Mystery potters

Mystery potter #47: Doug Lawrie

Unknown. Shallow bowl

Unknown. Shallow bowl
Unknown. Shallow bowl. Base

For this season’s exhibition, we have set up the floor of the main gallery to showcase platters and large bowls. This bowl – 12.5 cm high and 37 cm in diameter – was one of our first choices for a sequence of taller pieces at one end of the display.  It has the look of a late 1960s or early 1970s piece in the Anglo-oriental style. The body is a grogged stoneware clay with a feldspar glaze. Inside, a hand-painted umber band around the rim frames a central area decorated with fluent brushwork arabesques inside two double circles. The decoration continues on the outside as floral motifs suspended from a single circle.

It came to us through the collection of Dick and Barbie Seddon, auctioned on site by Mossgreen in 2007 at a time when we were in Melbourne and able to attend. Included in the catalogue were works by David and Hermia Boyd, John Gilbert, Milton Moon and Marea Gazzard. These all sold for very high prices to other bidders. However, towards the end of the auction we were able to win three unattributed pieces that had only been listed on paper handouts.  After emptying dry leaves and dust from these last-minute additions to the auction, we found that we had acquired a Col Levy bowl and a Brian Kemp vase – but this piece was unsigned. Given its provenance, there is a likelihood that it is the work of a well-known potter, but at the moment it remains a mystery.


A fellow collector has identified this as the work of the American potter Doug Lawrie. Her pieces are unmarked as well, but they are clearly made by the same hand. Lawrie was working near Kyoto, Japan, in 1963 when Les Blakebrough visited there, and later spent time in Australia as a visiting potter at Sturt Pottery in 1969.  I’m guessing our pieces date from this time.


Mystery potter #46: Jamie Beeston

'JB'. Cup and saucer 'JB'. Cup and saucer. Base

During our winter break, we are busy changing the exhibition. One whole wall will feature forms used to prepare and consume hot beverages. This cup and saucer with a finely crazed glaze comes from a set of six that is sure not to remain long on the shelf, so I thought I should try for an identification before they vanish to new owners. We bought them in 2005 and I had hoped that six years of collecting marks might have helped to  identify the signature – a painted ‘JB’ or perhaps ‘GB’ – but no.  The seller said they came from Ararat in Victoria, so that may help.


A reader has now sent me an image of a gallery label identifying this potter as Jamie Beeston, a potter active in Victoria in the 1980s, selling work at the Meat Market Craft Centre and Mariposa Gallery in Melbourne and the Hargreave Street Gallery in Castlemaine.

Mystery potter #45: ‘LP’

LP. Vase
LP. Vase. Mark

Living as we do in a tiny country village, we are perforce middlemen, dependent on other people to source Australian pottery in opportunity shops for us and resell them on eBay. I do pop into the Bega stores from time to time, but pickings are usually thin. I was pleased, therefore, to find this 35 cm high stoneware vase at Vinnies a few weeks ago.

It is a well-made piece from the 1970s with a flanged neck set asymetrically on an oblong body.  Below a carved band at the shoulder it has a faceted shape defined by vertical sgraffito lines. The glaze is predominantly olive green with rust-red resist decoration.  The maker’s mark near the base is an impressed ‘LP’ or possibly ‘LF’.

I have done my usual search of potters with these initials in my database and haven’t been able to find any likely contenders. Hopefully someone will come by who recognises the distinctive style or mark.


Mystery potter #44: ‘SP’ ?

SP (?). Bowl.
SP (?). Bowl.Base

I am gradually photographing the platters and bowls stored in our gallery drawers and adding them to the online catalogue. As I turn out each drawer, I keep being surprised at what interesting pieces are concealed there.

This grey stoneware serving bowl has a nicely beveled foot and rim. I like the way the spiral inside the unglazed foot ring is echoed around the base and the rim is bounded on the exterior by a fine ridge.

The body has been stained with oxide and half decorated with glaze-over-glaze decoration that drips over the rim. In the centre, a spray of metallic black looks like a rocky mountain tor emerging from misty clouds against a red-brown sky dotted with yellow clouds – or at least that is how I see it. David would describe it in terms of volumes and voids.

The maker’s mark – ‘SP’ ? – is incised on the base. Now all I need is someone to tell me who this is.

Mystery potter #43: Paul Wynn

Paul Wynn. Bottle. 1978-80Paul Wynn. Bottle. 1978-80. Base

This delicate stoneware bottle was made by Paul Wynn between 1978 and 1980 while he was head of the Sturt Pottery at Mittagong. It is impressed ‘PW’ on the base, and also has the Sturt Pottery seal. Only 17 cm high, the oxide-stained body swells out from the foot and returns to a slender tenmoku neck.  Eight impressed circles around the shoulder correspond to  eight gourd-like indentations in the body.

David and I both really like this piece, and it has made us want to find out more about its maker. It seems strange for someone who was head of Sturt Pottery for three years to be a mystery potter but, at least for us, such is the case.

Postscript: Paul Wynn’s sister has let us know (see below) that he is now living in Newcastle where he still works as a potter, mostly in a teaching role.

Mystery potter #42: Harry Ashburner

Set of four tenmoku bowls

Set of four tenmoku bowls. Mark

We recently bought a small collection of Phillip McConnell pots, mainly functional, with some fine examples of his early work. Most of them were  marked with an impressed ‘Pm’, together with the Pinjarra Pottery mark, dating them to before 1975, when McConnell established his own ‘The Pottri’ near Toowoomba. This set of four rice bowls, however, have a different mark.

I thought at first that it was the ‘HH’ mark used by Carl McConnell from 1949-62 (Glenn Cooke, Carl McConnell master potter, Queensland Art Gallery, 1986, p. 55).  On closer inspection, it only has three vertical strokes with the last two closed at the top. Phillip McConnell says that this is definitely not one of the marks used at the Pinjarra Pottery.

The bowls are very well made, with a pale grey, finely speckled stoneware clay body, well-honed foot ring and lustrous tenmoku glaze. I assume from the shared provenance that they date from around the same time as the Phillip McConnell pieces and that they are also the work of a Queensland potter.


These have now been identified as by Harry Ashburner. The mark is an impressed ‘HA’. Harry Ashburner was active in the 1970s on the Gold Coast.

Mystery potter #41: Ray Blaber

Rod Blakey (?). BowlRod Blakey (?). Bowl. Base

This is one of a set of six bowls that we bought at an Australian Craft Show in Canberra in the mid 1990s. They have a glossy all-over ivory glaze. The rims are hand-painted blue and the interior is marbled in feathery shades of pink and blue, creating a natural lightscape effect.

I am ashamed to say that, although we spent some time talking to the potter, we have forgotten his name. The forms used for the bowls and dishes that we have seen are simple and the production method, with the base fully glazed, reminds me of work from the 1950s and 1960s. Some pieces also have gold rims, adding to the retro feel. By contrast, the lightscapes which so attracted David’s eye when we bought the bowls are delicate, painterly and timeless.


This is Ray Blaber, a potter based on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria who produced and edited a video on hand building called Clay Play [Montrose, Vic. : Kookaburra Video Productions (Victoria), c1985].

Mystery potter #40: Incised line with three accents

Woodfired vase
Woodfired vase. Base

Wood-firers who visit our gallery are often drawn to this small vase tucked away on a top shelf in the workroom.  It has been glazed in the Bizen style, a process named after the Japanese city of Bizen, produced by a long wood-firing, with resulting heavy ash deposits and other effects.

Australian potters interested in Bizen work include Jane Barrow, Len Cook, Heja Chong, Ian Currie, Stephen Fry, Ian Jones, Col Levy, Phillip McC0nnell and Simon Reece,  but the incised mark on this vase is different from any of their recorded marks.

I was interested to read in Janet Mansfield’s article on “Wood-firing and the Australian identity” in The Journal of Australian Ceramics, April 2010, p. 64, that Heja Chong had fired her anagama Bizen-style kiln for nine days, “showing us the full possibilities that long-firing could yield”.

This vase could come from one of the possibly more than one hundred long-firing kilns to be found throughout Australia, according to Mansfield, or it may have been a pot made in Japan and bought to Australia by a potter or collector. In any case, our 0.99 cent investment in 2005 has given us much pleasure, enriching our knowledge and discernment of wood-fired ceramics.

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.

Mystery potter #38: Ralph Jeffress

'RJ' (?). Pair of goblets 'RJ' (?). Pair of goblets. Mark

Talking about goblets, here is an unusual pair with slightly everted straight-sided cups transitioning to short sturdy stems on a wide base. Made of fine sand-coloured clay, they are glazed white on the inside and the palest celadon on the lip, and in a wide band down the side. The rest of the body is left unglazed and decorated on both sides in a deeply carved scrawl – possibly a rocky forested outcrop –  stained in an inky black. The mark on the base is an impressed monogram in the shape of a reverse S, which I’ve catalogued as ‘RJ’.

'RJ' (?). Vase 'RJ' (?). Vase. Mark

A fellow art market professional visiting the gallery this week brought with him a piece he had just purchased at auction, hoping for an attribution. It turned out to have the same mark. It is a small handbuilt vase with flattened sides, this time in a red-brown clay, with carved and stained decoration in a similarly strong organic style that reminds me a little of Hiroe Swen.

Two works make an oeuvre and we are both now keen to find out who made them.


This is the mark used by Ralph Jeffress, a potter who exhibited at Narek Galleries while it was based in Deakin, ACT in the early 1970s. Thank you Carmen for this information! She has a work with the ‘RJ’ mark, also signed ‘R. Jeffress’.