Peter Rushforth

More on sources

Ford, Geoff, Encyclopedia of Australian Potter's Marks, p.204 (detail)

Geoff Ford’s Encyclopedia of Australian Potter’s Marks documents potters and potteries active before 1975 but includes marks used after this period. I thought it might be useful to provide an index of entries in the encyclopedia for potters active in the 1960s-1970s and beyond. Having marks recorded for these potters provides a good start but collectors will need to go to a wide range of other directories to cover the field, and many marks are still unrecorded.

Alexander, Doug
Ardern, Elsa
Beck, Robert
Blakebrough, Les
Bovill, Gillian
Brereton, Kevin
Carnegie, Francis
Douglas, Molly
Dunn, Phyl
Englund, Ivan
Englund, Patricia
Garnsey, Wanda
Garrett, John
Gazzard, Marea
Gilbert, John
Greenaway, Victor
Halpern, Artur
Halpern, Stanislav
Halpern, Sylvia

Hick, William
Hughan, Harold
Juckert, Eric
Kemety, John
Keys, Eileen
Laycock, Helen
Laycock, Peter
Leckie, Alex
Le Grand, Henri
Levy, Colin
Lowe, Allan
Maddock, Beatrice
McConnell, Carl
McLaren, Gus
McLaren, Betty
McMeekin, Ivan
Memmott, Harry
Mitchell, Cynthia
Moon, Milton

Pate, Klytie
Peterkin, Les
Preston, Reg
Rushforth, Peter
Sadler, Ken
Sahm, Bernard
Sayers, Joan
Schulze, Robert A.
Shaw, Edward
Smith, Derek
Smith, Ian (SA)
Sprague, Ian
Taylor, David
Travis, Peter
Tuckson, Margaret
Warren, Peggy
Welch, Robin
Wilton, Charles

Pottery and war

Private J F Blondahl, 2/18 Battalion AIF<br /> Australian War Memorial

This mug was made by Private J (Jim) F Blomdahl, of 2/18 Battalion, while he was a prisoner of war of the Japanese in Changi. It is now in the collection of the Australian War Memorial. It is a simple and well-made domestic object rendered poignant by its inscription: ‘NX610. BLONDAHL. J.F. / CHANGI. XMAS 1944.’ and ‘GOD BLESS / AND PROTECT / BILL / JIM / RONNIE / EDDIE / KENNY / AND DEAR MAUD’.

Anzac Day has reminded me that potters went to war, prisoners became potters through expedience, returned soldiers took up pottery as an occupation or for therapy and overseas potters displaced by war migrated to Australia.

War interrupted people’s lives but also gave them new opportunities to change direction and acquire new skills. Peter Rushforth worked as a typist at Fox Films before joining the army in 1940. He served in Darwin and Malaya, was interred in Changi and worked on the Burmese railway. He started training as a potter only after his return to Melbourne in 1946 His wartime experiences must have affected him profoundly but he does not see this as pertinant to his work as a potter (Peter Rushforth interviewed by Martin Thomas [sound recording], 2005).

Pottery was used as a form of therapy for disabled soldiers in both world wars and sometimes the skills developed were able to be exploited for commercial purposes. The Red Cross set up a Disabled Soldiers’ Pottery in Redfern in 1920 (Ford, Encyclopaedia of Australian Potter’s Marks, 82). Examples of the work produced by this pottery from 1920 to 1925 can be found in the Powerhouse Museum. Pieces also occasionally turn up on eBay or in estate auctions and are snapped up by collectors.

Bill Reid, Mug.

The blind potter Bill Reid lost his sight in Burma during WW2. He began potting in 1945 at Concord Repatriation Hospital in Sydney. This mug by Reid has a characteristic bark like texture. He was still working as a potter in the 1980s (Lengert, Leonie. Inventive potter [Bill Reid]. St Dunstan’s Review No. 727, March 1981, 4-5).

Peter Rushforth met his wife Bobby, a nurse, while teaching pottery at Concord Repatriation Hospital in 1950, just before taking up a teaching position at the National Art School (Weiss, Karen. From there to here : Australian studio potters/ceramic artists – postwar to postmillennium [thesis], 2005).

The Australian War Memorial has a picture of a Corporal G. Boyd “doing fine work on a clay sculpture” in the Australian Convalescent Depot at Ingleburn, NSW. The picture is dated 10 December 1945. Guy Boyd had been taught pottery by his father Merric Boyd at Murrumbeena and was one of the instructors at Ingleburn. Also teaching pottery at Ingleburn was the Dutch-trained potter Bernard Fiegal a Jewish immigrant whose family had fled Germany at the beginning of WW2. Both ended up establishing commercial potteries in Sydney after the war – the Martin Boyd Pottery and Terra Ceramics (Johnston, The People’s Potteries, 87-8). Guy later returned to Melbourne and set up another pottery there under his own name.

In 1956 Harold Hughan speculated that “the post-war influx to this country of large numbers of former European nationals with their own cultures, many of them fine craftsmen in their own media, will doubtless have its influence and make its own contributions to what in time may become a national idiom” (The Arts Festival of the Olympic Games Melburne, 1956, p.37).

Four decades later, Glenn Cooke questioned the impact of transplanted traditions and found no real evidence of the transference of skills or a shift in craft vocabulary (“Whither Olde Europe? Thoughts on cultural transference in Australia”, Object, No. 3, 1998, 49-53). In the work of four immigrant Queensland potters he found that they were simply “responsive to their location [and] perceptions of the marketplace and directed their work to the perceived demand”.

However, there does seem to be a change in the style of some of the commercial pottery produced during the 1950s and 1960s which e-Bay sellers distinguish from what came before through terms such as “mid-century”, “Eames Era” and “Retro”.

Ellis Ceramics. Jug

This jug inscribed ‘Ellis 70’was made by a Czechoslovakian couple, Dasa and Milda Kratochvil, who set up a pottery in the backyard of their home in Abbotsford, Melbourne, in 1949 (Ford, 89-90). They marketed their pottery under the name Ellis Ceramics, a brand that was to become ubiquitous in Victoria during the 1950s and 1960s.

The designs for the Ellis moulds are extensive and varied but they are characterised by an uncompromising sturdiness that seems to reflect a European folk tradition. Having said this, I don’t know what kind of training the Kratochvils had in their home country or what influences they brought with them to Australia.

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.