There has been a strong relationship between industrial potteries and studio practice in this country, since the early days.
During the mid 20th century, potters received on the job training at the factories, and experimented with modifying pipes and using lumps of brick clay to make 'homers' in their lunch breaks; giving them the necessary skills to branch out into a studio practice. By 1990 the popularity of studio pottery was waning, and being replaced by Asian and European imports. However, in the face of it all, new small studios popped up with a semi-commercial operation to compete with the imported wares.
By Finn McCahon Jones
The first ceramics made in this country came out of the brickworks. Up and down New Zealand where there were good deposits of clay, brickworks opened and produced mainly utilitarian goods like drain pipes, bricks, field tiles. The brickworks catalogue also extended into garden edging, animal feed troughs, chimney pots, water coolers, bread crocks, jugs, umbrella stands, garden urns, toilets and kitchen sinks; all glazed in the rich brown salt glazes. These items looked and felt like bricks, and were made because they could be sold to a starved market. If you could afford it, there was a limited supply of English goods, but for everyone else, this would have to do.
Most brick-workers came from overseas to take up work in New Zealand. Many of them were skilled in their own right and would make interesting curios, presents or practical things at lunch time and sneak them through the kilns to take home. These pieces are known as “homers.” Not all homers are beautiful - many interesting folk objects exist, or more practical things like pipes converted into crude umbrella stands, decorative mantle dogs, ash trays, and garden ornaments – anything that could be fashioned from a lump of clay.
Crum Brickworks and the Studio Potter
Brickworks were social places that ran around the clock. There was much support and camaraderie between workers that allowed non-official goods to pass through the kilns. There are many stories about Len Castle, Patricia Perrin and Peter Stichbury befriending Crum Brickworks staff, so they could put their pots into the industrial salt kilns.
Castle, Perrin and Stichbury were students of R.N. Field who taught pottery at evening classes in Auckland at Avondale College in 1945. Also in that class was a fettler from Crum’s Brickworks, Patrick Motley, who was learning to throw. It was Motley that allowed these potters to place work in the best spot of the salt kilns which covered their pots in rich deep browns that are often equally admired on Crum’s drain pipes!
Crown Lynn 'Studio Pottery'
In 1957 Walter Nash’s government put on protections to shelter New Zealand businesses, which encouraged local production, and made imported goods prohibitively expensive. So attention turned to local manufacturers and the market for Crown Lynn and New Zealand studio pottery increased over night.
During the 1960s, with their new wealth, Crown Lynn started buying out smaller manufacturers like Titian Potteries in Takanini, Auckland and Luke Adams in Christchurch and during the 1970s and early 1980s produced a range of cheap 'honey-glazed' mugs in their Takanini branch to cash in on the mainstream interest in rustic pottery.
These mugs, many designed and modelled by Bruce Yallop, are intended to look like they are hand potted with throwing lines, and others have large relief decorative elements to make the glaze run and pool. Mark Cleverly designed a range for Crown Lynn that was produced at the Luke Adams factory and glazed in a deep green-blue ‘pounamu’ or brown ‘basalt’ glaze - which although mass-produced, looks like studio pottery.
In 1984 the protections were lifted and the New Zealand market was flooded with cheap ceramics from England and Japan. People snapped up ‘fine porcelain’ made by Noritake at half the price of Crown Lynn. For the younger crowd, bright hand painted floral dinnerware from Europe was snapped up. Not being able to compete with new trends, and an open market, Crown Lynn closed in 1989 leaving a gap in the market.
Small operations opened and flourished, offering bright and interesting designs on cheap slipware bodies. One of the most successful of these post-Crown Lynn producers was Studio Ceramics Ltd. For many years Studio Ceramics specialised in creating a range of bright, hand-painted designs on a fixed range of shapes. Their signature style was to leave the visible brush-marks on the surface celebrating the qualities and application of the glazes.
Header image: Vase, insised with diamond patterns, made by an unknown maker from a modified clay pipe. Auckland Brickworks, post 1900s. CCBY. Auckland Museum, K5413.