Lots of us picked up a hobby to pass the time in lockdown, but much of our making was left behind once we got back out into the world. For Kathleen Campone, the creator behind Melbourne ceramics label At the Table, keeping their hands busy with clay turned into a long-lasting venture.

“When I first started getting into ceramics, it was just making some pieces with a friend. I really enjoyed hand-building and it came really naturally to me,” Campone says. “It was more of a passion project in the beginning, and then I started getting lots of interest on Instagram. I found myself a few months in being like, ‘I’m running a business now.’”

Ceramic candelabras, carefully handpainted with bold, irregular checks, are central to Campone’s first collection, though you’ll also find plates, cups and incense holders peppered throughout. Prices start at $50 for handmade incense holders and go up to $325 for large candelabras. Each piece is designed and hand-built by Campone in their at-home studio before being turned into plaster moulds by Too Friendly Ceramics – a slip-casting business they found through Instagram.

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After the moulds are created, Campone mixes powder clay with water and other additives over a few hours. They then pour the liquid clay into the moulds, leaving it to dry for a couple of hours before popping out the finished pieces. It’s a long process, but something Campone finds satisfying. Being a self-taught ceramicist, they’re happy to have landed on a method that works after much trial and error.

“Because of the way my moulds are made, each mould is sometimes a bit different. There’s always this slight human touch to the pieces, which is what makes them so special,” they explain.

Campone comes to ceramics with a background in dance, something they admit it took a while to draw inspiration from. The link eventually emerged from Campone’s processes. “In both dancing and ceramics, I’ve always been interested in work that is methodical and endurance-based,” they say. “Sometimes I’ll make for two months, and then I’ll paint for two to three months. At the Table is a solo project, so it’s very labour-intensive.”

Community is essential to At the Table, something that’s evident in Campone’s close relationship with Too Friendly Ceramics and other creatives. The brand has adapted over time – originally it was called Capitalism Is Disappearing – but has stayed true to its original ethos.

“The concept, in the beginning, was very much trade-based. Obviously, I was selling the pieces. But I was also really interested in doing trades,” Campone tells Broadsheet. “It’s something I still do with other creators – I might do trades with photographers who take photos of my pieces in exchange for them. I really enjoy that practice of being able to appreciate and engage with other creatives.”

At the Table pieces are evolving as the brand grows, and Campone says much of the inspiration to create new wares comes from refining old designs. Their favourite piece – due to be released in their second collection in early 2023 – is a small, solid-coloured candelabra that combines the best bits from their checked candelabras and block-coloured incense holders.

“I think it’s really interesting to play with the shapes that you already have and see how they can become different versions of themselves. I guess my expression really does come from my love of doing things that are challenging.”

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