Anna & Asuka, North Melbourne
Words & Images by Jess Kneebone
Anna Miller Yeaman and Asuka Mew are founders of Wingnut & Co, a ceramics label that create simple, functional and handmade wares. As VCA (Victoria College of Arts) graduates of sculpture and painting respectively, neither are shy of a new endeavour or independent projects. So it's no surprise that Wingnut & Co started back in 2013 with a 'hands on' approach and a borrowed wheel in their small backyard shed. As the shed started to pile up with pots, cups, vases and more, Anna and Asuka took Wingnut & Co to a few makers markets and their modest wares gained momentum. Featured above: IN BED linen duvet set
Today Asuka is dedicated full-time to throwing on the wheel, a phrase we learned while chatting to the couple in their combined home studio. Based in North Melbourne, Anna and Asuka live above the Wingnut & Co studio in a serene, elegant and unassuming space. You can see the influence of Japanese aesthetic and artistic sensibility, which also feeds their design choices for Wingnut & Co's pieces. The couple are about to embark on a trip to Japan but their shop front will open to the public again in mid-June, so pop by and be sure to say hello to their adorable resident cat, Machi. How did you two meet?
Anna: We met at art school at VCA and had a few classes together, Asuka was in the painting department, I was in sculpture and we kept bumping into each other in the workshops and started helping each other out with our art, building things that sort of stuff and we got together in third year, I think? Asuka: (Laughs) Yes I think that's right. How was Wingnut & Co born?
Asuka: It started when we were living in Northcote. We had this shed with an iron roof out the back and after taking a pottery short course I got a wheel from a friend, put it in there and just couldn't stop making things. I started to make too many things and I think Anna saw that we were going to get buried alive in pots so we just started a business to have an opportunity to sell the pots. Anna: We were both working full-time, so it started very much on the side, and so we slowly chipped away at nighttime. Then we did our first craft market with Craft Victoria and met a really great woman there, Kim Brockett. She was super supportive and put us in contact with our first stockists. And it just grew from there.
What's the story behind the name?
Anna: Asuka has always liked wing nuts, the hardware and we like their design. The idea is that it's based on function, it's super simple and it works. Asuka: Yeah, I like that wing nuts are designed for human hands and it eliminates the need to use a tool so I was drawn to that idea. Did you have a moment when you decided to focus on ceramics?
Asuka: Not really, I don't think we're there yet. We're always trying to bring in other materials, particularly wood to fuse with ceramic objects. That's always been our ambition. Anna: When we started ceramics they weren't really that popular but in the past 18 months it's become such a bigger thing, so that's probably propelled us without even thinking about it. But also because it was something you (Asuka) were enjoying too. You really got a bit obsessed. Asuka: Sure did. How do you work together on Wingnut & Co?
Asuka: I do the initial forming, throwing on the wheel and shaping. Anna: You (Asuka) do most of the making process, and I help out where I can. We design things together, and I'll finish the products or do the glazing and a bit of trimming on the wheel but I handle the business side of things and Asuka mainly does the pieces.
Asuka, you were raised in Northern Kyushu, how has this influenced your ceramics?
Asuka: I don't think it was a conscious decision, I didn't really think about Japanese design when it came to making things for myself but we go to Japan at least once a year now and as we saw more of ceramics and educated ourselves in the styles and aesthetics we've slowly started to change our practice. It's definitely our number one design inspiration at the moment.
What inspires you to create new pieces?
Auska: Mainly our own need. If we need a cup, we'll make a cup and that's how it's always been, which is lovely.
I imagine a ceramist's home must be adorned with many vases, plates and bowls, and I can see yours is. How do you feel about your own pieces in your home?
Asuka: It's rewarding, but it's also a good test. It's important to get to know your own pieces and I'm always thinking what I can do differently and what I can try next but I also like to have other people's pieces to learn from them, or connected to them. How is it living and working together?
Anna: Surprisingly ok. (Laughs) I work at a picture framers two days a week so that's good but the areas are quite separate. One of us can be upstairs and downstairs and you wouldn't really know. Plus Asuka listens to a lot of podcasts or music when he's on the wheel so he's in the thick of it and we're not talking all the time. It works for us.
How do you separate studio life and home life when it's in the same location?
Anna: We work a lot, and we're trying to change that a bit but there's something about being a ceramist where timing is really important. Living above the studio means that we can duck down, check something and come back. I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing but it works for us. What's your daily routine?
Anna: Days that we're firing we'll put the kiln on at 3am, go back to bed and then put it on again at 5am. We rise at 7am, have coffee and breakfast and do what we need to do that day. You (Asuka) like to go for a walk in the afternoon. Asuka: Or go to the pool when it's hot. Sometimes twice.
What's on your bedside ledges?
Asuka: Usually there's flowers or plants we find and put in a vase.
What three items can’t you live without?
-I have a cup that I drink most beverages out of and I’d be really sad if that broke.
-There’s a painting that a friend of ours did of a shark that I really like. It’s by artist Brad Rusbridge.
-Machi, our cat!
-Earphones, I use them up to 12 hours a day.
-My wheel, I’d be lost without it, and I use it up to 12 hours a day.
-Our gramophone, I inherited from my great grandparents and it works. No wait scrap the gramophone, Machi, our cat!
Tell me about your cat, Machi?
Anna: We got Machi through the lost dogs home, and she’s lovely. She’s about 1 year and 4 months now. She’s really into being in the studio. She hasn’t broken anything and loves sleeping. She hangs out with you (Asuka) and watches while you’re on the wheel..
What’s on the horizon for Wingnut & Co?
Anna: We are off to Japan for a month and then when we get back we have markets and will start thinking about Christmas.
Asuka: And I’m hoping to build a wood fired kiln, so that’s what I’m most excited about.