This shallow stoneware bowl with oatmeal celadon glaze and wax resist decoration was made by the Melbourne potter, Harold Hughan. The resist has been applied ‘in reverse’ with a reduced under-glaze and oxidized over-glaze, creating a stencil effect. The bowl is perfectly turned, with an unglazed foot ring and fully glazed base marked with the potter’s impressed seal.
The marks pictured here are from another piece which has both the seal and Hughan’s painted signature. The seal takes the form of the letter ‘H’ with ‘G’ in the upper half of the H and ‘I’ in the lower. ‘GI’ stands for Glen Iris in Melbourne where Hughan set up his studio in 1941.
Hughan was born in 1893 in Mildura. He was an electrical engineer who took up pottery in his fifties as a hobby with his wife, Lily, and son, Robert. He soon became unsatisfied with low-fired earthenware clays, which could not be used to reproduce the celadon glazes of the Chinese T’ang and Sung pots that he admired so much in the collection of the National Gallery of Victoria. He started to experiment with high-fired stoneware, examples of which he had seen in a British Council exhibition touring Australia. He learnt what he could from from C.F. Binns’ A potter’s Craft and then discovered in Bernard Leach’s just published A potter’s Book a way of thinking about pottery and glazes that united Western and Oriental ceramic traditions. His research into stoneware bodies and glazes was aided by Robert who was a ceramic technologist with the CSIRO.
Although Hughan worked as a potter for forty years, his output was not large. He didn’t retire from his day job until 1963 and he carried out many of the processes by hand. He took pride in using a kick wheel which he made himself and which is now in the Powerhouse Museum. An audience for his work was created by his first solo exhibition in 1950 and he never had trouble selling pieces. His status as master was celebrated by retrospective exhibitions at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1969 and 1983. In 1978 he was awarded an MBE for his service to pottery. He continued to make pots into his nineties, dying in October 1987 at the age of 94.
In Canberra, we came late to the scene and had only a peripheral acquaintance with his work through the occasional survey exhibition. As we learnt more about his pioneer status and his influence on the next generation of potters, it became clear that we had to add a representative piece to our collection. During 2006, Leonard Joel listed a number of Hughan pieces for auction. There was a lot of interest and we had to bid very high to win this teapot with the potter’s characteristic dark celadon glaze. We found out later that it was one of the 400 pieces in the 1969 retrospective exhibition. Since then, we have acquired a small number of other Hughan pieces, including the oatmeal bowl pictured above, which came up for auction at the Collector this month.
- Kenneth Hood, “H.R. Hughan,” Pottery in Australia, Vol. 7, No, 2, Spring 1968, pp. 4-6.
- Catalogue of an exhibition held at the National Gallery of Victoria. [Melbourne : National Gallery of Victoria, 
- T.F. Lane, “H.R. Hughan retrospective exhibition,” Pottery in Australia, Vol. 8, No. 2, Spring 1969, pp.24-25.
- Kenneth Hood and Wanda Garnsey, “H.R. Hughan” in Australian pottery, Melbourne : Macmillan, 1972, pp. 80-87, plates 59-64.
- Lorna Grover, “The Wedderburn potters,” Pottery in Australia, Vol. 13, No. 1, Autumn 1974, pp. 11-12.
- Randolph Booth, “A 40 year family double,” Pottery in Australia, Vol. 22, No. 2, Nov/Dec 1983, pp. 3-5.
- Kenneth Hood, The pottery of Harold Hughan from 1944 to the present : a monograph of the life and work of Australia’s most celebrated potter. [Sydney] : Crafts council of Australia, .
- Kenneth Hood, Harold Hughan : a retrospective exhibition in honour of his ninetieth birthday, National Gallery of Victoria, 11th July – 25th September, 1983. Melbourne : National Gallery of Victoria, 1983.
- Kenneth Hood, “Harold Hughan vale,” Pottery in Australia, Vol. 27, No. 1, Feb 1988, p. 8.
- Grace Cochrane, “Harold Hughan,” in Australian Art Pottery 1900-1950, editors Kevin Fahey et al. Sydney : Casuarina Press, 2004, pp. 189-191.