Mystery potter #39: Alex Leckie

Bird bowl
Bird Bowl. Interior
Bird bowl. Marks

We bought this bowl from Shapiro’s Australian Studio Ceramics, Art and Design auction in November last year. We weren’t able to get up to Sydney, so we placed an absentee bid. The bowl was lot 105: Josef Szirer Bird Bowl painted “Szirer” with impressed seal to base. 28cm diameter x 18cm high.

Josef Szirer (1939- ) migrated to Australia from Hungary. He started practicing as a studio potter in the 1970s and taught for many years at the Caulfield Institute of technology (now Monash University’s Caulfield campus). There is a picture of him in the university archive, dated 1985. Very little has been written about Szirer’s work, but the examples we have seen have made us want to know more.

There is a wonderful mythical horse figurine in Cartier’s Price Guide [relinked now to a copy in the Internet Archive] and we loved our own man vase, now sold to a gallery customer. It is hard from these to put together an overall impression of his style, except to say that he often plays with form. In this context, we were happy to accept this bowl as one of his works from the picture in the auction catalogue.

It is a virtuoso exhibition piece made of a rough clay, thrown, altered and pierced, with a dry glaze and a broad wing of sgraffito decoration on each side. Inside, the upper half is washed with bronze. The hollow base, by contrast, is ivory with oxide spots.

We appreciated it for some months as a Szirer before I thought to check the marks. My records show that his works are marked with an impressed ‘JS’ with very square letters. Some are signed ‘Szirer’ and he also produced a production line with an impressed  ‘JO SZIRER STUDIO’ stamp. Clearly the marks on our bowl are different.  Thus we now have another mystery potter.

Misattributions are not unusual in the secondary market. We’ve made some ourselves which I hasten to correct as soon as I can. In this case the auction record persists online so I hope people looking for images of Jo Szirer’s work will find this blog entry as well.

Postscript: A fellow collector has identified the maker of this piece as Alex Leckie   (1932- 2010), a Scottish potter who spent 10 years in Australia from 1955-1965. He is known for the revival of stoneware in South Australia and as the initiator of the South Australian figurative ceramics tradition.  He visited Australia again for a three-month lecture tour and was Artist-in-Residence with the Melbourne State College in 1978. His works are marked with a painted or incised Leckie, some have an impressed facsimile of the signature and some have the impressed mark used on our pot.

The mythical horse figurine attributed to Szirer in Cartier’s Price Guide is also not by Szirer, but by Iris Galbraith (see comments). Iris and her husband Vic were potters active near Cessnock, NSW, in the 1970s, making figurative sculptural works.

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10 comments

  1. Hi there David
    I was a student at Caulfield during the period of 1977 – 1980 doing a Degree in Ceramics and Jo Szirer was one of my teachers/ lecturers.
    He was a most charming and talented individual. He would share with us his ideas that he was working on, glaze and decoration techniques, etc.
    Some other lecturers/ staff that were teaching at that time included Chris Myers, Paul Davis, Brian Trueman, Eugene Kupsch Klaus Zimmer for glass and pottery and also Digby Adams for drawing.
    There were of course other talented staff members and resident artists during this period.
    My one regret that I have, is that I was a very young student at the time – 17 when I started and did not fully appreciate the importance of the times and the people in relation to the development of studio pottery in Australia.
    I wish i could have those times again……….I may have chosen a different path from the one I travelled down…………..oh well Cest La Vie…
    Cheers Assunta

    1. Alex Leckie was an amazing man and was my head of department at the Glasgow School of Art 1980-85. He was a very human being. I was fortunate to catch him on the phone one Thursday morning and after 20 odd years was like we’d never lost touch. Unfortunately he died the following year. Regret I never got the chance to spend time in his company just one more time.

  2. Hi Judith,

    To add to the mystery a little more I think the Carters site attribution of the “Mythical Horse” may be incorrect. This horse is very similar to works I have seen by Iris Galbraith (whom I know nothing about).

    Although her signature is only her full name in running hand it is fairly hard decipher on the coarse stoneware bodies she uses. Took me 7 years to get the name right. LOL

    Tim

  3. Hi Tim, thanks for this. And here’s another horse figurine attributed to Galbraith in a Raffan Kelaher & Thomas auction, and very like the Carters one. Coincidentally we had a visit recently from a potter who used to run a gallery at Pokolbin where Iris and her husband sold their work in the 1970s. He said they were based somewhere near Cessnock.

    1. Hello, My name is Jane Walpole, and I just happen to be the youngest daughter of Iris and Vic Galbraith. I suspect that the mythical horse which you are referring to could possibly be my mothers work, though I would have to see a photo to be sure.

  4. Hi Judith,

    Thanks for the info on iris.

    I have two of her pieces and although they look very different they are constructed in the same way and share certain design ques.

    My Iris Galbraith Pieces

    (i’ll add photos of the second piece tomorrow when I have some light to work with)

    Tim

  5. Alex Leckie was a friend and Lecturer of my mums in South Australia. My name is Leckie and I was named after him. I was born in 1977 and never met him, it is nice to read comments and see some of the art works of the person that inspired my name.

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