SWEDISH potter Julia Franz has found her niche in Healesville, writes SARAH HUDSON
Julia Franz's earliest memories are of foraging for wild berries and mushrooms in the forests around her home town in Sweden.
She remembers taking lessons in potting from her creative parents, and dabbling in weaving, drawing, sewing and candle-dipping.
And she recalls walking through Swedish streets, where home window sills would be decorated with trinkets, pots and assorted bijou, in a celebration of design.
So when Julia found herself on the other side of the world, in the Yarra Valley with her new Australian husband, her earlier influences combined to launch a career in ceramics.
"I think it was all these different things that came together. They were always hanging around in the background and coming here gave me the opportunity to do what I really wanted to do rather than what I had to do," says the 38-year-old.
"It feels like I've now found my thing."
Her "thing" is a range of functional and "quirky, humorous" ornamental ceramics, made on a potting wheel before being altered and shaped by hand.
All are made and sold from her shop, an old brickworks at the back of Healesville called The Mud Factory, and also sold in a shop in the town centre, called Mud Glass Metal, and a range of galleries around the region.
Her creations, which are in such demand she finds it hard to meet supply, have an overt Nordic tone, produced under her label, Formbar, which means mouldable or malleable in Swedish.
"I get a lot of inspiration from home, and the countryside around my home town (Gothenburg)," Julia says.
"Every day I think of Sweden - not in a homesick kind of way, but remembering how homely it was.
"People like to put nice things in their windows.
"They feel satisfied with a nice mug."
Julia came to ceramics via a circuitous route.
"I can't remember clearly, but I would have been about nine when my dad bought a pottery wheel. And I remember thinking, 'This is difficult. This pot is not going to work'."
Her creativity saw her dance as a teen, and in her early adulthood she became a fitness instructor.
In 1998 her brother, who worked in laser scanning in the car industry, set her up on a blind date with Aussie colleague Gregg Franz.
Three months later they moved in together; more than a year on they were off Down Under.
"I had a vision of surfers, red earth, the Crocodile Hunter. Everything would be warm. Of course, the reality was different," she says.
Arriving in Melbourne, Julia found the city too big and overwhelming. Pining for forests and the outdoors, the couple travelled around rural Victoria and settled on Healesville, where "a few spots remind me of Sweden".
As luck would have it, local potter Henry Hockenberger was seeking an apprentice, and for four years Julia learned from one of the stayers of the Australian potting industry.
Gregg initially continued his laser business but now runs a woodwork studio alongside his wife, as well as selling Swedish bikes and Swedish home items, all under the same Mud Factory roof.
At times Julia suffers pangs of homesickness.
She says when their son, Sixten, aged six, is a little older, they will head back to Scandinavia to immerse him in his maternal culture.
"My mum and dad have visited every year but for the first time after they last left I felt homesick.
"They have inspired me a lot in what I do and so I talk to them on the phone all the time."
- Julia Franz's Formbar Ceramics, Gallery34, 34 High Street, Yea, ph: (03) 5797 3222; or The Mud Factory, 2/29 Hunter Road, Healesville, ph: (03) 5962 5343 or www.formbar.moonfruit.com