Dynasty

Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery. Pair of ramekins hand painted by John Perceval Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery. Ramekin hand painted by John Perceval. Mark

It has taken me a while to sort out the various members of the Boyd family and their potting activities, even with the help of Geoff Ford’s Encyclopaedia of Australian Potter’s Marks. I’ll start with Merric Boyd (1888-1959), known as the father of Australian art pottery because of his tenuous forms inspired by Australian flora and fauna. He and his wife Doris (1883-1960) had a pottery at Murrumbeena where they led a sometimes precarious existence selling pottery to the Melbourne market. Merric began potting in 1912 and continued to make pots until his death in 1959.

Their five children, Lucy (1916-), Arthur (1920-1999), Guy (1923-1988), David (1924-) and Mary (1926-) all made pottery at some stage in their lives, as did Lucy’s husband Hatton Beck (1901-1994) , Arthur’s wife Yvonne (1920-), David’s wife Hermia (1931-2000) and Mary’s first husband John Perceval (1923-2000). Lucy’s son Robert Beck (1942-) and his wife Margot are also potters, as is Guy’s daughter Derry (1957-).

Robert and Margot Beck. Cheese plate

Robert and Margot Beck made this cheese dish with domed cover given to me by colleagues when I left work to go back to university in 1979. It illustrates the extent to which painting and pottery was closely intertwined in the Boyd family. Doris was a talented painter and decorated some of her husband’s pots. Their children learnt to make and decorate pottery at their parents’ knees and were able to use this skill as a way of making a living while they explored other areas of interest such as painting and sculpture. They married other artists and drew them into the family tradition. The second-world war interrupted their lives but also led them to new artistic associations.

Merric’s father Arthur Merric Boyd (1862-1940) was a painter, not a potter, but his name lives on in the Arthur Merric Boyd (AMB) Pottery set up by his grandson Arthur, John Perceval and Peter Herbst at Murrumbeena in 1944. (Actually, they bought Hatton Beck’s pottery when the Becks moved to Brisbane.) The pair of ramekins illustrated at the head of this entry were made at this pottery and hand painted by John Perceval. Arthur left Australia for England in 1958 and went on to become one of Australia’s most significant painters, but pieces with various AMB marks continued to be made until 1962.

Similarly, Merric’s younger brother Martin (1893-1972) was a writer not a potter, but his name lives on in the Sydney-based Martin Boyd Pottery set up by Guy with partners Norma and Leonard Flegg in 1946. Guy was training as a sculptor at the East Sydney Technical College (ESTC) after the war and needed an interim source of income. He returned to Melbourne in 1951 but the Fleggs continued to operate the Martin Boyd Pottery as a successful venture until overseas imports put it out of business in 1963 (Dorothy Johnston, The Peoples’ Potteries, pp. 87-91).

Ford (p. 43) records the year of Guy’s return to Melbourne as 1955. In fact, he transferred his interest in the pottery to Leonard’s brother Ronald in 1951. On his return to Melbourne, he set up a new pottery, the Guy Boyd Pottery, in 1952. He and his wife operated this until 1964, when he sold it to devote himself full-time to sculpture (Guide to the papers of Guy and Phyllis Boyd, MS 7551, National Library of Australia).

Guy’s brother David worked with him as a thrower in Sydney in the start-up post-war years. This is where he met Hermia, an art student at ESTC experimenting with decoration at the pottery in her spare time. They lived and worked in Australia, England and France before closing their last pottery in Murrumbeena in 1968 to concentrate on other interests – David on painting and Hermia on etchng and sculpture (John Vader, The Pottery of David and Hermia Boyd, Matthews/Hutchinson, 1977).

David and Hermia Boyd. Terracotta bowl

To my 1970s-trained eye, David and Hermia Boyd’s work is often quirky and unusual. Their style owes nothing to the Leach Hamada tradition. They used a range of techniques based on white earthenware or terracotta clay (as in this example), metallic lustres and washes, sgraffito drawing through tin or black glaze and underglaze or overglaze decoration. They were influenced by French provincial pottery and medieval imagery.

Their work was marketed as art pottery through exhibitions rather than stores. In 1960 they were guest exhibitors at the Potters’ Cottage in Warrandyte where it was reported that great interest was shown in the new techniques they had developed during their overseas travels and prices ranged as high as fifty guineas (Vader, p. 132) .

For collectors, enough Boyd pottery is listed on eBay to merit its own category under ‘Australian Pottery’. Here even small pieces of Merric’s work are priced outside our range. Arthur and Hermia Boyd also attract a lot of interest, as do the larger AMB pieces painted by John Perceval or Neil Douglas.

Martin Boyd Pottery. Ramekin

The majority of eBay listings are from the Martin Boyd Pottery which has its own strong following. Ramekins abound and no wonder because it was the pottery’s most popular production line and nearly a million were made (Johnston, p.90). Ramekins were also a mainstay of the Guy Boyd and AMB Potteries. This form was simple to throw and decorate. The handle also lends aplomb, particularly when incorporated seamlessly into the form and decoration. We haven’t been able to resist setting up a ramekin collecting sideline and now have quite a few excellent examples.

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15 comments

  1. Thanks for this information about the Boyd pottery – have just bought some ramekins signed Martin Boyd and was curious about them – as I know him as a writer yet also know his name is associated with the pottery. Did he sign these ramekins or was that the signature of the pottery named after him, do you know?

  2. Hi Judith, I just purchased a nice piece of Merric Boyd pottery from a Salvation Army store. It has been painted by (I’d presume) Doris Boyd as it has her signature on the side etched in. It’s about 8cm high and has a nice depiction of an Australian landscape on it. I was wondering if there was a way to get an estimate value on it?

    Cahl Schroedl.

  3. Hi Carl, that sounds like a wonderful find! To get an idea of its value, you’ll need to find out what prices other, similar items have fetched. Set up a saved search on eBay to see what the market is prepared to pay. For prices being asked by dealers, have a look at Carters Price Guide. For prices realised at auction houses, have a look at Antiques Reporter. (Both these websites are searchable online, but you’ll have to pay to see the prices.)

  4. Dear Judith,
    I am very pleased to find your post. I met the Boyd family in London in the 60′s and would appreciate it if you could give me a contact email for Robert and Margot Beck. I used to model for Robert and Matthew Perceval in Hampstead.

    With thanks,

    Lily

  5. Hi Judith,
    I have recently come into possession of a set of 6 coffee cups and saucers inscribed on the base “A M Boyd”. Would these be by Arthur (1920 – 1999)? They are black & yellow striped (they remind me of a bumble bee!). They are in excellent condition. Should I consider having them valued?
    Thanks for the fascinating post.
    Regards
    Tim

  6. Dear Judith,
    I have a little celadon (medium toned) jug 11cm tall which has an upright solid feel and a squarish shaped handle. There is a transparent brownish glaze painted around the edges of the lip very freely and the bottom edge of the jug. The interior looks frosted a green. Underneath is marked with R. MBeck .
    Would this be by Robert and Margot Beck? I found it last year and bought it because I like the colour and shape and because it looks homely.
    Regards,
    Kerry

  7. i have a yellow cup like a big egg cup it stands 55 mm high it has pine combs around the top sitting in green leaves, & is signed with a c in a circal then A.M.B. can anyone please send me a e-mail if they can tell me anything about this little pot it is in mint condition
    Thankyou David

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