As a child growing up on a Waikato dairy farm, she would squeeze clay into the shapes of horses. Seven decades later, Oropi artist Dorothy Armstrong is still creating ceramic animals.
“I was around seven when I got introduced to pottery,” says Dorothy. “I really wanted a horse, so I made them out of clay. As I got older, I went to night classes and workshops. I’ve always liked making animals and birds.”
Dorothy’s work varies in size from tiny porcelain fantails to large outdoor sculptures.
“I was part of a cooperative shop called Pyromania, in Wharf St, for many years. But now I have started putting some pieces in the Pot House at the Historic Village. I also supply a few other galleries around the country.”
Dorothy also takes commissions to immortalise pets as well as cows and calf figurines.
“Dairy NZ saw my work in a shop in Hamilton about 20 years ago and contacted me. They give the figurines out at conferences or use them as farewell gifts. If I couldn’t make a cow by now there would be something wrong. I’ve made so many over the years.”
Dorothy uses the ancient Japanese Raku technique to fire her creations. Ceramics are taken from the kiln and placed in combustible material, like sawdust or newspaper, to create colours within the glaze.
“It’s lucky I live rurally,” says Dorothy. “I wouldn’t be able to do this firing if I lived in town with all the smoke and flames.”
Her 8.5-acre property has around 80 avocado and 20 lemon trees as well as a wide range of fruit trees.
Dorothy Armstrong was introduced to clay at age seven, today she’s renowned for her animal pottery pieces.
“I love making limoncello and marmalade,” says Dorothy. “I enjoy bottling all sorts of things – raspberries, peaches, apples, persimmons, feijoa; then we’re into citrus and then strawberries.
“You notice the seasons changing here. It’s lovely. I play the violin and love home baking, pottery, spinning – all the things country people do. I’ve just had my 79th birthday but I’m pretty busy and still fit enough to do plenty in the garden and in summer, I swim.”
Dorothy runs a pottery group on Friday mornings. “I have to make a big enough batch for the six cubic foot kiln so it’s good to fill with other people’s work.
“It great to see a lot of young ones so enthusiastic. It’s a great creative outlet because there are so many ways of firing pottery – in a pit, or raku fire or wood fire. We can use sawdust, salt glaze or even horsehair to get different effects. It’s not perfect and I like that.”
Despite being a popular artist for years, Dorothy still loves knowing that others appreciate her work.
“When I see someone pick up my work in a store – that feeling is worth more than the money. It’s fantastic to go into someone’s house and see one of my ceramics and think: ‘That’s mine!’ It gives you a thrill.”