Known potter #10: Derek Smith

Derek Smith, Salt pig Derek Smith, Salt pig. Mark

This 15 cm high vessel with front opening has been made by combining two half circles. It may have been intended for use as a salt pig. If so, it is certainly the nicest salt pig I have ever seen. The unglazed white stoneware clay has been incised in horizontal rings on the outside and stained with oxides. The precision of the spherical form makes it recognisable as the work of Derek Smith. The Blackfriars Pottery ‘BP’ impressed seal on the top dates it to the period 1977-1983 as does the stamp on the side.

Smith trained as a ceramic designer and art teacher in England and worked in pottery studios and the ceramic industry before coming to Australia in 1956. Over the next sixteen years he taught at art schools in Hobart and Sydney as well as setting up his own kilns and studios at Bowral, NSW (1958-1962), Hobart (1962-1964) and Beecroft, NSW (1965-1972). Then in 1973 he was invited to establish and manage a pottery studio within the Doulton Australia factory at Chatswood, NSW.

Doulton Australia (Derek Smith design), Jug

Doulton Potteries (Aust), Pty, Ltd. Grecian key jug

This small jug stamped ‘Doulton Studio Australia’ is quite different from other outputs of the factory such as the jug on the right from the Grecian key range. In an article in Pottery in Australia (Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1974, pp. 4-9) Smith describes how this new venture came about, defends his use of the jolley machine and moulds to increase efficiency and speaks about his ideas for future development of the studio.

Peter Rushforth, reviewing an exhibition of the studio’s work in 1975, saw Smith’s training as a designer equipping him to take on this challenge (Pottery in Australia, Vol. 14, No. 2, Spring 1975, p. 61). Potters with a more romantic approach to throwing as part of the creative process might have found it harder to establish a studio in an industrial plant.

For whatever reason, Smith did not stay long at Doulton. He left in 1976 to set up the Blackfriars Pottery in Chippendale, an inner Sydney suburb. The Powerhouse Museum, which purchased four discoid forms in 1976 observed that Blackfriars had became the largest of its kind in Australia. From this I am assuming that he took some of his production methods with him to the new pottery. Certainly many of the works now coming up for auction by Derek Smith are from this period.

Derek Smith, Spherical box Derek Smith, Spherical box. Mark

In 1984 he moved back to Tasmania and set up a studio at ‘Oakwood’ Mangalore. Here he kept a lower profile, emerging from time to time with a new collection of pieces for exhibition. We bought this spherical box from a gallery in Battery Point, Hobart, in the early 1990s. It has the impressed DS mark used for work from this period.

In 2001, Despard Gallery took a selection of his work to the SOFA exposition in Chicago. Subsequently, Smith spent four years living and working in Italy. He was back in Tasmania by 2006 when he held an exhibition at the Handmark Gallery in Hobart. Both of these exhibitions showcased his increasing use of rich burnished colours and metallic glazes.

Derek Smith. Wall pocket

By contrast, this small semi-cylindrical wall piece with iron-grey textured decoration which we bought from the Handmark Gallery earlier this year shows a return to a muted palette and textured surface.

A definitive book has yet to be published on Smith. Hood and Garnsey (Australian Pottery, pp. 152-153 and plates 114-120) assess his work up until 1972, finding his textured surfaces “a necessary foil to the severity of his forms”. Nine Artist Potters, (Littlemore and Carlstrom, 1973, pp. 90-105) includes an interesting potter’s statement. Janet Mansfield (A Collector’s Guide to Modern Australian Ceramics, 1988, pp. 21-23) classes his work with that of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, Les Blakebrough, Victor Greenaway, Mansfield herself, Greg Daly, Joan Campbell and Owen Rye as genuine examples of the potter’s art.

Derek Smith. Lidded container Derek Smith. Lidded Container. Mark

His work is fairly easy to identify from the style and/or marks. Geoff Ford (Encyclopedia of Australian Potters’ Marks, pp. 203-204) lists the eleven marks that Smith has used over the years. These mostly consist of his name or initials in various forms. The ones to watch out for when dating early pieces are a T in a circle from his early years in Tasmania and this one, representing twin kilns with a shared chimney, which he used at Beecroft.

The early works of Christine Ball, who trained at Beecroft in 1974, and also experimented with dry glazes and geometric forms, have their own distinctive ‘cb’ impressed seal.

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5 comments

  1. Hi, we have received, as a donation, a Derek Smith Black Friars Spherical Box with the markings BF in a square but can’t date the piece. I assume from reading this that maybe it was from the 90’s. Any ideas on date or pricing?

  2. I have a piece of Derek Smiths work from Black
    Friers pottery dated 67 with his signature on the base. Can you give me some idea as to the cost it would sell for

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