When you sit down to your morning cup of coffee, desperately anticipating all the caffeinated goodness that’s about to be infused into your system, do you ever think about the cup that holds all that delicious coffee? Do you have a favourite mug, and if so, why? Do you notice the texture in your hand, the weight of it, what the cup feels like when it reaches your lips?
All these elements are things that you may not ever consider, but they’re things that are important deliberations for the many ceramicists who make beautiful cups for boutique coffee shops, and Roberta Gartland who crafts for Market Lane Coffee is no exception.
Gartland studied printmaking at university before becoming a secondary school art teacher, and had always been drawn to pottery—she was largely self-taught until she embarked on a course studying ceramics at the University of Ballarat. Speaking to Gartland, it’s clear that this was a fulfilling path for her, “I love the form and surface and the tactile nature of pottery… I’ve always been curious about how things are made, the processes and techniques associated with crafts.”
She goes on to say, “Making things seems to be a really important part of being content. Claywork can be simply using the material to play and construct and can be very satisfying. There is however, so much to learn, and it takes time, experience, and a lot of mistakes to begin to find your own voice with clay.”
Based out of her studio in Daylesford, about an hour and a half out of Melbourne, Roberta had previously been making her wares just for friends and family before they were shown to Market Lane. Absolutely taken by the beautiful handmade ceramics, Market Lane quickly got in touch, and the resulting collaboration has continued going on two years now.
Roberta Gartland’s pieces are pieces of art, but still highly functional, from her sturdy slip-cast molded ‘takeaway’ cups (with silicone lids for convenience) to her high-end, hand-thrown cups, most recently made out of Tasmanian Southern Ice Porcelain (fancy, huh?) with a beautifully delicate blue/green glaze.
As with all of the items she makes, Roberta puts a large amount of thought into them, no matter how straightforward they seem—as she explained, “I suppose cups are such a simple form, one that we use constantly. Everybody has a favourite shape or size, the right weight for them, it’s a very personal thing. So although my cups are similar, I try to make them individual objects, all slightly different but connected to each other.”
With her latest group of porcelain cups, Gartland has been using a copper-based glaze underpainted with other oxides, so as to develop a layered effect in the glaze firing. In this process, she has to hold a very precise kiln temperature to get the glaze to fuse in the desired way—a very sensitive and technical approach that Roberta believes has a synchronicity with the coffee world.
As she elaborates: “Just a little thing, but without it I don’t think the cup has that bit of magic. Is this a bit like roasting coffee beans or making the perfect latte? I think we both feel very connected to our product; when I see the beautiful roaster at Market Lane it’s definitely not there for decoration!”
Eileen P. Kenny is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Melbourne, and the publisher of Birds of Unusual Vitality, the world’s leading coffee interview magazine. Read more Eileen P. Kenny on Sprudge.