Marguerite Mahood

Australian art pottery

Guy Boyd Pottery, Dish with bird decoration

This small dish with bird decoration made by the Guy Boyd Pottery sometime between 1952-1964 is another of our purchases from the Shapiro auction in Sydney last weekend.

Shapiro is an up-market auction house with a double shop front on Queen Street in Woollahra. It runs seasonal auctions specialising in 19th and 20th century fine and decorative arts. The auction we attended was devoted to Australian art pottery with well over half the lots coming from a single collection. An illustrated catalogue is still available online.

A Marguerite Mahood brush-tail possum sold for a record price for Australian art pottery, going for $23,400. Other prices realised were sometimes above, sometimes below estimates. This brought out the bargain hunter in us, hence the Guy Boyd dish (lot 117, estimate $50-70, hammer price $30, total price with premium $36). Our limited budget precluded any similar acts of speculation but one dealer who had driven up from Victoria took back a number of pieces to re-sell to the Melbourne market.

A camera crew from ABC television’s The Collectors was there, filming the whole auction. I will be interested to see which pieces take Justin Murphy’s eye. Some of the contributors to the book Australian Art Pottery 1900-1950 were also there, possibly to acquire a piece by a favourite maker or to mourn at seeing a collection dispersed or to marvel at some of the prices realised. (The publication of a book can have a significant impact on prices according to this article about the Australian pottery market.)

The auction included quite a few works from the 1960s onwards. These engaged our particular interest but we find ourselves increasingly able to appreciate work from the earlier period. The term ‘art pottery’ itself embraces a wide range of makers. Merric Boyd, the quintessential artist potter, and Remued, a commercial pottery, can both be seen as making art pottery, even though pieces like the wall pocket at lot 4 (Remued 15-10) are from production lines.

We were least interested in the Australiana figures in the auction but Grace Seccombe’s red breasted finch (lot 23) was surprisingly beautiful. And when we saw lot 36 fetch a hammer price of $450, we suddenly realised that there was a William Ricketts face plaque just like it in the family. David has since rescued this from his mother’s garden.

Back home, our Guy Boyd dish proved to be less of a bargain than we had thought, with a bruised rim that other potential buyers must have noticed. However, it is nice to have it around and we may be able to recover our investment on eBay sometime in the future.

Known potter #3: Reg Preston

Reg Preston, Decorative bowl, 1956

This is a large bowl made by Reg Preston (1917-2000) for the 1956 Melbourne Olympic Games Exhibition. It is glazed a pale brown and decorated on the outside with hand painted and incised aboriginal-like motifs. On the base is incised “P Oct ’56”.

Also in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Exhibition were works by Neville Bunning, Mollie Douglas, Dyson Studio Pottery, Ivan Englund, Pamela Hallandal, Harold Hughan, Graham Jones, Eileen Keys, John A. Barnard Knight, Henri Le Grand, Allan Lowe, Marguerite Mahood, Martin Boyd Pottery, Ivan McMeekin, Klytie Pate, Peter Rushforth, Edward Shaw, Dorothy Sutherland and Jeffery Wilkinson (The Arts Festival of the Olympic Games Melburne, 1966, pages 169-71).

This is a fascinating mixture of the old and the new. Allan Lowe, Marguerite Mahood and Klytie Pate, for example, were practicing potters in the pre-war period. Reg Preston, Ivan Englund, Harold Hughan and Peter Rushforth did their training during or just after the war.

The inclusion of two potteries in the exhibition is also interesting. The Martin Boyd Pottery was a company in Sydney operating under that name from 1948-1963. (The connection with the Boyd family was severed in 1950.) Dyson Studio was a semi-commercial pottery operating in Melbourne from 1945-1971.

It seems that the line between art and commerce was often blurred. Jack Knight taught pottery at Royal Melbourne Technical College from 1934-1971 but also produced a commercial line of pottery during the 1950s and 1960s under the name of “Janet Gray”.

Reg Preston, Mug. 1950s

Reg Preston started to train as a sculptor in England before the war but switched to pottery on coming back to Australia. He worked at Cooper and Cooke’s Pottery for two years in 1945-46 before taking the plunge to work full-time as a potter. To make a living he produced a range of domestic wares like this slip-decorated coffee mug, as well as larger decorative pieces like the exhibition bowl.

Reg Preston and Phil Dunn, Ceres Coffee Pot, 1960s

In 1958, Preston and his wife Phyl Dunn set up the Potters’ Cottage at Warrandyte, Victoria, with Gus McLaren, Charles Wilton and Artur Halpern. During the 1960s Preston and Dunn produced a line under the name “Ceres”. This coffee pot is an example of the quirky and bravura style developed for the line, possibly with the help of McLaren, who had worked as a cartoonist for the Melbourne Argus.

Artur Halpern also produced a commercial line under the name “Sylha”.

Preston went on to become an acknowledged master. He switched to stoneware in 1967 and worked well into the 1980s, producing often large pieces with rich glazes and bold abstract decoration.

Reg Preston, Bowl. Base with painted mark Preston.Reg Preston, Ramekin. Base with painted mark P.