It was recently brought to light that popular and charismatic potter, Eric Nathan Landon, more commonly known as Tortus, has been accused of sexual harassment. Emalee (@softearth.ceramics) bravely opened up about her experiences as his apprentice and the unwanted sexual advances that he made towards her. Her actions prompted other women to open up about their experiences with Tortus in pottery workshops across the globe and the creation of the hashtag #unfollowTortus. He has also been called out for not appropriately paying for studio spaces where he held pottery workshops, withholding payments and unprofessionalism in his general communication.
The accusations were denied by Landon via Instagram, stating that her claims are “simply not true”, and that we “shouldn’t believe everything on social media”. When coming forward to experiences of sexual assault, harassment or violence women are immediately asked: ‘are you sure you didn’t encourage it?’, leading to victim blaming, gaslighting and emotional distress. But times are changing. With greater capacity to share and promote women’s experiences through social media and women’s movements, people are starting to believe women.
So what is it really like in the pottery scene right now? I had a chat to Georgie Proud, co-founder of Rosie and now potter, about her experiences in the world of ceramics from her base in Melbourne:
Georgie Proud. Photography: Breeana Dunbar, image from georginaproud.com
Is there a lot of talk about Tortus in the pottery community in Australia?
There has been a lot of discussion about Tortus in the Australian pottery community, especially since some of the studios he tried to avoid paying were in Australia (see tkawei’s post below for details). He toured Australia last year. So many potters attended his workshops, and after Soft Earth Ceramic’s allegations of sexual harassment went viral, studios in Australia decided to share their experiences of working with him. This led to a lot of Australian ceramicists speaking out through their social media channels and joining the #unfollowtortus movement. It has also kick started discussions about power imbalances and sexual harassment in the Australian pottery world more broadly.
What are some ways potters are supporting each other during this time? How can we help make pottery a safe space again?
There are many ways potters are supporting each other including using the hashtag #unfollowtortus to share words of support for victims of harassment and assault and encouraging their followers to unfollow Eric Landon. Some potters from the U.S. have started an anonymous survey where people can safely share their experiences of harassment and abuse. Activists are encouraging studios to develop policies regarding inclusivity, diversity and safety. The first Equality Clay Day will be held this Saturday, with studios around the world participating.
The intention behind these events is to promote a dialogue of inclusion and diversity in the ceramics community. Their goal is to establish a network of people with similar social activism interests and to initiate specific dates for localised discussions of allyship. Many studios are also implementing a “no ghosting” rule whereby no one is allowed to reenact that infamous scene from the movie Ghost. Although it might seem like a silly joke, many women have experienced being “ghosted” without their consent by a teacher or mentor which is completely inappropriate. (there is a video of Tortus doing this to someone I can send you the link if you like). Teachers should never touch a student without asking permission first, and it should always be done in a professional manner, and never sexualised.
Vessel by Georgie Proud, image from georginaproud.com
Have you had experience with male/ female power struggles in your pottery journey?
I haven’t had any direct experiences of harassment or abuse but like many other industries the majority of people running studios and teaching are men. I’d say over 90% of students are women. So when there are such obvious power imbalances people are going to take advantage of them.
Do you have any advice for people wanting to get into the pottery scene?
Find a studio where you feel comfortable and a teacher you enjoy learning from. There are heaps of new studios and schools popping up so take the time to find one that’s right for you. Then once you get started keep practicing, like any other art form it takes time to develop the skills you need to create truly great work. Also expect there to be a lot of failure, ceramics is a temperamental medium and one of the benefits of being a potter is learning to cope with failure.
Who are you 5 fave potters in Australia right now?
Dot & Co (my studio buddy!)
Neville French (My teacher and mentor)
Laura Veleff (Leaf and Thread)
After speaking with Georgie, it is clear not only how widespread these issues are, but how more people are starting to come together in solidarity and call out these harassers. This kind of behaviour not only happens in Hollywood, as was made visible through the explosion of the #metoo movement, but that it happens all over the world in diverse and seemingly ‘safe’ spaces. Wherever a man believes he can exert power over a woman. When a woman can’t sculpt, glaze or fire a piece of ceramic art without being sexually harassed we know, and we’ve known for a long time, that there is a problem. As another prominent, somewhat influential man who took advantage of his position of power bites the dust, we can only continue to call out perpetrators, support survivors and keep talking about what is happening.
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault here is a list of support services across Australia.
Here is an additional list of places you can contact if you need help, support or just someone to talk to.
You can also check out NOW – a non for profit organisation formed after to end industrial and systematic sexual harassment in the workplace, created by Tracey Spicer.
Special thanks to Georgie for shedding light on these issues. Georgie co-founded of Rosie back in 2014 and today works as a potter in Melbourne. You can check out more of her pottery on her website or follow her on Instagram.
Alice Claire Chambers
Alice is a volunteer at the Victorian Women’s Trust and a student at the University of Melbourne where she is studying a Master of Global Media Communication. Alice is passionate about gender equality and believes it cannot not be achieved until the struggles of all kinds of women are heard. She is also passionate about pizza and her dog Scout (if you’re asking).