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The creative wildlife warrior: Shelby Sherritt

Visit Ballarat

22 Mar 2021

Filed underMade of Ballarat

There is an air of restlessness that’s inspiring positive change in Ballarat, and the maker we’re about to introduce you to embodies such an enduring strength that you’re going to want to breath in some of that same air. 

When Shelby Sherritt was told art wasn’t going to be a reliable career, she didn’t give up. 
When she was diagnosed with cancer, she was hell-bent on finding a way she could manage her pain and continue doing what she loved. 
When koalas were considered for official listing as endangered after the 2020 summer bushfires, Shelby knew she had to help in any way she could. 

Today, she has hundreds of thousands of followers on TikTok following her every creation from her Ballarat art shed and her one-of-a-kind pieces are snapped up in minutes.

It’s the can do and will do attitude you’ll find of many Ballaratians, but there’s something about Shelby’s story we know will inspire the next generation of makers and we can’t help but share it with the world (and also share as many images of her super cute koala ceramics that we can get our hands on).  
This is Shelby’s story. 

Have you always been interested in art?  
I have always loved art. I always did fun little DIY projects at home and tried creating lots of different quirky pieces. I took on every opportunity to do the art subjects during school, but I had no idea I would ever take it further than a hobby.  
I believed it could one day be a career for me but I was often told that art can’t be a reliable career, so I strayed from the path when studying at university.  
Alongside uni, I was making pieces after every class. I began working full time and would come home after each day and make heaps of pieces. It just kept growing and it then became a natural decision to leave my full-time position and take on the art hustle full time.  

We understand working with clay helped you through your healing process after being diagnosed with cancer? 
When I was diagnosed with cancer in 2016 I had to stop everything. My life was essentially placed on hold and, being a busy-body, this was not going to work for me. So, I began doing little side projects – playing with art objects and selling at markets when I felt my body was able to, each time trying a new medium. It wasn’t until I started playing with clay that I really felt a sense of home in a craft.
I felt the clay was a medium I could have complete control over in my otherwise loss-of-control situation.

When I finally finished treatments, I went back to university and selected ceramics as one of my subjects alongside my social work degree. 
I learned the basics around safety, wheel throwing, hand building and glaze application to get the beginner skills. I took them away and learned the rest from social media, research and my own discovery. I wouldn’t go back to another medium now. I have fallen head over heels for clay.  

We noticed your work takes on a very Australian bushland flavour? Is this where you find your inspiration? 
Yes, it sure does. It’s really hard to pinpoint an exact time I decided to do bushland Australia. It all sort of started when I felt a bit overwhelmed by all the ideas and things I wanted to make with the clay.
Clay is so versatile and can be used to make absolutely everything. I sat down and wrote things I loved and linked them together with a common theme that I could work towards. The common theme of all the things I loved was nostalgic Australia mixed with your grandma’s kitchen tea towels, mixed with a love of Australian flora and fauna.  

And you manage to send such a wonderful message by donating some of your profits to Australian Wildlife Conservancy.  
When I first started making my pieces, the Australian bushland theme was a really under-appreciated theme. There was a lot of pottery that was displaying flowers, plants or animals, but none that really represented the Aussie side of things, let alone a combination of both.  
I mainly started doing the pieces because I wanted to make ceramic pieces that showed my love for these critters. As I began researching different types of animals and flowers, I started noticing them in the city streets, I noticed the flowers planted in parks, and on major highways to rural towns. I realised they were actually everywhere, and I never paid attention. My work is really about noticing the beauty in our own backyard and falling in love with them. As my art grew and became more than just a hobby, alongside the devastating bushfires at the start of 2020, it became a natural reaction to start donating 5% of profits to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy. I can’t keep appreciating the beauty if the beauty ceases to exist. It has since become such a proud moment knowing that each piece I make has helped with some wonderful projects run by the Australian Wildlife Conservancy 

What’s next for you? Did we hear possible workshops might be on the cards? 
I am focused on getting as many pieces ready for an online restock as I can. The last few restocks have had over 100 pieces which have sold out in under five minutes to places across Australia and the world – as far reaching as the UK, USA, France and Canada.  

Then a new studio build is on the cards. My current studio is out of space. My packaging supplies have overrun into the house, and my current worktable is a fold up camp table as it’s the only one that will fit in the space at the moment. I also only have a small hobby kiln installed, but the plan with the new space is to install adequate power to run my larger commercial kiln to fire more works.
With bigger space, it means I will actually have the room to employ someone consistently to help me with the creation process and also have the space to facilitate and collaborate with other creatives to host workshops. It is a big dream, but it is one I have been working towards for the last year.  

How can people get their hands on one your ceramics? 
The best way is through the online restocks. I often sell out so it’s a matter of being ready on the website during the designated time and date. I post these dates on my Instagram and Facebook page.  

You can read more about Shelby in a recent story published by The Guardian.

Across Victoria’s Midwest, we acknowledge that we travel across the ancient landscapes of many First Peoples communities.

These lands have been nurtured and cared for over tens of thousands of years and we respect the work of Traditional Custodians for their ongoing care and protection.

We recognise the past injustices against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country. As our knowledge grows, we hope that we can learn from their resilience and creativity that has guided them for over 60,000 years.

As we invite people to visit and explore Victoria’s Midwest, we ask that alongside us, you also grow to respect the stories, living culture and connection to Country of the Ancestors and Elders of our First Peoples.