Describing pottery

Stoneware bottle Stoneware bottle. Mark

We bought this small stoneware oil bottle with celadon glaze, white wrapped cloth effect and wax resist decoration for 99 cents on eBay. It is marked with an impressed “O”. When it arrived I knew that it was a bargain – a well-made functional piece with care taken over its decoration.

Gwyn Hanssen Pigott uses “O” as a mark according to the published directories but I am more inclined to attribute this pot to Andrew Halford. Halford took over Shigeo Shiga’s workshop in Terrey Hill, Sydney, in 1979 after five years in Japan. He used an impressed “O” by itself for domestic ware and added “ah” to individual pieces.

Andrew Halford, Two teapots Andrew Halford, Teapot 1. Mark

These two stoneware teapots with identical design elements are both from Halford’s workshop. We bought the half-glazed brown one in the early 1980s at the Potters’ Place in Kingston. It just has the “O” mark. The one with herringbone inlay is a recent purchase. It dates from the mid 1980s and reflects Halford’s interest in inlaying patterns made using textured objects such as rope pressed into the wet clay. It has both marks.

I have just finished reading Peter Lane’s Ceramic Form: Design and Decoration (1988 and revised 1998). Lane, a British potter and teacher, takes the work of over 150 potters from the Western world and tries to discover what makes the work of each potter individual. He does this by explaining their working methods, the source of their ideas and their different approaches to design and decoration within the confines of two fundamental pottery forms, the bowl and the bottle.

For me, this raises interesting questions about what happens when a piece leaves its maker. Do I need to know who made a pot, what inspired the potter and what techniques were used before I can truly describe it? Certainly, it is much easier to write with confidence about the use of inlay in the herringbone teapot knowing from his Falls Gallery CV that Halford learnt this technique from the Japanese potter Shimoaka Tatsuzo. A pot without provenance must speak for itself. In particular, pieces like the oil bottle which rarely make it into books, galleries or museums can reward study as found objects.

I ask myself these questions when trying to describe a pot: Is the clay stoneware, earthenware, terracotta or porcelain? What colour is it and has it been grogged? Has the pot been wheel-thrown, coil- or slab-built, slip cast or press-moulded? What is its purpose (if any) and what form does it take? Has it been extended by other pieces or altered or carved? What is the nature of the surface decoration and of the firing?

Some things can’t be inferred and I am somewhat daunted by the technical vocabulary. I love the way words like “celadon” and “wax resist” both inform and lend a mystique to the description. I’ve developed a glossary for myself to aid in the process.

At this stage I can’t be certain that the oil bottle is a Halford workshop piece or even that it wasn’t made by Hanssen Pigott. I am not well-enough acquainted with her work. How I wished for a small display of marks in the retrospective exhibition Gwyn Hanssen Pigott: A Survey 1955-2005 at the Victorian National Gallery last year; or at least a few pictures in the printed catalogue.

Base of tin-glazed jug signed Gwyn Hanssen (inscribed).

As an aside, a while ago I was furious with myself for missing a small tin-glazed jug inscribed “Gwyn Hanssen” that was badly mis-listed on eBay. It went to another buyer. At least I was able to collect the mark.

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11 comments

  1. This week I saw a bottle just like mine at Freeland Gallery, firmly attributed to Halford, and several other pots made by him in the same style. The technique of using a brush to apply slip directly to the surface of a pot is called hakeme and the dark brown decoration is iron brushwork over the white slip, not wax resist.

  2. I have “precisely” the same Halford item that you discuss, and am very grateful for your work. Keep it up!
    Mine came from Design Enigma, where Irene has a very considerable knowledge of our, and overseas, potters.

    Laurie

  3. I am the seller of the’badly mislisted’ tin glaze jug above and thought it worth mentioning that at the time I went to great lengths to identify this piece. I am familliar with Hanssen Piggot’s work but could not in good faith have listed this piece as definitely being one of hers. Therefore I listed it in manner that I felt hinted at its possible origin but not in such a way as to be misleading. There was little interest in the jug and it was purchased cheaply by an appreciative collector.

  4. Thanks Judith – It just goes to show that you can still find a bargain even on ebay. In future I will run my mystery Australian pottery (and dont we all have them) past your site.

  5. That mark for Halford looks just like a piece I have here…Its a small trinket box. I managed to indirectly contact Andrew to get it confirmed. The mark in on my site under Halford

  6. I PICKED UP A PIECE OF ANDREW HALFORDS’POTTERY WHILST SEARCHING FOR AUSTRALIAN STUDIO POTTERY. ALBEIT WAS A MORE MODERN PIECE THAN I WAS SEARCHING FOR,(vase gold and brown with exactly the same identity markings as your piece)I AQUIRED QUITE A FEW PIECES OF GOOD POTTERY AT THIS PLACE, AND BECAUSE AH’s VASE LOOKED SO BEAUTIFULLY MADE AND MARKED,I DECIDED TO TAKE A CHANCE AND BUY IT AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.LIKE YOURSELF JUDITH I HAVE A BUDGET WHICH SOMETIMES I GO OVER,BUT IT IS ALWAYS A GREAT FEELING WHEN YOUR INSTINCTS AND LIMITED KNOWLEDGE PAYS OFF. REGARDS DEANNE

  7. Hi Judith, yes, the oil bottle is from Halford’s studio production made at Kinka Pottery, Terrey Hills, probably early 80’s. It was a line often thrown by Lex Dickson but designed by Andrew. If I could see the underside and finish of the foot I might be able to tell you for sure if it was Andrew or Lex who threw this one! Andrew’s wife, Moko Halford, painted the leaf motif in a calligraphic style. Cheers, Jane Sawyer

    1. Hi Jane, thank you so much for this information. Since I wrote this entry back in 2007, I have learnt a lot more about Halford’s work and can now tell a Halford from a Gwyn Hanssen Pigott at twenty paces, but I didn’t realise that Lex Dickson was throwing some of these pieces or that Moko did the leaf decoration. We now have an entry for Andrew Halford in the Australian Potters’ Marks project and I have had a few Halford pieces for sale in my gallery. Perhaps it would be possible to tell from the images there who threw the ‘O’ pieces.

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