes time and effort and running a small business means wearing many hats. Sharing the tasks and expenses in running a retail spaces allows us to sell and promote each artists work while still leaving us precious studio time. We are a retail space but we also offer artist involvement, a space they can use for workshops, exhibitions, pop ups and events.
Guild also runs workshops but what goes into running one of these? What drives you to connect with the community and help them learn?
From the beginning it was important for us to be able to share the making process with our customers. When you grow your own veggies, they taste so much better and you appreciate everything you eat so much more… similarly with handmade products, when you make it yourself it you will look at everything you buy from a different perspective. We invite experienced artists to run workshops for up to 12 people at the shop on weekends and evenings. So far we have had Ceramics Hand-Building and Glazing with Jessilla Rogers, Basket Weaving with Anna of Poa and Pod, Botanical Textile Dying with Belinda of Alchemy, and I also run clay socials about once a month. They are fun social workshops for adults and you don't need any experience to get started.
Visit Guild of Objects at 690 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne or head to the Guild website to grab yourself some handcrafted goodies. And if you want an artsy challenge for the New Year, try out one of their workshops.