Meet former Londoner turned local Zoe Burdon, saver and creator.
For part of the week, the Manly resident thrives in the (controlled) chaos of the Emergency Department at the Northern Beaches Hospital, but for the remaining hours, after she’s recovered from the long shifts, she works at her potter’s wheel creating beautiful ceramic pieces.
Zoe graduated in, what could be easily argued, the most challenging year to become a doctor – 2020.
“My first job was in intensive care, and we had some of the first COVID-19 patients in the UK,” she recalls. “It was a very steep learning curve but also a very good learning experience.”
So, how does an emergency doctor with no interest in the arts wind up making ceramics?
“I mainly make tableware and I make more mugs than anything,” she tells Manly Observer.
“I love seeing people use my work in their day-to-day lives. I see ceramics as almost a piece of art that you can touch and integrate into your routines.
“Most of my kitchenware is made by friends and knowing when, where and who made it makes it feel special, more intimate.”
In the past, Zoe says she had never engaged in any artistic endeavours, preferring the world of science and medicine.
Throughout high school, her subjects were mainly science-based, and she studied a Masters in Chemistry before switching to studying medicine.
So… pottery? That’s where Zoe’s mum enters the story. She gifted Zoe an evening throwing workshop for her birthday and, in Zoe’s words, she fell in love straight away.
“For about a year, I did courses and classes until I rented out a shared studio space in the UK to get some hours behind the wheel,” she says.
“I learnt even more from the other ceramists in the studio, and they were so generous with passing on their knowledge.”
Zoe’s been manipulating clay at the wheel for four years.
“Ceramics is a good contrast to my day job. I thrive in chaos, and in the Emergency Department you can never be bored,” she explains to Manly Observer.
“I am constantly learning, depending on who and what injuries present at the hospital, and I love that when someone comes in critically unwell, within an hour, you can see some improvements.
“But with ceramics, it’s mindless work, in a positive way. When I’m working with my hands on the wheel, I cannot think of anything else but what I’m doing, and I can do it for hours.
“It’s quite meditative, which is so different to medicine where your brain is often exhausted by the end of your shift.”
The link that ties medicine and ceramics together is the teamwork and a sense of community.
“The emergency department is the most social speciality as a doctor,” Zoe says.
“Working with my colleagues, it’s not only the teamwork that’s amazing but just getting along and making each other laugh in between treating patients.
“It’s similar to ceramics. When I shared a studio back home, that sense of community is the most special thing about the art.”
Since arriving in Sydney, Zoe has been working at her wheel in her back garden.
“I’m looking for a shared space, but at the same time, it’s also nice being able to get on the wheel whenever I want to,” she says.
Zoe has several pieces in the works which will soon be up on her website, however, her specialty is private commissions.
“I love making exactly what the customer is looking for,” she explains.
“In the past, I’ve made all the top table plates for a wedding with the coordinates of where they got engaged stamped on them.”
Zoe also offers private lessons for anyone looking to get into the art.
As for her long-term goals, Zoe would still like to keep practicing medicine but possibly going part time.
“I’d love to one day have my own studio, and I’d also love to run a retreat where people can do an intensive week course in ceramics, coupled with yoga and delicious food,” she says.
You can follow Zoe’s journey on Instagram here.