Josef Szirer

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 #27: Josef Szirer

Man vase

Man vase. Mark

This curious 20 cm high stoneware bottle has a pouring lip shaped like a tricorn hat. Underneath, two holes and a vertical protusion form a rudimentary face. The many-ridged collar, and the moulded and pierced decoration at the front, give the impression of a uniform or formal dress in 17th or 18th century style.

I find it very endearing, possibly because it is a fully functional form that has been anthropomorphised through delicate touches, rather than a head vase, half human, half functional. The austere expression, cloaked body and sober colouring imbue it with an identity that goes beyond caricature.

I imagine that there are more pieces like this around, and would be pleased to find out who the maker is. The impressed monogram at the base reads ‘IC’, or ‘TD’, or similar.


Chris Myers has now identified this piece as one of Josef Szirer’s works (see comments).