Alexander Leckie

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.

More on sources

Ford, Geoff, Encyclopedia of Australian Potter's Marks, p.204 (detail)

Geoff Ford’s Encyclopedia of Australian Potter’s Marks documents potters and potteries active before 1975 but includes marks used after this period. I thought it might be useful to provide an index of entries in the encyclopedia for potters active in the 1960s-1970s and beyond. Having marks recorded for these potters provides a good start but collectors will need to go to a wide range of other directories to cover the field, and many marks are still unrecorded.

Alexander, Doug
Ardern, Elsa
Beck, Robert
Blakebrough, Les
Bovill, Gillian
Brereton, Kevin
Carnegie, Francis
Douglas, Molly
Dunn, Phyl
Englund, Ivan
Englund, Patricia
Garnsey, Wanda
Garrett, John
Gazzard, Marea
Gilbert, John
Greenaway, Victor
Halpern, Artur
Halpern, Stanislav
Halpern, Sylvia

Hick, William
Hughan, Harold
Juckert, Eric
Kemety, John
Keys, Eileen
Laycock, Helen
Laycock, Peter
Leckie, Alex
Le Grand, Henri
Levy, Colin
Lowe, Allan
Maddock, Beatrice
McConnell, Carl
McLaren, Gus
McLaren, Betty
McMeekin, Ivan
Memmott, Harry
Mitchell, Cynthia
Moon, Milton

Pate, Klytie
Peterkin, Les
Preston, Reg
Rushforth, Peter
Sadler, Ken
Sahm, Bernard
Sayers, Joan
Schulze, Robert A.
Shaw, Edward
Smith, Derek
Smith, Ian (SA)
Sprague, Ian
Taylor, David
Travis, Peter
Tuckson, Margaret
Warren, Peggy
Welch, Robin
Wilton, Charles

Known potter #1: Peter Travis

Peter Travis. Decorative tile. 1960s.

This is a small unsigned decorative tile made by Peter Travis for a feature wall in the shop of François Jermani in Australia Square in Sydney, now demolished. It is the only Peter Travis piece I own and I paid quite a lot for it. His work is hard to come by and realises high prices. A wonderful piece dated 1971 sold for $4,800 at a recent Shapiro auction.

Even in the early 1970s Travis was not a potter everyone could afford:

“My work is highly-priced. For two reasons – there is a demand for it and even at these high prices I still can’t make enough from the project to suport myself. Maybe that will come. The low final output makes my work even more valuable” (Nine Artist Potters, p. 25).

Together with potters like Marea Gazzard and Alexander Leckie, Travis is often classed as an artist-potter or sculptor. There is no question of his pieces being functional or non-functional. They are art objects – large slab and coil built forms in organic shapes that use clay as a form of artistic expression.

One of Gazzard’s works from the early 1970s also illustrated in Shapiro’s Past Highlights page sold for over $15,000. A small terracotta boulder from the 1960s was listed on eBay last week for just 99 cents. It will be interesting to see what final price it fetches.

eBay is firming up as a marketplace for high-priced items. The much lower premiums are born by the seller so the closing price is what the buyer pays, not counting delivery costs. There are greater risks: to the buyer in terms of not knowing the seller and not being able to view the item; and to the seller in terms of attracting the right buyers at the right time. Provenance is generally not an issue. Auction houses often don’t publish the provenance of a piece. eBay sellers often do, in order to secure the trust of potential buyers.