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.
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.
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:
- Focus on Milton Moon / Dennis Pryor. [St. Lucia, Qld.] : University of Queensland Press, 1967.
- “Milton Moon” in Australian pottery / [by] Kenneth Hood and Wanda Garnsey ; Photographs by Douglas Thompson. South Melbourne, Vic. : Macmillan, 1972, pages 104-111, plates 78-84.
- “Milton Moon” in The Potter’s art : an Australian collection / edited by Janet Mansfield ; photographs by Douglas Thompson. North Ryde, N.S.W. : Cassell Australia, 1981, page 40.
- “Milton Moon: A strengthening of tradition” in Ceramics in South Australia, 1836-1986 : from folk to studio pottery / by Noris Ioannou. Adelaide : Wakefield Press, 1986, pages 333-335.
- Noris Ioannou, “Milton Moon’s Australian aesthetic”, Ceramics: art and perception, issue 2, 1990, pages 48-51.
- Milton Moon retrospective / Christopher Menz. Adelaide : Art Gallery Board of South Australia, 1991.
- “A conversation with Milton Moon on approaching the intangible” [Interview by Osborne, Margot.] Artlink, volume 26, number.4, 2006: pages (62)-65.
- The Zen Master, the potter & the poet / by Milton Moon. Stepney, S. Aust. : Axion Publishing, c2006.