Mardie Whitla blogs about her handbuilt ceramics installation Dubrovnik’s Leaf

Mardie Whitla blogs about her handbuilt ceramics installation Dubrovnik’s Leaf

There’s a story behind the creation of my handbuilt ceramic and found object installation Dubrovnik’s Leaf. It all started with a wall and a leaf.

It took more than 450 years to build, extend and fortify the defensive walls of Dubrovnik, Croatia. The city and its walls are now recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The main wall, two kilometres long and in some areas 25 metres high, is built from white limestone. The beautiful, clear Adriatic Sea laps at its base.

Dubrovnik’s World Heritage Wall

The wall has resisted the earthquake of the 1600s and threats from every nearby country you can think of. It has also stood steadfast despite the hundreds of tourists walking anti-clockwise around the top every day.

A visit to Dubrovnik on a ‘try-out’ cruise

I was travelling on my first cruise ship experience. I had previously considered a cruise unthinkable. There would be too many people, noisy children, drunken corpses, terrible food, etc.

However, I decided on a ‘try-out’ of only one week. Hopping onto a Ponant Cruise boat in Venezia and cruising down the eastern side of the Adriatic, we stopped in Dubrovnik on the Dalmatian Coast for a few nights.

A tempting leaf on an overhanging branch

It was hot as I was walking around the ancient wall. When I arrived at a green, luscious tree with branches overhanging the wall, I stopped and paused. A leaf brushed my face. It was telling me something.

I carefully popped it inside a book in my rucksack, and then completely forgot about it. When I arrived home in Australia a few weeks later, I was unpacking my suitcase and there it was.

One leaf multiplies for an art exhibition

With an exhibition fast approaching in Melbourne, I decided to include my single leaf as the centrepiece of a ceramic work. This one small green leaf became the mother of six others.

To make these leaves, I used Buff Raku Trachyte Feeneys Clay. This clay is great for slabbing. My intention was to get a moderate feel of ‘specks’  when complete. 

Each leaf is exactly the same size, using the original Dubrovnik leaf as the model. However, I made the hole in a different position on each one. This was to provide a variety of styles when hanging the leaves.

I used underglazes of tangerine and cayenne red, and for the second firing, Walker’s spruce green. Both coulerents for each leaf are on one side of each leaf only. This provides an interesting view of the original clay before glazing.  It also ensures that  glazes don’t run and stick to the bottom of the kiln!

As the leaves came out of the kiln, they piqued my creativity. I searched my studio, finding a variety of objects that I could use to assemble an artistic and engaging installation. 

At the opening of the exhibition, Dubrovnik’s Leaf was hung as the centrepiece of my ceramic work. I still have this leaf, but it now looks very different, as you can see in the final photo.

Mardie Whitla blogs about the inspiration for her ceramic installation Dubrovnik’s Leaf
Dubrovnik’s defensive wall is up to 25 metres high in some sections.
Assembling the installation Dubrovnik’s Leaf from assorted objects that Mardie had in her studio
Close-up of Dubrovnik’s Leaf, with the original leaf hanging inside and the replicas hanging outside
Mardie installing Dubrovnik’s Leaf in the exhibition On the Edge at Docklands Library
Dubrovnik’s Leaf in the exhibition Landscapes Real and Imagined at the Joel Gallery, Altona
Opening of the exhibition Landscapes Real and Imagined at the Joel Gallery, Altona. Dubrovnik’s Leaf is in the foreground.
The original but ageing leaf from Dubrovnik’s wall