Corporate collections


Ray Rogers. Primeval forms

Ray Rogers. Primeval forms

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.


Known potter #56: Ivan McMeekin

Ivan McMeekin. Jug
Ivan McMeekin. Jug. Base

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.

Stephen Bowers: Beyond Bravura

Stephen Bowers: Beyond Bravura

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.

Early Australian pottery

Modern Ceramic Products. Swan-shaped bowl

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.

No thanks, I am already ubiquitous

Busy desk red

Increasingly, spam messages directed to our gallery email address are from web developers wanting to improve our website and make it more visible to Internet search engines. I never reply but I would like to tell them that our website already ranks highly in almost any search on Australian pottery if they had only taken the trouble to look. Dealing  with correspondence from people who have found us on the Internet is now one of my daily tasks. As well as processing online orders or helping people to identify pots they own and providing advice on finding them new homes, in the last year or so we have been receiving an increasing number of messages from people thinking we are the potters whose work we sell. These include customers wanting a broken pot mended or replaced, old friends wanting to be put in touch or museum staff after a copyright clearance.  Our website was either at the top of the result set and they looked no further, or it was the only website referencing the sought-after potter. Although I rarely have current contact details in my database, this brings out the librarian in me and I do my best to help.

A great day

Bemboka River Music Fair. Annie Franklin 2013

Our River Music Fair is over for another year and, oh, what a great day it was! The weather was sunny with just a slight breeze and the garden was at its Spring best.

Our guest artists – potter Michael Adams, leadlight maker Kay Dowman, painter Annie Franklin and spinner Olga Hunt – took up positions on our north and west patios and set to work demonstrating their skills. Food stallholders Patrick Reubinson of Stroudover Cottage, the Bemboka Play Group and More than Beans Mobile Cafe prepared to keep hunger and thirst at bay. John Watkin, our MC, started the program rolling and kept everyone involved in the activities of the day.

Visitors arriving in a steady stream helped themselves to a welcoming glass of champagne or orange juice, strolled through the gallery to take in the exhibition and talk with David, then settled themselves on the lawn to enjoy wonderful musical performances by Mr Tim, Train to Budapest, David Hewitt and friends, and Fanny Lumsden and the Thrillseekers.  Behind the scenes Andrew, Jenny and I took a moment to share slices of hummingbird cake from the Play Group stall and draw satisfaction from how well everything had come together on the day.

Illustrated: the watercolour Annie Franklin painted on the day and kindly presented to us as a memento of the fair. On the stage: David Hewitt and friends.