The Australian Ceramics Association has set up a poll asking potters to define their ceramic practice in terms of how much of their work is production and how much is art. Without getting into the debate about what is art which is sure to follow, the poll reminded me that the distinction potters make between production ware and one-off pieces does need to be reflected in the critical appraisal of a work, its description, and its price on the secondary market.
Potters’ marks can be an important indicator in this regard. Ian Sprague used the Mungeribar Pottery seal for works produced by apprentices and trainees. For production items that he made himself, he added his own seal and allowed qualified apprentices such as Victor Greenaway to do the same. For one-off pieces he used just his own seal. This practice has been widely-adopted in studios employing a team of workers, and individual potters may also use a different mark for production work.
While I’ve been careful to record marks in our online shop, I had been attributing production works directly to the potter. I spent yesterday updating entries to include the production-line name in the title, where it has a distinct identity. Thus a shallow bowl marked with the Mungeribar Pottery seal, previously attributed directly to Ian Sprague, is now catalogued as ‘Mungeribar Pottery. Shallow bowl ‘. To ensure that the association with the potter is not lost, the description says ‘Impressed on base with the Mungeribar Pottery seal. (Mungeribar Pottery is the name given to Ian Sprague’s production line)’.