Harry Memmott

Known potter #12: Milton Moon

Milton Moon. Altered bowl. Milton Moon. Altered bowl. Mark

This medium-sized (23 cm in diameter) stoneware bowl with pale matt glaze and delicate brushwork decoration is inscribed on the base ‘Milton Moon’.

Milton Moon is possibly the most recognised name in Australian contemporary pottery and his works attract a great deal of attention at auction and on eBay. Prices achieved range from $100-$800 depending on size and condition, with a large bowl fetching a hammer price of $1,700 at the Shapiro auction we attended earlier this year.

Moon was born in 1926 in Melbourne. Like most young men of his generation, his life was interrupted by war. Settling in Brisbane in 1949, he worked in radio and television and trained for a while as a painter while also pursuing an early interest in pottery through his friendship with Harry Memmott. In 1959 he set up a studio at Tarragindi, Brisbane. He was mostly self-taught but learnt wheel-throwing from Mervyn Feeney, a discipline that he passed on to his students at the Department of Technical Education in Queensland (1962-1969) and the School of Art in Adelaide (1969-1975).

Our bowl was made in the late 1970s or early 1980s after he had retired from teaching and was potting full-time at Summertown in the Adelaide Hills. Descriptions of work done at this time (“Milton Moon”, 1981) indicate that the glaze is nepheline syenite, the brushwork is done with oxides and it was reduction-fired in a gas kiln. Its restraint and simplicity, the slight alteration of the wheel-thrown form and the delicacy of the decoration reflect the Japanese Zen aesthetic which pervades this stream of Moon’s work. In the 12 months since we bought this piece it has given us daily pleasure.

Not all of his pieces are like this. Much of his work is stronger, bolder, more exuberant and perhaps less immediately approachable. Moon has been experimenting throughout his life as a potter with ways of achieving an Australian aesthetic in his pottery, influenced by the sense of an ancient spirit that he found first in the east coast rainforests, then in the bare bones and aridness of the South Australian outback. Some of these pots may need to be lived with for a long time to understand what the potter was striving to express.

We don’t yet own one of these tougher works. Moon has been a prolific exhibitor but he has only had two solo exhibitions in Canberra, both at Solander Gallery in 1976 and 1988, and we missed these. Now we keep our eye out for Milton Moon pieces but the competition is strong and the prices high. Also, there are so many directions in which we might invest our limited collecting budget. We went to the Shapiro auction to buy our first Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and had to watch four Milton Moons go to other bidders.

Milton Moon. Dish with pansies Milton Moon. Dish with pansies. Mark>

Moon’s exhibition works are all marked with the potter’s full signature but he also made many pots for sale from his gallery at Summertown. This small stoneware dish with hand-painted pansies is an example. He signed these pieces with a simple incised ‘M’ characterised by a long first stem.

There are other potters with these initials and it is definitely a case of ‘buyer beware’ in the market place. Sellers finding a piece inscribed ‘M’ or’MM’ and referring to Geoff Ford’s Encyclopedia of Australian potters’ marks (page 167) may jump too readily to the conclusion that it was made by Milton Moon, in the hope of making a good sale. This is sad for both the collector and the potter.

Sources

A good way of getting an overall feeling for Milton Moon and his work is to spend an hour browsing through the images and accompanying notes on the potter’s website. The CV on the website is also very complete. Listed below in date order are some of the other sources I found useful when preparing this entry:

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