Malcolm Cooke

Travellers’ tales

Mitsuo Shoji, pair of dipping bowls

Last week David and I took a detour to visit Cudgegong Gallery in Gulgong, NSW, on our way to attend a family celebration in Canberra. We drove up the Princes Highway, rested overnight in Sydney, then pushed on through the Blue Mountains, Lithgow and Mudgee to Gulgong. It was a long drive but made interesting by David’s knowledge of the postal history of each town we passed through. (He also collects NSW numeral cancellations.)

Gulgong is famous for the white kaolin clay found in the district. Ivan McMeekin brought his students there in the 1960s when he was teaching at the University of NSW. Chester Nealie and Janet Mansfield have studios in the area and a ceramics conference has been held there every three years since 1977. In addition to these attractions (for visitors not quite so interested in pottery), Gulgong is an old goldmining town where Henry Lawson lived in his early years and it is also part of the Mudgee wine region.

Cudgegong Gallery is located in a converted bank building in the old part of town. It was opened in 2004 as a place to exhibit and sell quality ceramics. It is the kind of gallery that you would hope to find in a capital city. When we arrived, there was a between seasons showing in the main exhibition space, together with a number of Ian Jones wood-fired pieces left over from a previous exhibition. A side room exhibited pieces from the region and we were also allowed to rummage through the back room.

The dipping bowls at the head of this entry were one of our purchases. They were made by Mitsuo Shoji for the 2008 ‘Dinner in the Gallery’ an event held annually by the gallery. Guests dine on tableware commissioned for the dinner and can take the settings away.

On the way to Gulgong we visited Ian Smith at Falls Gallery in Wentworth Falls and Susie McMeekin in Katoomba. On the way home, we visited Lue Pottery at Lue, where everything is made from local materials; and Lino Alvarez at the La Paloma Pottery at Hill End, the studio where Gary Shead collaborated with Alvarez on the Ern Malley project. We also took in the travelling exhibition A Secret History of Blue and White at the Bathurst Regional Gallery and visited Ian Jones at the Old St Luke’s Studio in Gundaroo and Malcolm Cooke at the Art Shed Studio in Tharwa.

Gulgong trip. Selection of purchases

We arrived home with a car full of pottery and our heads full of impressions. The selection of purchases in the image above includes, from left to right: Lino Alvarez, raku vessel; Malcom Cooke, carved vase; Susie McMeekin, bowl with red glass centre; Ian and Annie Smith, Shino vase with hand painted frog; Lue Pottery, flattened vase; Ian Jones, woodfired mug. The marks may be viewed here.


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.