Maryke Henderson

Art or craft

Maryke Henderson. Family. 2006

This series of nine soda-glazed porcelain oil cans by Maryke Henderson was exhibited at the Canberra Potters’ Society annual exhibition under the title Family in 2006, where it won the Doug Alexander award for that year.

Henderson is a Canberra potter who graduated as a mature-age student from the Canberra School of Art in 2005 and was one of four 2005 ANU graduates to participate in the Emerging Artist Support Scheme (EASS 06). She was also one of the Canberra artists represented in Impact, an exhibition from Canberra and the region held in Brisbane from 8th to 18th July 2006 in association with Verge, the 11th National Ceramic Conference.

David and I both knew that we wanted to own Family as soon as we saw that it had not been sold and that the price was within our reach. We liked the quirky oil can forms and the way the soda-glazing technique had been used to clothe the porcelain bodies in soft and subtle patterns and tones. We also liked the way the taller oil cans seemed to herd their smaller brethren.

In group exhibitions works by the same artist are often arranged together for display. This accidental association creates a whole greater than its parts. The shared features of each piece contribute to a group ethos and it can be hard to select just one that encapsulates the quality of the whole. In this case Henderson saw characteristics of her own family in the grouping and made it an expression of a single work, thus releasing us from the burden of choice.

Recently $45,000 was achieved at a Deutscher and Hackett auction for a Gwyn Hanssen Pigott work entitled Shadow, a grouping of twelve crafted objects. Chris Sanders, reviewing a 2004 exhibition of similar groupings by Hanssen Pigott in Craft Culture, observes that together they create a “musical-like rhythm and harmony”. The origin of each piece as a crafted object is transcended, creating a tension between craft and art that gives the group the status of a fine art object.

I am not sure whether Henderson would have created Family without the precedent set by Hanssen Pigott or whether we would have responded so readily to it as a work but we are very pleased with it. The pieces are arrayed on a tall cupboard in our living room, somewhat crowded in their domestic setting but still together.

It will be interesting to see what becomes of it in future years and where it ends up when the time comes to put it up for re-sale. Will it be dismantled and sold as separate objects or will its integrity as a group be recognised and conserved? I guess that will depend on the market and on Henderson’s perceived status as a ceramic artist at that time.