My website host upgraded to PHP 5.4 this week and I’ve been working hard applying numerous updates to the online shop so that it will work under this new version. If you tried to access the website today you will have seen that I hit a few problems but it should all be working again now. I just have a few addons to restore and I’ll work on those tomorrow.
David and I were both very pleased when we found this lidded bowl by the Victorian potter Ray Pearce on eBay way back in 2006 and it went straight into our permanent collection. It is ovoid in shape with a polished brown glaze to the upper part of the body and the outside of the lid. The remainder of the body and lid is carved and painted with map-like patterns and the lid has a removable steel and perspex knob.
It is hard to pin down why we like it so much. The polished brown colour with its ragged edge reminds me of slightly worn leather and the decoration also has the texture of worked leather. It looks like something that might have been made in the 1940s. With its lid mechanism, It seems to be part of some larger apparatus with an unknown scientific intent.
Ray Pearce (1949 – ) was born in Bendigo, Victoria. In 1971, he established the Blind Cow Pottery at White Hills, a suburb of Bendigo. In 1973, he obtained a Diploma of Art and Design from the Bendigo Institute of Technology and later taught there for several years. Since then, he has continued to make occasional forays into teaching at technical and higher education level as well as conducting private classes.
In 1990, he and his partner, artist Deirdre Outhred, moved with their two children to a property between Marong and Maiden Gully on the outskirts of Bendigo. There, over a period of 16 years, Pearce built a two-storey house with a tower, wings and balconies, using over 10,000 mud bricks and a range of recycled materials. His ceramics and sculptures share some of this obsession with recycled materials which he says he uses because he is poor; however, this results in a quite extraordinary aesthetic.
As well as working in clay, Pearce is a painter and etcher. He has held numerous group and solo exhibitions of his paintings, ceramics and sculptures over the years. In 2007, the Bendigo Art Gallery held an exhibition of his sketchbooks from the previous decade to provide insights into his artistic practice and creative processes.
Pearce is still making pots and we found a small cache of new work on our visit to the Faulkner Gallery in Castlemaine last year. These are just as interesting, with pots on tiny feet, or with pointed ends needing wire frames to support them. A teapot in a copper wire frame has a copper handle and a leather glove around the spout. The glazes are interesting too, with muted green and brown colours and complex textures.
His ceramic work may be marked with an impressed ‘Pearce’ and/or ‘COW’ for Blind Cow Pottery.
Corporations buy art to project a particular image to shareholders and clients and to make workplaces attractive for staff. There may be a business benefit in supporting contemporary artists and being seen as part of a wider cultural community. Acquisitions come out of marketing, public relations or building and furnishing budgets. Choices may be made by professional art advisors or by company directors with an active interest in art. Over time, as companies come under new management, renovate their offices, relocate to new premises or enter into liquidation, works previously purchased may be depreciated to a residual value like other company assets and disposed of by donation or sale.
Last month, David and I attended an auction that included ceramic works from a Sydney corporate collection. Ceramic art can be attractive investments for companies as they are more affordable than painting and sculpture. The works in the auction were mainly very large one-off pieces purchased in the 1980s and early 1990s, including work by Deborah Halpern, Jenny Orchard and Ray Rogers (illustrated) to name just a few of the artists represented. While the estimates were a little on the low side for some of the Melbourne artists, they generally reflected the value of the pots. However, we were surprised to dicover on the day that there were no reserve prices. With almost no competition on many of the pieces, we found ourselves driving back to Bemboka the next day with a car loaded with pots we had had no intention of buying.
It seemed sad that these pots had become so undervalued by their owners although it was clearly to our advantage. It reflects the main difference between public and corporate collections. Public collecting agencies have the responsibility and funding to maintain permanent collections and will generally appreciate their assets using professional valuers and/or appropriate formulae. A company must make sure its buildings, furnishings and sponsorships communicate the right message to shareholders and clients and this will change over time. Assets that have served their purpose have only a residual value in business terms.
David and I have finally acquired our first Ivan McMeekin pot – a small jug made between 1953 and 1958. It has a very dark reduced glaze with sgraffito decoration over a fine, dense, stoneware body. The base is marked with McMeekin’s impressed ‘IM’ next to the crossed pick and shovel seal he designed for the pottery he had just set up at the Sturt Craft Centre at Mittagong, NSW.
It is hard to imagine how extraordinarily accomplished even a modest piece like this must have looked to Australian potters learning to work with stoneware in the Anglo-Oriental tradition for the first time. We are very pleased to have a piece from this period. It will go into our own collection for now as work by Ivan McMeekin doesn’t turn up very often on the secondary market.
Since starting the Australian Potters’ Marks project two years ago, I have been spending most of my research time preparing topics for publication on the Identifying Australian Pottery group. This is my first “known potter” entry for a while. As the Ivan McMeekin topic has already been published with images of works from the collections of other members of the project (the lucky things), I will just link to it here.
Mystery potter #42 turns out to be Harry Ashburner, a potter active on the Gold Coast in the 1970s.
David and I took time out on a visit to Canberra this week to attend the “Stephen Bowers: Beyond Bravura” exhibition being held at the Watson Arts Centre until 13 April. Bowers’ work is being celebrated in the JamFactory Icon Series. The exhibition premiered in Adelaide and is now touring nationally. Before Canberra, it was in Geelong and its next stop is Artisan in Brisbane from 2 May-28 June 2014. The full set of tour dates is given here.
We own just one small bowl by Stephen Bowers which we bought in Adelaide in 2006. We have bid on some larger pieces at auction but they generally go for far more than we can afford. Luckily, a scholarly book has been published to complement the exhibition so that we can at least see pictures of his gorgeous work. Sasha Grishin’s review of the book in the Sydney Morning Herald highlights the fact that Bowers is essentially a china painter – although he turns the whole tradition of china painting on its head.
Mystery potter #41 turns out to be (I hope) Ray Blaber.
Our exhibition this year is “Beyond design: forged by fire : Wood, smoke, salt and soda fired ceramics from the collection”. However, a few pieces have found their way into the exhibition that don’t quite fit into this theme. A Remued 15-6 wall vase hangs on the wall behind the counter. Nine Model 14 Ellis jugs left over from last year’s exhibition decorate the top of three of the display cabinets and this Mingay ware swan has taken up a position on the window sill.
These swans are not rare. There are nine for sale on eBay at the moment, priced at around $30 each. Ours came to us as part of a larger collection and we probably won’t replace it when it eventually goes to a new home. Nevertheless, I love it – its shape, its colours and its determination not to be packed away in the container.
This morning I found myself singing “It’s my exhibition and I’ll display what I want to. You would keep it on the window sill too if it happened to you.” David, who was watching Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews while working on his latest glass painting looked up somewhat perplexed and I returned to my designated task of browsing auction catalogues.
Talking of early Australian pottery, a sister group with this name has been set up on Flickr for those who are interested.
After three years of using the 2010 theme on WordPress, I couldn’t resist switching to a new theme. This is Suits.