The papers of Barry Brickell demonstrate the artist's all-consuming passion for pottery, steam trains and conservation.
Corresponding with fellow enthusiasts
Barry Brickell, one of New Zealand's foremost potters, ceramicists, sculptors, railway enthusiasts and conservationists, died on 23 January 2016. Auckland Museum holds papers relating to Brickell's studio, his artistic practice and his commissioned works, both public and private. The collection, which dates from 1965 to 1985, includes correspondence, newspaper clippings, sketches and photographs.
Among the papers are a postcard from Friedensreich Hundertwasser, as well as letters from Ralph Hotere and Len Castle. Theo Schoon writes of potters from around the country, and comments on techniques and personal discoveries. Others write about various types of clay, glazes and kiln construction. Brickell's passion for steam and rail is obvious, with correspondence between fellow steam/railway enthusiasts, many of which include diagrams and sketches.
The letters illustrating deep friendships that developed over the years are intermingled with fledgling relationships between potters and steam enthusiasts wishing to visit and work at Driving Creek.
Fire, steam and botany
The eldest of Shirley and Maurice Brickell's four children, Ian Barry Brickell was born on 26 October 1935 in New Plymouth. Commonly known as Barry, he was educated in Auckland and graduated from Auckland University College (now the University of Auckland) with a Bachelor of Science. Brickell started teaching at Coromandel District High School in 1961, but resigned within six months to take up pottery full-time.
In the 1970s, Brickell created Driving Creek Railway & Potteries in the Coromandel, with workshops and kilns, where he and other potters worked. A rail and steam enthusiast, he built a railway on the property and used it to retrieve clay for use in his pottery, as well as exotic timber and transport native seedlings for reforestation.
In his 1979 curriculum vitae, Barry listed as his interests as: "fire, steam, simple and basic machinery, botany (in particular NZ natives), landscape forms, geology, visual arts, civil engineering, railways, colonial and functional architecture and the form of things."
A remarkable artist
As Hamish Keith, cultural commentator and Brickell's friend of over 50 years, recently noted:
"Much has been written about Barry Brickell the railway enthusiast, the conservationist and the potter - as if they were different parts of his life. They were not. They were an unbroken creative continuum in the work of this remarkable artist who revived a small town economy, restored a ravaged landscape and left a legacy of brilliant forms which enrich the lives of us all." Art News, 2016.
This all-encompassing thirst for knowledge is certainly reflected in this Manuscript collection.
Keith, Hamish. 'Art and life were gloriously the same: Barry Brickell 1935-2016.' Art news Vol.36. No.1. (2016): pp.54. Autumn.
'Artist Barry Brickell dies aged 80'. Radio NZ. Updated 24 January 2016.
Johnston, C. 2016. Barry Brickell, 1935-2016. The Dowse Art Museum. Updated 24 January 2016.
Cite this article
Lilly, Hugh and Passau, Victoria.
Barry Brickell. Auckland War Memorial Museum - Tāmaki Paenga Hira. First published: 5 August 2016. Updated: 9 August 2016.