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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 27, No. 15. 1964.

Pottery in New Zealand

Pottery in New Zealand


Helen Mason is editor of the magazine "The New Zealand Potter". She has been a stoneware potter for many years and has exhibited in Washington, Australia and Japan.

The tremendous interest today in the ancient art of pottery making can perhaps be construed as a revolt against the cushioning effect of over-civilisation. Why otherwise would the owner of a modern home, fully equipped with every labour-saving device, spend his spare time, and sometimes his full time, dealing with the elemental materials of fire and earth in quite such a primitive fashion?

Pots today are made by educated. Intelligent people who are trying to find real values in a shifting world. They are bought by the same kind of people who enjoy using things with the warmth of humanity about them. New Zealanders are particularly pottery conscious. When speaking to a group of French potters recently Bernard Leach, one of the world's most famous artist-potters, expressed the opinion that of all the young countries, New Zealand's pottery movement was the most vigorous. The idea of using the raw materials of one's own environment to make something of beauty and use is one with particular appeal to the practical New Zealander, still with something of the pioneer about him. Without an Interested public the potter could not survive, and in this country we are fortunate in having so much support that most of the worthwhile pots are sold on the opening night of an exhibition, and the craft shops are always searching for more supplies. An increasing number of connoisseurs watch the development of individual potters and over the years are building up interesting collections at reasonable cost.

For some years all the pottery was produced by serious amateurs, but over the last two or three years several of our best potters have become fulltime professionals, and the Increasing stature of their work reflects this commitment.

Len Castle, who made his first pot in 1947, has perhaps produced the most significant body of work. He studied at the Leach Pottery for 14 months in 1956-57, and now leads the potter's life amidst the bush at Titirangi. Barry Brickell, whose rich salt glaze pots have a distinctly South Pacific flavour. Is well known for Interesting experiments in animated domestic ware, and also as the builder and operator of his own private railway at Coromandel. Mirek Smisek of Nelson was the first full-time potter. He managed to take his wife and family to Japan first and then the Leach Pottery in England, so that he has had a very sound training and his work is strong and sure. Another serious potter is Wilf Wright, who works at Rrikorangi and also spends some of his time at Stockton's craft shop. Peter Stichbury, as well as working with Leach, spent some time in Nigeria with Michael Cardew and his work shows this African Influence. Doreen Blumhardt, who works within the classical tradition strongly influenced by Japan, Lee Thomson, who over the years has evolved a rich use of glazes. Helen Mason, an experimentalist, and Minna Bondy who uses rock glazes, also work within the stoneware tradition basically propounded by Bernard Leach which Incorporated a strong Japanese flavour.

Roy Cowan and his wife Juliet work more within the European tradition, and both are painters and lithographers as well as potters. Roy's work with kilns is outstanding, and his technology is gradually ironing out many of the difficulties encountered by the early potters. He is moving into the architectural pottery field and doing some very interesting work, while Juliet applies her sound training as a decorator to the producing of very subtle dishes and wall plaques. Graeme Storm, who has studied pottery in Europe, is now getting established in Auckland, and his work has a Scandinavian influence that is refreshing.

Another Auckland potter who quietly pursues her own unhurried development is Patricia Perrin; her shapes are interesting and unusual. Mary Hardwick-Smith, who has a fine control of colours in her glazes evolved for an electric kiln, and Margaret Milne, who makes good domestic ware with a sound sense of form, also work in Auckland. Noeline Thompson of Masterton gets good glazes from her electric kiln, and her press-moulded bottles are outstanding. June Black, noted for her "long-bodles" is doing much interesting experimental work with ceramic sculpture, while Muriel Moody produces very lively ceramic figures.

The advent two years ago of Harry and May Davis, well-known professional potters from England is setting a new standard of excellence in the craftsman-potter's world of producing fine domestic ware. Their experience in the utilisation of local raw materials is opening up new possibilities from the Nelson area where they are living. Jack Laird is in the process of setting up a pottery in Nelson for the turning out of standard wares, and Chris du Fresne of Nelson and Ian McClymont of Wellington are also producing fine useful pottery.

One of the most telling signs of the vitality of the pottery movement is that young potters are now setting themselves up and because of the prevailing climate are achieving in six months what it took the older potters six years to accomplish, warren Tippete of Christchurch. Jef Scholes and Adrian Cotter of Auckland are managing to exist by the sale of their wares, while Paul Melser of Wellington, with a good eye for form, is showing signs of developing into the true artist potter. The possibility of holding an exhibition for potters under thirty is being discussed and this would be a worthwhile project.

Most of the potters are friends and help each other with technical and other problems, so that the group as a whole is steadily advancing. This can be seen at the annual exhibitions, which alternate between the main centres. The Eighth New Zealand Potters' Exhibition will be held in November this year in Wellington. A New Zealand Society of Potters Is just in the process of formation, and the magazine, the "New Zealand Potter." is now in its seventh year.

Pottery is an art from whose Infinite possibilities are still being explored. The article made from clay, by hand, whether pot or wall decoration, seems to restore the human values in a world oversmooth from the results of mass-productlon. The potters are a vital part of New Zealand's rapidly developing culture. In another few years I predict that the old world will be sending its emissaries to learn from what is going on here.