Known potters

Known potter #57: Ray Pearce

Ray Pearce. Lidded bowl
Ray Pearce. Lidded bowl. Base

David and I were both very pleased when we found this lidded bowl by the Victorian potter Ray Pearce on eBay way back in 2006 and it went straight into our permanent collection. It is ovoid in shape with a polished brown glaze to the upper part of the body and the outside of the lid. The remainder of the body and lid is carved and painted with map-like patterns and the lid has a removable steel and perspex knob.

It is hard to pin down why we like it so much. The polished brown colour with its ragged edge reminds me of slightly worn leather and the decoration also has the texture of worked leather. It looks like something that might have been made in the 1940s. With its lid mechanism, It seems to be part of some larger apparatus with an unknown scientific intent.

Ray Pearce (1949 – ) was born in Bendigo, Victoria. In 1971, he established the Blind Cow Pottery at White Hills, a suburb of Bendigo. In 1973, he obtained a Diploma of Art and Design from the Bendigo Institute of Technology and later taught there for several years. Since then, he has continued to make occasional forays into teaching at technical and higher education level as well as conducting private classes.

In 1990, he and his partner, artist Deirdre Outhred, moved with their two children to a property between Marong and Maiden Gully on the outskirts of Bendigo. There, over a period of 16 years, Pearce built a two-storey house with a tower, wings and balconies, using over 10,000 mud bricks and a range of recycled materials. His ceramics and sculptures share some of this obsession with recycled materials which he says he uses because he is poor; however, this results in a quite extraordinary aesthetic.

As well as working in clay, Pearce is a painter and etcher. He has held numerous group and solo exhibitions of his paintings, ceramics and sculptures over the years. In 2007, the Bendigo Art Gallery held an exhibition of his sketchbooks from the previous decade to provide insights into his artistic practice and creative processes.

Pearce is still making pots and we found a small cache of new work on our visit to the Faulkner Gallery in Castlemaine last year. These are just as interesting, with pots on tiny feet, or with pointed ends needing wire frames to support them. A teapot in a copper wire frame has a copper handle and a leather glove around the spout. The glazes are interesting too, with muted green and brown colours and complex textures.

His ceramic work may be marked with an impressed ‘Pearce’ and/or ‘COW’ for Blind Cow Pottery.

Known potter #56: Ivan McMeekin

Ivan McMeekin. Jug
Ivan McMeekin. Jug. Base

David and I have finally acquired our first Ivan McMeekin pot – a small jug made between 1953 and 1958. It has a very dark reduced glaze with sgraffito decoration over a fine, dense,  stoneware body. The base is marked with McMeekin’s impressed  ‘IM’ next to the crossed pick and shovel seal he designed for the pottery he had just set up at the Sturt Craft Centre at Mittagong, NSW.

It is hard to imagine how extraordinarily accomplished even a modest piece like this must have looked to Australian potters learning to work with stoneware in the Anglo-Oriental tradition for the first time. We are very pleased to have a piece from this period. It  will go into our own collection for now as work by Ivan McMeekin doesn’t turn up very often on the secondary market.

Since starting the Australian Potters’ Marks project two years ago, I have been spending most of my research time preparing topics for publication on the Identifying Australian Pottery group. This is my first “known potter” entry for a while. As the Ivan McMeekin topic has already been published with images of works from the collections of other members of the project (the lucky things), I will just link to it here.

Known potter #55: Yarrabah Pottery

Yarrabah Pottery. Bowl Yarrabah Pottery. Bowl. Base

This wheel-thrown high-sided bowl  was made at the Yarrabah Pottery in Far North Queensland in 1979. It has a pale grey glaze with white slip partially obscuring oxided sgraffito drawings of two crocodiles separated by panels of abstract Aboriginal motifs. While the glaze is a little thinly applied in places, I’ve grown to like this bowl during the time it has spent on the workroom table. An albino crocodile is said to guard a waterhole sacred to the Gunganji people of Yarrabah [1] and the two crocodiles  seem to float in a watery dreamtime space.

Yarrabah Pottery was established in 1973 at the Yarrabah Mission (now the Yarrabah Aboriginal Community), 30 km south-east of Cairns as the crow flies. Like the Barambah Pottery at Cherbourg founded in 1969, it was an initiative of the Queensland government to provide sustainable employment opportunities for mission residents [2]. In 1972, Ray Harrison (1937- ) was appointed the first teacher and manager. A graduate of Shepparton Technical College and of Toorak Technical Teachers College, he moved to Queensland in 1969, setting up a studio near Cairns and teaching at Cherbourg first, before spending three-and-a-half years at Yarrabah from 1972 [3]

One of the first apprentices there was Edward (Edwin) Deemera (1959- ). He started by learning to mix and recycle clay, then moved from handbuilding to throwing and finally to production line work, making a range of functional ware [4]. In the early years of operation, work made at both Cherbourg and Yarrabah was sold through the front window store of the Department of Aboriginal and Islanders Advancement (DAIA) in Brisbane. Ranges were designed to meet the whims of the tourist market, with very little freedom for potters to develop their own styles [5].

Our bowl was made after Harrison had left but while the pottery was still being managed by white Australian teachers and mentors. Its maker, ‘GD’, is Gwen Deemera, sister of Edwin, who was still at Yarrabah when she exhibited hand built pots at the Cairns Potters Club Biennial National Ceramic Exhibition in 2011 [6].

In 1986, the Yarrabah Pottery was featured in a Special Queensland Edition of Pottery in Australia [7]. The manager at that time was Peter Faulkes and working there with  Deemera were Heather Koowootha and Cornelius (Connie) Richards (1964- ). The aim was eventually to enable the community to run the pottery independently. This happened in 1990, the start date on the pottery’s current website [8], and I am assuming that it is around the same time that it became known as the Yarrabah Guyala (Seahawk) Pottery.

Twelve years later in 2002, Richards was working as the master potter there and Deemera as his assistant when the Yarrabah artists were moved from a tin shed to a new purpose-built art, craft and cultural centre funded jointly by the State and Local Government through ATSIC’s Community Development Employment Program [9].

Yarrabah Pottery. Port keg Yarrabah Pottery. Vase

Rummaging through boxes, I found that we have two other Yarrabah Pottery pieces, both made by Richards – a port keg decorated with a carved fish in a deeper red colour and a vase decorated with a carved turtle in shades of dark blue and maroon.

This use of  functional ware to record the legends associated with the Yarrabah landscape is characteristic of the Yarrabah Pottery work that I’ve seen so far. Participating in the 2001 “Gatherings, Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art from Queensland, Australia” exhibition held in Brisbane and in the 2003 “Storyplace” exhibition at the Queensland Art Gallery, Richards wrote “My main goal is to put culture and history on some of my works using traditional names and telling the stories of long ago” [10].

The website (which may not be entirely current) says that two full-time potters and five part-timers work there. The pottery  was also receiving support from teachers at the Indigenous Faculty of the Tropical Far North Queensland College of TAFE in 2003 [11]. Other potters associated with Yarrabah include Chris Harris, whose work also features indigenous motifs and themes [12], and Michelle Yeatman, who exhibited large coil pots influenced by Thancoupie at the Cairns Indigenous Art Fair in 2012[13].

It  is hard to encapsulate forty years of ceramic practice from the scant published record and a few examples but it seems to me that over this time the Yarrabah pottery has developed a strong creative spirit and sense of place from its industrial beginnings. While individual potters have come and gone there is now a history there of making ceramics that is facilitating the emergence of younger potters like Michelle Yeatman as part of a wider community of Yarrabah artists.

Notes

  1. Suzanne Gibson, “Albino crocodile – croc bites“, ABC Far North Queensland,  18 September  2003 (Intenet Archive copy).
  2. Lone White, Three decades of ceramics in far north Queensland : an informal history of the Cairns Potters Club, Cairns, Qld. : Cairns Potters Club, 2004, p.6.
  3. Sue Herbert, “Ray Harrison”, Pottery in Australia, vol.22, no.1, p.68-69.
  4. [Edward Deemera] Pot, Queensland Museum, Aboriginal Studies Collection, QE11792.
  5. Kevin Grealy, “Barambah Pottery, Cherbourg”, Pottery in Australia, vol.16, no.2, Spring 1977, pp. 3-7.
  6. “Gwen Deemera. Hand built pots” in  Cairns Potters Club, Melting Pot: 10th Biennial National Ceramic Exhibition, Cairns Regional Gallery 29 July – 18 Sep 2011.
  7. Connie Hoedt and Hilary O’Leary, “Yarrabah Pottery” in “A history of pottery in north Queensland”,  Pottery in Australia, vol.25, no.1, 1986, p.63.
  8. “Yarrabah Pottery”, Yarrabah Aboriginal Community website.
  9. Alf Wilson, “Yarrabah artists on the move”, Koori Mail, 287, 16 Oct 2002, p.37.
  10. Cornelius Richards b.1964. Biography“, Design and Art Australia Online.
  11. Adrian Newstead, “A survey of Australian indigenous ceramic art”, Ceramics: Art and Perception, 52, 2003, p. 36.
  12. “Ceramics made by Chris Harris of Yarrabah”, image illustratingQueensland Museum. Cultures & Histories collections.
  13. Yarrabah artists were a hit at CIAF“, Cairns Indigenous Art Fair Newsletter, Sep 2012.

Known potter #54: Leonard’s Bridge Pottery

Leonard's Bridge Pottery. Jug Leonard's Bridge Pottery. Jug. Base

This small jug found at an op shop in Bega was made by Leonard’s Bridge Pottery in Ballarat. We’ve bought several pieces from this pottery over time and have found them all very well made. I particularly like the fine ribbing on this one and the touch of tenmoku at the neck. Dismay that we knew so little about this pottery over at the Identifying Australian Pottery Group prompted me to follow a lead I’d noted in my database to Adrian McMillan. Luckily he has a current web presence as a photographer and painter.  With his help I’ve created an asterisked topic on Adrian McMillan / Leonard’s Bridge Pottery for Australian Potters’ Marks and cross-referenced it here.

Known potter #53: Mrs A. Winter

Mrs A. Winter. Pin dishMrs A. Winter. Pin dish. Base

This pin dish with slate blue sides and maroon interior is signed ‘A. Winter’.  It is a lovely piece with a well-turned foot ring; thick-walled at the base then narrowing to a fine rim so that the intense maroon glaze is seamless from edge to edge. The colouring reminds me of Klytie Pate’s work and this made me think it could be an early post-war piece by a Melbourne maker who had trained at Melbourne Technical College when Pate was teaching there.

After exhausting sources like Geoff Ford’s Encyclopaedia of Australian Potters’ Marks, Peter Timm’s Australian Studio Pottery & China Painting and Australian Art Pottery 1900-1950, I would normally have had to put this in the mystery potter basket. However, a search on Trove for “A. Winter” pottery turned up an article from The Argus Women’s Magazine (“The Art of Pottery“, The Argus, 1 Nov 1949, p. 2 S) about a Mrs A. Winter who was pottery mistress at Swinburne Technical College and known by her fellow potters for her experimental work. The library at the (now) Swinburne University of Technology has also been busy digitising course handbooks and a Mrs A. Winter D.S.T.C. was on the full-time staff and teaching evening classes as late as 1965.

I feel I now have enough information about the maker of this pin dish to call her a known potter, although conventions of the day for naming married women mean that I still don’t know her first name.  Also, I’m not sure what the initials D.S.T.C. stand for so I haven’t been able to confirm where she received her formal training.  (Do you know?)

Known potter #52: Braemore Carstens

Braemore Carstens. Ankara jugBraemore Carstens. Ankara jug. Base

David and I have just acquired  this large Braemore Carstens jug. It fits right into our Mid-century Modern exhibition and, at 50 cms tall, nicely fills a vacant position on the gallery floor.

Braemore is a commercial pottery set up by Russell Cowan (1892-1962) in Waitara, NSW,  in 1939. Already an importer of decorative wares from England and Europe, he saw an opportunity to make home-based pottery as war loomed [1]. Early forms – mostly vases – were organic in style with moulded flowers and leaves [2].

Braemore Pottery. TrayBraemore Pottery. Tray. Base

A house style emerged after the war with  white or pale colours, bristol-glazed and hand-painted with tiny flowers, as in this tray from the mid-1950s.

Braemore Carstens Trademark
Advertisement

When Cowan died in 1962, his company Russell Cowan Pty Ltd continued under the management of his son Geoff (1928-2004). In the mid 1960s, it entered into an agreement with the German company Carstens to make a range of vases and jugs under the name Braemore Carstens. A trademark request for this name was lodged in October 1965 and registered in May 1968 [3].

While some sources say that Carstens bought  Braemore Pottery, this advertisement from the Sydney Morning Herald, Monday, August 12, 1968 p. 18 shows that the company continued to trade under the name Russell Cowan Pty. Ltd. making  ‘traditional and modern art pottery’ under the Braemore label and ‘continental designed pottery’ under the Braemore-Carstens label.  The advertisement also shows that a similar licencing arrangement had been set up for the production of ‘American-styled lamp bases’ with Haeger.

Braemore Carstens ware is usually marked with an embossed B-C and the model number which, on the pieces we own, all begin 10xx. Our jug is 1022, the highest number I have recorded so far.  It would be interesting to research the shapes and designs licenced for Australian production and  compare them to the full Carstens range.

Listings describe the decoration on our jug as ‘Ankara’ because of its Turkish influences and say it was designed by Von Scholtis in 1964. The base glaze is a rich teal in colour, with the pattern applied using wax resist techniques and metal containing glazes. German versions were made using a reddish-brown clay while a white clay was used in Australian production.

Geoff Ford [4] has the Braemore Pottery closing in 1973 but Dorothy Johnston shows that the company continued to operate as a pottery and pottery supply business until 1985. Back in Germany Carstens also closed in 1985 after some years in decline.

Braemore-Carstens. Vase

The Braemore Carstens story is interesting for a number of reasons. It was unusual for an  Australian pottery to license designs in this way. The wares themselves are quite different in style to the more traditional Braemore range, and to the post-war work of other Sydney potteries like Bakewells, Delamere, Florenz, Kalmar, MCP and Pates. Braemore Carstens, Martin Boyd Pottery (with its Melbourne connections) and Fisher Studio stand out in Sydney as exponents of modernist design.

While the Braemore Carstens ware was not designed in Australia, it was made here by Australian artisans and sold through Sydney retail outlets as Australian made. Mostly true to its German models, there was some play with Australian motifs, as in this 1018 vase.

Notes

  1. “Braemore” in More people’s potteries stories / Dorothy Johnston. Cooranbong, N.S.W. : Dorothy Johnston, 2008, pp.12-14.
  2. Braemore Australian pottery: the early years
  3. Braemore Larstens [sic] in trade.mar.cs
  4. “Braemore Pottery” in Encyclopedia of Australian Potter’s Marks / Geoff Ford. 2nd ed. Wodonga, Vic. : Salt Glaze Press, c2002, p. 44.

Known potter #51: Monika Leone

Monika Leone. Lesya

This wonderfully expressive bird was made by Monika Leone in 2009. It is 59 cm high and heavy enough to withstand Bemboka’s notorious Spring winds as it passes its third season on our front verandah.

Leone trained as a ceramic artist at Canberra’s Institute of the Arts from 1992-1994. Influenced by ceramics she had seen while living in Italy, Egypt and Indonesia, she found herself drawn to  majolica during a workshop with Pippin Drysdale.

Monika Leone

Her main body of work consists of thrown forms, some with curly Baroque handles and feet, handpainted with commercial underglazes using the majolica technique, and finished with lustres. She signs and dates this work ‘Monika Leone ACT’. The ceramic bird sculptures are from a different creative strand. She gives them names and keeps a photographic record of each bird on her website. Ours is called Lesya and she has such a presence with her clawed feet, finely feathered body and bright eyes, that I feel she must have a living counterpart in another place or time.

Leone combines her ceramic practice with being a gallery owner. In 2005, after four years at her Cuppalot Studio Gallery in Lyons, she launched the Mawson Gallery, a working studio and exhibition space at the front of her house in South Canberra.  She uses the gallery to exhibit her own works and those of other Canberra region artists, and also conducts regular classes on handbuilding and specialist workshops.

Visiting there last week, we saw that our lifestyles are very similar (apart from the classes, of course). It is a short walk from the breakfast table to open the gallery. During opening hours, we each work at our own creative tasks, breaking off when visitors arrive. A day can go past without visitors, but you never know who will walk through the door.

References

Known potter #50: Jenni Bourke

Jenny Bourke. fantasy mushroom ring (detail)

David and I have been gradually extending our collection to include sculptural works. Amongst the many artists who live on the far south coast is our near neighbour Jenni Bourke. She is based in Narooma, where she teaches high school art, but also has a weekender here in Bemboka. Finding that Jenni was a ceramic sculptor, we decided to commission an installation for the garden. Here it is: a mushroom ring which on closer inspection is a busy fantasy world, with tiny, colourful figures going about their daily lives.

Born in England, Jenni trained in Canberra in the mid 1970s, completing a Diploma of Art at the Canberra School of Art in 1975 (specialising in sculpture), a Diploma of Education at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (now Canberra University) in 1976, and a Graduate Diploma in Glaze Research and Wheel Work at the Canberra School of Art in 1978.  She creates realistic, sometimes confrontational, figurative works using clay as her preferred medium to comment on social issues. In the Bega Valley Regional Art Gallery exhibition ‘reSOURCE: The art of recycling’ held in August last year, an installation of acutely realistic babies wired up inside recycled cathode ray tubes spoke of the effects of  technology on future generations.

She turns to her fantasy work ‘for a bit of light relief’. Influenced by May Gibb’s gumnut babies, she likes to create whole environments. We responded mainly to the idea of a giant mushroom ring in the garden at first, but now find the detail extremely endearing, as do the children (and the children-at-heart) who visit the gallery.

.

Known potter #49: Earthworks and Cronulla Pottery

Cronulla Pottery. Clock

I am constantly being surprised by the number of large and successful pottery enterprises that operated in Australia in the late 20th century. This clock from our collection was made by the Cronulla Pottery set up by Geoff Walker and Paul Bruce on the Gold Coast in the early 1980s, first in Cronulla Avenue, Mermaid Beach, then in Burleigh Gardens. By 1996, the retail end of the business was turning over a million dollars a year.  The jewel in the crown was  Earthworks, a shop in the Chadstone Shopping Centre in Melbourne. The bubble burst in the early 2000s, with the reduction of import tarrifs finally forcing the company into liquidation in 2003.  A detailed history of the pottery can be found in Geoff Walker’s ‘My Clay Journey’ in the October 2011 issue of the Gold Coast Potter’s monthly newsletter.

Known potter #48: Peter Tappin

Peter Tappin (1941- ) was a Queensland potter active in Brisbane, then the Sunshine Coast, from the early 1980s until 1994. His life as a potter has been well documented by Glenn Cooke in Design & Art in Australia Online, so I won’t repeat the details here.

Peter Tappin. Vase

Burrum Pottery. Teapot.

Peter Tappin. Vase

This vase from our collection is an excellent example of the malachite green glaze Tappin perfected during the 1980s, using cadmium and tin over a distinctive brown stoneware clay body. The band of decoration was achieved using wood and leather carving tools.

His move to the Sunshine Coast took place in the late 1980s when he established the Burrum Pottery in an old service station at Beerburrum.  The teapot below dates from that time. It is unmarked but has a Burrum Pottery paper label on its base, and the glaze is unmistakable.

(When testing the teapot for a customer this week, I found that it meets most of the criteria outlined by Peter Timms for the perfect teapot in a 1989 article reprinted in the July 2011 issue of the Journal of Australian Ceramics (pp. 98-99). Perhaps the spout could rise from a point a little further below the middle of the body for a perfect first cup.)

Cooke tells us that the malachite green glaze was developed in the later part of the 1980s and that, in the early 1980s, Tappin worked on a copper glaze which showed a blackened metallic effect. This vase currently owned by sevenshadesofblue from the Identifying Australian pottery forum looks like an example from this period.

A lidded jar posted by skiba21 has a much lighter copper glaze with a band of incised and coloured geometric decoration.