In Conversation With Peggy Byrne

Peggy Byrne is the new-ish owner of Bowerbird, Adelaide’s leading design event. We chat to the passionate local about her exciting plans to take the artisan event to new heights

You purchased Bowerbird just before COVID hit. What was it that initially sparked your interest?

My husband and I are both creative and appreciate artisanal products, so we were familiar with Bowerbird. At the end of 2019, I was looking for greater satisfaction in my work life and Bowerbird was the perfect fit to use my skills in marketing and events. I love that I am running a small business focused on supporting other small businesses.

A global pandemic wasn’t the start you would have been hoping for, how did you navigate that time?

I’ll admit there were a few times you may have found me rocking in a corner, but what I want to remember about that time is the incredibly steep learning curve the situation forced me to take. I had to understand the logistics of the event quickly because I had to adapt it to the situation. Still, more importantly, I realised how essential Bowerbird and events like Bowerbird are to the survival of many of these small businesses. COVID forced the cancellation of similar eastern state events in 2020 and most of 2021, which meant makers lost up to 80 percent of their regular income. Our November event in 2020 was also cancelled but we rebounded and moved it out by a few weeks. It ran with only 80 designers, less than half our usual showcase, but our suppliers and venue supported us. The event made such a difference to so many makers and the support from our customers was overwhelming. Overcoming the early challenges gave us the energy to push through the hurdles that came later and that still impact us today.

There is such an influx of creative talent currently coming out of South Australia and Bowerbird is an incredible starting block for many of these artisans. Why is this so important to you, and what else can be done to nurture and extend this talent?

South Australia has always had a unique creative talent pool and, having lived overseas for some time, I know it is also a place where small businesses can thrive. South Australians are receptive to new ideas and welcome the interstate designers that make the trip to each event. Bowerbird welcomes emerging designers to present their creations to our audience at each event. Face-to-face events provide direct feedback on what works and doesn’t and allows makers to hear what customers really want. The beauty of being a maker is that you can take it up at any time in your life. While many of our craftsmen and women start early, intending to make a career of their craft, many have found their talent and passion later in life.

Have you ever been inspired to give pottery or jewellery making or anything else artistic a go yourself?

I have always loved making things! In my twenties, I used to paint and sew all the time. I tried stone sculpture in London, which I loved, and I’ve also done a silver jewellery making course. I have recently restored some beautiful dining chairs, but my passion is wheel throwing and ceramics. I dabble enough to appreciate the talent of those who make a living out of their craft!

Bowerbird is a great supporter of small business, and your Exploring the Craft video series is further shining the light on these talented craftspeople. Can you tell us a bit about this?

It’s something I have wanted to produce for a while. I recall a customer talking to a ceramicist about a set of mugs she wanted to buy, but the seller only had three. It was a Saturday afternoon and she asked him if he could make another one overnight if she returned on Sunday. He had to explain why that wasn’t possible – it would take him three days to make her another mug. While she didn’t get the full set right then, she left with a better appreciation of what she was purchasing. We are trying to achieve this with our video series, and we hope people will better appreciate the work they are seeing and enjoy a more meaningful experience when they visit Bowerbird.

The next Bowerbird event is on 5–7 May, 2023.