Doug Alexander

Known potter #17: Malcolm Cooke

Malcom Cooke. Lidded jar

Malcolm Cooke. Lidded container. Mark

This lidded jar with its well-thrown form, pale matt glaze and brushed leaf motif decoration was made by Malcolm Cooke while he was resident potter at the Cuppacumbalong Craft Centre at Tharwa in the ACT. It is stamped ‘MC AUSTRALIA’ but other works in the same style may be stamped ‘M.L. COOKE CUPPACUMBLONG [sic] POTTERY AUSTRALIA’ or just marked with an impressed ‘C’ in a square.

Cuppacumbalong is a heritage-listed homestead built in 1923 and famous for its gardens. In 1975, Karen O’Clery (then and still director of Narek Galleries) leased it from the government and established a craft centre there, with a cafe, exhibition rooms, two permanent studios (later extended to three) and a shop displaying studio outputs and other quality craft work, sourced Australia-wide. Janet Mansfield (1990), in an article celebrating its 15th year of operation, wrote “Cuppacumbalong is today one of the most successful and long-running craft outlets in the country”.

Cooke (1951- ) had trained in Victoria, obtaining a Diploma of Fine Art (Ceramics) from the Bendigo Institute of Technology in 1970, working at Bendigo Pottery and Clunes, then setting up a pottery at Badgers Creek  in 1974. He moved to Cuppacumbalong in 1979 to work with the first resident potter, Doug Alexander.  When Alexander died unexpectedly in 1982, Cooke took over as resident potter, and was still in charge of the pottery when O’Clery stopped leasing the homestead in 1995.

Doug Alexander. Bottle

Alexander had trained at the Ballarat School of Mines, and worked as a potter at Bendigo Pottery and  in New Zealand, before returning to Australia in 1970, and establishing his studio at the Springmount Pottery in Creswick, not far from Ballarat. The two potters became great friends. After Alexander relocated to Cuppacumbalong, he invited Cooke to help design a new range of production ware for the pottery. They came up with the blue and white style with double leaf design to be seen in this example. Later this was refined to a full white body in a porcelain style.

The Cuppacumbalong Craft Centre was a frequent weekend destination for us during our working years in Canberra. We took for granted the opportunities that it gave us and our interstate and overseas visitors to experience a range of high quality Australian craft in one venue. The path from the car park to the house went by the pottery studio where we could press our noses to the window and see the pale bisqued shapes inside. A photograph in the National Archives of Australia collection shows Alexander at work in the studio in 1980, applying the new brushwork decoration to a port barrel. A photograph in the National Library of Australia collection taken 16 years later shows Cooke at work in the same studio.

Cooke is also well-known for his distinctive one-off pieces with clean classical forms and carved decorative surfaces. In 1992, he established the Art Shed Studio and Gallery next door to Cuppacumbalong with Marily Opperman, possibly to separate his own work from the Cuppacumbalong Pottery output. We have several pieces bought from the Art Shed Studio in the 1990s. They are packed away now but a slide show is available online that displays a selection of Cooke’s carved work.

Opperman (now Cintra) had come to Cuppacumbalong from Brazil on a working visit in 1988 but stayed to join Cooke at Cuppacumbalong and then at the Art Shed Studio. Since 1999, she and Cooke have been working together on projects to place public art in health care facilities. In an interesting market venture, Cooke has also started selling tea bowls on eBay.

The Cuppacumbalong lease changed hands in 1999 and the homestead craft centre gave way to a restaurant targeted at weddings and receptions, with a separate cottage gallery continuing to exhibit and sell modern Australian craft. Then in 2004, both businesses had to be suspended following the Canberra bushfires and closure of the Tharwa bridge. (I understand that the lessees plan to use the homestead as a private residence and to build a separate gallery and bakery cafe when the bridge re-opens.)

Postscript: The Tharwa Bridge re-opened for light traffic on 28 August, 2008.

Postscript 2: In early 2010, the ACT Government approved changes to the Cuppacumbalong lease that increase the area of the homestead allowed for residential use, allow the property to be used for a range of purposes, not just art and craft, and  allow an entry fee to be charged. It will be interesting to see what happens next.


  • Nola Anderson, “Malcolm Cooke and Barry Singleton, Narek Galleries, Cuppacumbalong, Tharwa, A.C.T.”, Pottery in Australia, vol.23, no.1, 1984, pp.56-57.
  • “Malcolm Cooke”, Potters 1986, The Potters’ Society of Australia, 1986, p.46.
  • Cuppacumbalong Craft Centre, Newsletter, Nov/Dec 1984-Nov 1989.
  • “Cuppacumbalong Pottery”, Ceramics, artists, galleries, The Potters’ Society of Australia, 1990, p.31.
  • Janet Mansfield, “Cuppacumbalong 15 years strong”, Ceramics: Art and Perception, No. 1, 1990, pp. 64-66.
  • “Malcolm Cooke”, The Australian potters’ directory, The Potters’ Society of Australia, 1996, p.29.
  • “Historic Tharwa property goes up for auction”, Canberra Times, 27 June 1999.
  •, Internet Archive, 2003-2005.
  • [Article about the current lessees’ plans], Canberra Times, 21 June 2007, p.7.
  • About us. Malcom Cooke Dip Art”, Placemaking (viewed 8 June 2008).
  • Malcolm Cooke, e-mail correspondence, April 2009.