Message from the artist

Foreword by Hiroe Swen

I started making ceramics at the age of 23 in Kyoto, where I was born and raised. Eight years later, when I turned 31, I decided to pursue this as my career and it’s now been 55 years since I moved to Australia at the age of 34.

Living in a new country, working with different clay, seeing different approaches of other artists to ceramics certainly gave me ongoing challenges and kept me ask myself ‘what is my ceramics’.

Looking back, the years that have elapsed seem both long and short. I still don’t have a sense of achievement, but ceramics has become my life and my raison d’être. I was never influenced by the judgement of others about what to create. While focusing on my inner self, I have always tried to achieve my own goals. The search never ends in me.

If young potters learn something from watching my creative process video, my efforts will have been rewarded.

I hope that this archive will inspire and assist ceramic artists, ceramic art lovers and researchers in the future generations.

I would like to express my gratitude again to those who helped us create this archive: artsACT and Create NSW for their grants, and many others who have enabled this project to take shape.

Hiroe Swen
April 2023



1934         Born and educated in Kyoto, Japan.
1949-52   At Horikawa High School, Kyoto, studied oil painting with Junzō Iwata.
Her first encounter with art.
1953         Began the study of batik textile dyeing and became a successful batik designer.
1957-61   Began studying ceramics at the Kyoto Crafts Institute and later studied with Kyoto ceramist Heihachiro Hayashi at his studio for three years.
1957         In Kyoto, founded ‘Joryū Tōgei’ (Women’s ceramic group) with other six women ceramicists, including Asuka Tsuboi.
1962         Established own pottery studio in Kyoto and became a regular exhibitor in the National Women Artists’ Exhibition.
1966         Married Cornel Swen, an Australian artist/designer, in Kyoto.
1968         Emigrated to Sydney with Cornel.
1973         Opened the Pastoral Gallery with Cornel (and ran it until 2003).



1968     First solo exhibition in Australia of work produced in Japan at (a) the Craft Centre Gallery, Melbourne and (b) opening exhibition at the Strawberry Hill Gallery, Sydney.
1970     The Swens moved to a rural property near Canberra, which became home for the next thirty-three years. Started building their own display venue, naming it Pastoral Gallery.
1972     Third solo exhibition, at the Japanese Embassy, Canberra, of work produced in Australia while teaching part-time at the (then) Canberra Technical College.
1973     Since the opening of the Pastoral Gallery, over the next seventeen years, ten of her major exhibitions were staged at the Pastoral Gallery.


Recent solo exhibitions:

2000    Retrospective of Hiroe Swen’s ceramics from 1965 to 2000, at the Craft ACT Gallery, Canberra.
2008    From Darkness to Light (curated by Karen O’ Clery, Director of Narek Galleries) at the Drill Hall Gallery, Canberra.
2013    Austral-Japanese Harmony, at the Belconnen Arts Centre, Canberra.
2018    Fifty Flights of Fancy, at the Watson Arts Centre Gallery, Canberra, commemorating her 50th year in Australia.
2020   Hiroe Swen: A Lifetime in Ceramics, at the Sturt Gallery, Mittagong.


Other venues include:

1981   The David Jones Art Gallery, Sydney
1983   Gallery Anri, Nagoya, Japan
1995    Japanese Garden Centre, Cowra NSW
2007   Gallery East, Fremantle, WA



Has participated in scores of national and international events and conducted demonstration workshops throughout Australia, New Zealand and Japan, where she lectured at Kyoto Seika University.



The National Gallery of Australia holds one of the largest collections, with nearly 50 ceramic works. In total, 20 state and regional galleries and Australian governmental institutions in Australia and overseas have acquired examples of her work.



Australia, Japan, New Zealand, USA, Canada, England, France, Germany and Mexico.



1971-73     Taught ceramics part-time at the Canberra Technical College.
1981-2000 Taught ceramics full-time at the Canberra School of Art.

1970s-80s  Visited regional towns nationwide to conduct workshops.
1974-84      Organised and led the Bimbimbi Ceramic Study Group at her studio, consisting of female ceramists.



1969   ABC TV Documentary film, A Japanese Woman Potter Makes Her Home in Sydney.
1972   Documentary film, The Pottery of Hiroe Swen.
Fay Bottrell’s book, The Artist Craftsman in Australia.
1974    CTC TV Documentary, A Closer Look.
1976    Catalogue by Faenza Editrice, Italy, International Ceramics Exhibition.
Documentary by South Australian Film Corporation, The Hand-building Techniques of Marea Gazzard, Hiroe Swen and Peter Travis.
1982    Peter Lane’s book, UK, Studio Potters.
1984    Faenza Editrice book, The Masters of Modern Ceramics.
Alan Moult’s book, Craft in Australia.
Peter Lane’s book, UK, Explorations in Ceramic Form.
1988    Peter Lane’s book, US, Ceramic Form Design and Decoration.
1992    Grace Cochrane’s book, The Craft Movement in Australia: a History.
2000    Sally Milner’s book, Masterworks.



Six decorative discs for the Sister City Monument, Queanbeyan.
Wall decoration designs for the Legislative Assembly Building (joint work with her husband, Cornel Swen).
Artworks for the Australian Embassy, Tokyo, 1990.



2000   Canberra Artist of the Year.
Five-year Visiting Fellowship at the School of Art of the Australian National University, after eighteen years of teaching ceramics there.
2006   Awarded third prize in the aged care essay competition by Sankei Newspaper.
2016   Awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays, a Japanese order, for her achievement in pioneering work as a Japanese female ceramist, an artist beyond cultural boundaries and an educator contributing to teaching ceramics in Australia.
2023  Appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for significant service to ceramic art as a teacher and an artist.

Interview video

Hiroe Swen interview – In her own words

This interview is part of the digital archive project titled, ‘The world of Hiroe Swen’s ceramic art’. The project aims to share Hiroe Swen’s knowledge, technique and passion for ceramic art and inspire future ceramic artists.

Interview video ending credits

Artist/ interviewee:  Hiroe Swen
Interviewer: Mayumi Shinozaki
Filming: Michael Lawrence-Taylor
Editing: Brenton McGeachie
Subtitle: Chiaki Ajioka
Proof-reading: Edie Young