Gem Pottery – Gemma DeRidder & The Carmelite Nuns
Carmel Pottery Adelaide, Gemma DeRidder
Carmel Pottery began around 1959 after the Carmelite Nuns at their Adelaide Glen Osmond Convent were taught the techniques of throwing, glazing and firing by a former graduate of the South Australian School of Arts and Crafts Thelma Fisher, who had learnt her technique from Kelly Koster of Kosters Pottery.
Koster had a precise and mathematical approach to throwing forms on the wheel, and this technique was passed down through Fisher to the Carmelite Nuns.
It was the simplicity of form, and sense of perfection about the pieces which first attracted me to the work of the Nuns. Originally 2 sisters were taught by Thelma Fisher – sister Gemma DeRidder and Sister St John.
Their work was sold from the convent as “Carmel” Pottery. Gemma went on to teach some of the other Nun’s the basic skills, and a productive pottery resulted. Gemma applied for a Churchill Fellowship to study ceramics further overseas during this period, but was rejected on the basis that she was a Nun.
Gemma left the convent in the late 1970’s to set up her own pottery under the name of Carmel-Gem in the southern suburbs of Adelaide. I’m not sure when the Carmel Pottery at the Convent ceased production, but It was still operating in the 1980’s.
In 2008 the beautiful convent and its massive grounds with olive groves was closed and later sold.
Gemma developed and experimented with techniques including a beautiful banding pattern by created by experimenting with combinations of oxides, which became a her signature style. Gemma also experimented with clay bodies by adding beach sand to achieve the perfect texture. She made a wide variety of wares including dinner setttings, canisters, sculptural pieces, vases etc.
The bowl in the image below this shows a lovely and delicate style of “shattering” that Gemma developed as decoration – again just the oxide instead of a glaze. (The insides of all of these pieces were glazed – usually in a cream coloured or dark grey semi gloss glaze)
The smart calligraphy seen on the pieces below and many other pieces was done in the Convent by Sister Alice, who was a very competent calligrapher.
A lot of Gemma’s work is held in private collections, and includes some lovely large sculptural and relief works, but for whatever reason Gemma’s work has never achieved a lot of recognition as sadly happens with many artists and potters.
Gemma had to give up wheel throwing pottery when arthritis began to effect her hands around 2001, but she continued making small figurines – in particular of the German Shepherd dogs which she kept.
Pottery from the Carmelite pottery with have “Carmel” and the sign of the Cross. Pottery from Gemma (either at the Convent or from her own pottery will usually be just signed “Gem”, or “Gemma” usually with the sign of the Cross.