Across The Ditch


This chapter might be expected to examine the extensive web of personal and professional connections between the ceramics communities of New Zealand and Australia in the 1950s and 1960s, that period when the modern studio pottery movement was born. Unfortunately this is not really possible, as there actually were quite few. What remains is a striking similarity in the way ceramics developed in both countries, insofar as this development occurred quite independently. It is as if the two nations, by virtue of their shared British heritage and distance from the centres of activity in the northern hemisphere, were destined to follow a parallel course.

Granted, there were differences. Peter Rushforth, one of the few influential Australian potters to have spent at least some time working in New Zealand, recalled that '[In New Zealand] ... a kiln opening was ... well, the community would come and see it and buy things almost immediately, and here was the philosophy really working ... [but] when New Zealand lifted its import restrictions and particularly this flood of Asian work ... now there are only a handful of potters who are able to earn a living, which is rather sad.'[1]

Tariff barriers placed on imported ceramics also existed in Australia for a period in the 1940s and 1950s but they were relaxed much earlier than in New Zealand. While they were in place many small potteries were able to sell quantities of decorated earthenware — not all of it boomerang shaped ashtrays and sets of ramekins — to a public hungry for 'fancy goods' after the austerity of the war years, but by the time the interest in Anglo-Oriental ceramics was peaking those halcyon days were well over.

In the burgeoning field of studio pottery the most readily identifiable influence was that of Bernard Leach and of Japan, not quite one and the same thing as it turns out. Scandinavian design and modernism also played a part, with influential potters like Marea Gazzard returning from London in 1960 imbued with the aesthetic of Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Lucio Fontana.[2] Towards the end of the 1960s another set of influences came into play and when Margaret Dodds arrived back in Australia from working with Robert Arneson at the Davis Campus of the University of California in 1968 with her 'Funk Holdens', it really was game over for any ideals of unity in ceramic expression.

This chapter, however, is about a slightly earlier period, when ceramics was finding its feet as a mode of expression, or even as a lifestyle. It was here that Leach was most powerful and that Australian potters established a connection with Japan which remains a singular phenomenon in Australian art history.

Earthenware Origins

In the first half of the twentieth century the practice of Australian ceramics was a fairly amateurish affair. Ignoring any beneficial influences that may have been had by aligning themselves with existing ceramic manufactories, many of which made robust and useful pottery, the majority of these first Australian studio potters produced a rudimentary kind of decorated earthenware, often leaning towards a naïve modernism and replete with motifs taken from the Australian landscape.

Foremost among these potters was William Merric Boyd, scion of a well-credentialed Australian artistic dynasty. Boyd held what is thought to be the first exhibition of studio pottery in Australia, when in 1912 he exhibited at the Centreway Gallery in Melbourne. In the years before the Depression, Merric Boyd's work was (occasionally) selling in Melbourne for as much as sixty guineas, a sum on a par with Leach or Staite-Murray in London. Merric Boyd was an artist potter, the first Australia had seen.

His children — Arthur, David, Guy, Lucy and Mary — also made pottery. Notable works were made in the 1950s and early 1960s by Arthur Boyd in collaboration with John Percival (although both were primarily painters) and by David and Hermia Boyd, by far the most successful Australian potters of the late 1940s and 1950s.

For example, on their return to Australia from a sojourn to England in the mid 1950s, David and Hermia Boyd were able to buy a house in the beachside Melbourne suburb of Sandringham and a Citroen Light Fifteen from the proceeds of sales of pots. They had sell-out shows and, being bohemian and rather attractive, were often featured in the social pages. Their pots were collected by all the major galleries and they were accorded considerable respect as artists. The various generations of Boyds never embraced stoneware or the Anglo-Oriental aesthetic, perhaps one of the reasons their contribution was largely ignored by the emerging power brokers of Australian ceramics. In London, Hermia Boyd had occasion to remark on the proliferation of 'Japanese squiggles or the Leach-introduced hieroglyphic for ripening corn splashed in oxides'[3], a refreshingly honest sentiment but hardly one calculated to endear them to the coterie of anglo oriental potters back home.

Another artist who had taken to ceramics in the early 1900s was the Australian painter Margaret Preston. Together with Gladys Reynell, Preston studied ceramics in London around 1917 at the Camberwell School of Art, and in 1918 they worked in a pottery in Cornwall, just missing out on Leach's return to England.

It is interesting to speculate what the effect would have been on Australian pottery had the timing been slightly different, but, as it stands, Preston's article 'Pottery as a Profession'[4], published in the prestigious journal Art in Australia in 1930, demonstrates a cavalier approach to ceramic techniques which borders on the reckless: 'Only in wheel throwing is it advisable to have a teacher... but even in this there is always the original mind that gets over such difficulties... If stoneware, there is no need for a glaze, or a second firing ... the pots will be placed in a kiln, brought to about 2,000 centigrade ... [at which point, of course, both kiln and contents would have melted] ... Only original work should receive applause in such a young country. There's plenty of clay in Australia. Just get to it, someone, and originate.'[5] The text and accompanying photographs would seem more at home in a hobbyist journal than in the most highly regarded art magazine of the day. To be frank, it was articles like this that gave pottery a bad name.

Preston was only ever a part-time potter, although she did make significant contributions to the field of modernist painting and print-making. If one was searching for a more direct tie to Leach in the period before the Second World War, the closest one could come would be the little-known South Australian-based potters, Norah Godlee and Mary Egerton.

Following an early training in the techniques of China painting, Godlee travelled to England in 1925 where she enrolled in pottery classes run by Dora Billington at the Central School of Art in London, at a time when Billington had just introduced the study of stoneware into the curriculum. Together with her fellow student Mary Egerton, Godlee travelled widely, visiting Leach in Cornwall. In 1928 Godlee and Egerton returned to South Australia and established the Lyme Studio in a suburb of Adelaide, complete with a kiln capable of reaching stoneware temperatures, arguably the first instance of this approach being employed in Australian studio-pottery. The few stoneware pieces attributed to Godlee and Egerton represent the sum total of the Leach influence on Australian pottery from this early period and their work is so little known that it is normally disregarded in texts that seek to establish the beginnings of Leach's influence in Australia.[6]

During this period, other possibilities existed for the dissemination of the Anglo Oriental approach to ceramics, although these were not always acted on. The distinguished English scholar A.L. Sadler had been appointed Professor of Oriental Studies at Sydney University in 1922, a post he held until his return to England in 1948. Sadler had previously been a long time resident in Japan, where he gained his knowledge of Japanese language, history, politics and culture. This may be appreciated through his numerous publications, which include Cha-no-yu: The Japanese Tea Ceremony (1933), a text that remains pre-eminent among books written in English about the tea ceremony.[7]

Sadler's time in Japan [1909 to 1921] coincided with Leach's tenure [1909 to 1920] and it seems that the two men knew each other and were on friendly terms, which is hardly surprising when one takes into account the relatively small expatriate population in Japan at that time.[8] Sadler even dedicated his book The Art of Flower Arranging in Japan[9] to Bernard Leach, but Australian ceramics would still have to wait a few years for the Leach influence to become really noticeable.

The Word

The publication of Leach's A Potter's Book in 1940 would be a turning point for Australian potters, albeit following a brief hiatus during which armed conflict with Japan was resolved. For many, the idea of pursuing ceramics as a career came about rather by accident, as ex-servicemen who flocked to art schools under the Commonwealth Retraining Scheme studied pottery as an adjunct to courses in painting and sculpture, at colleges like the Royal Melbourne Technical College in Melbourne or the National Art School in Sydney.

It was at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology that Peter Rushforth, who had spent some years as a prisoner of the Japanese, was introduced to Leach's book by the ceramics teacher Jack Knight.[10] As a firm believer in earthenware, Knight found this interest in stoneware and oriental ceramics difficult to comprehend; he sat outside in the sun reading a newspaper while Hamada demonstrated at RMIT in the 1960s, saying that they were 'always talking about stoneware ... can't understand them.'[11]

For Peter Rushforth, as for many other Australian potters, an interest in oriental ceramics was reinforced by seeing the extraordinary Kent Collection at the National Gallery of Victoria, amassed by the Melbourne-born businessman Herbert Wade Kent during thirty years living in China and Japan. This was Leach's 'Sung standard' reified, and it would have a powerful influence on a generation of Australian potters who were able to see at first hand the classic works to which Leach constantly alluded in A Potter's Book.

The first Australian potter to have direct contact with the Leach tradition in the early post war years was Ivan McMeekin. During the war McMeekin had served with the Australian navy and then as a merchant seaman on the 'China run'. In the late 1940s he found himself living in China, where he become interested in ceramics. Forced out by the revolution, he travelled to London where he enrolled in art classes and made the acquaintance of the well-known scholar of ceramics, A. L. Heatherington, who had just published the second edition of his influential text Chinese Ceramic Glazes.[12] Following Heatherington's advice that there was 'only one man in Europe with the practical knowledge that [McMeekin] needed, and that was Bernard Leach[13], McMeekin cycled down to Cornwall, hoping to learn how to make the type of ceramics which had so captured his imagination.

There were no places available at the pottery in St. Ives, but the suggestion was made that Leach's ex-student Michael Cardew might be able to use his services – as David Leach observed, he 'doesn't want an assistant but he certainly needs one.'[14] The two men hit it off and Ivan McMeekin would spend several years at Cardew's Wenford Bridge Pottery, first as an apprentice and then as the de-facto manager during Cardew's absences in Africa.

It was during this period that McMeekin attended the 1952 International Conference of Craftsmen in Pottery & Textiles organised by Leach and held at Dartington Hall in Devon. This was perhaps the first conference of its type and the list of attendees was impressive, although, given Leach's predilections, it was somewhat dominated by the Japanese delegation and by Leach himself. McMeekin obviously enjoyed the conference and the associated exhibitions, especially one which featured '... Chinese pots from the Sung and Ming Dynasties [which] for me, simply sang... . It was the same with the collection of 100 slides presented to us by Hamada with Bernard Leach translating ... these again did not contain a single 20th century artist potter's pot ...'[15], a statement that may, in retrospect, ring alarm bells. In late 1952 Ivan McMeekin returned to Australia, where he had been invited to institute a ceramics component at the Sturt craft workshops, a few hours drive from Sydney.

McMeekin's experience of the Leach tradition had been gained through Cardew and therefore it is important to differentiate Leach from his most famous student. Unlike Leach, Cardew was not enamoured of Japanese pottery and McMeekin even less so. McMeekin would never visit Japan, somewhat dispelling the myth that all Australian potters who admired Leach immediately set out for Mashiko armed with A Potter's Book as a kind of muddy Michelin guide. Another consequence of McMeekin's training with Cardew can be seen in his attitude towards materials. Although Leach stressed the aesthetic benefits of using local or relatively unrefined raw materials, at the same time availing himself of several grades of pre-prepared clays and minerals, Cardew was forced by dint of circumstances to take this approach to an extreme in Africa, in that everything he used had to be found, dug-up and processed. At Sturt, McMeekin rigidly followed this dictum and in doing so made a valuable contribution to the knowledge of Australian clays and other materials, even if this approach sometimes got in the way of running an economically sustainable pottery.

There is an interesting, if minor, connection here to New Zealand, as the English potter Michael Gill, who Helen Mason described as the 'first bearded, sandalled potter to arrive in this country [New Zealand] with a post-war outlook and a new set of values'[16], also visited Sturt in 1954 on his way to New Zealand.[17]

McMeekin would remain at Sturt for several years, aided from 1954 to 1957 by the young Australian potter Gwyn Hanssen-Pigott and then, following her departure for England, by Les Blakebrough and Col Levy. In late 1959 Blakebrough assumed the role of workshop head and Ivan McMeekin left Sturt to start a ceramics course at the University of New South Wales.

Another Australian potter associated with the Leach style of pottery was Harold Hughan, commonly referred to as 'Buzz' in reference to his profession as an electrical engineer. Hughan had been born in 1893 and was therefore of an older generation, but as he didn't take up pottery until 1940 he is situated firmly in the post-war pottery movement. The beginning of his interest in ceramics coincides neatly with the publication of A Potter's Book, which he first read in 1940, the year it was published.[18] Hughan also made use of C.F. Binns' 1910 text The Potter's Craft, teaching himself to throw with the book propped up in front of him so that he could follow the illustrations.[19]

In 1950 Hughan would contribute a chapter to Australian ceramic history by staging the first major exhibition of stoneware ceramics at the Georges department store gallery in Melbourne. His first retrospective exhibition was held in 1968 at the National Gallery of Victoria and a second exhibition (an exceptional honour) was held at the gallery in 1983 to commemorate his ninetieth birthday. In the catalogue accompanying this second exhibition, the then Director of the gallery, Patrick McCaughey, wrote that 'More than any other Australian ceramist Harold Hughan has been able to absorb the feel and colour of that landscape into his own practice and so returned something authentically and familiarly Australian to us.[20]

With the greatest of goodwill, it is hard to see how this was the case. Rather than making identifiably Australian pottery, Hughan actually worked in what was a powerful global style, that of Anglo-Oriental ceramics. One couldn't tell whether a faceted celadon glazed jar was made in Melbourne or London, and even when Hughan produced a magnificent late series of temmoku glazed platters with decorations based on Australian wildflowers, the actual origin of the flora was not at all apparent, buried as they were in a calligraphic cipher of brown on black.[21] These were international pots made in response to Leach's philosophy of a timeless standard in ceramics and the primacy of traditional Oriental techniques and they were made in Australia just as they were made everywhere A Potter's Book was read.

In 1956 the inaugural meeting of the New South Wales Potter's Society was held at Peter Rushforth's home in the Beecroft, a suburb of Sydney. It was a pivotal moment in the development of Australian pottery, in some ways marking the beginning of the era of the professional craftsperson in their modern guise. The founding members — Peter Rushforth, Ivan McMeekin, Mollie Douglas and Ivan Englund — all occupied salaried ceramic teaching positions. They exhibited in prestigious galleries, arranged and judged competitions, gave lectures and, from 1962, began publishing a journal, Pottery in Australia. That the initial cover image was of a small, rather undistinguished Bernard Leach jug, spoke volumes.

Going to Japan

At the end of the 1950s England was the destination of choice for Australians wishing to study ceramics abroad. It was home to Bernard Leach, a bevy of well-credentialed art schools and the inhabitants spoke English. But there was a growing feeling that something was missing and that thought had been implanted by Leach himself, since the country to which he constantly referred was not England, but Japan.

In 1957 Cecily Gibson, a nurse working at the Canberra Royal Hospital, made the acquaintance of the wife of a Japanese diplomat posted to the embassy in Canberra. Gibson was invited to dinner, where she had her 'first glimpse of a Japanese way of life; the space in the room, the kimono, the food and the flower arrangement... . I was casually handed a small Japanese vase ... and immediately felt an overwhelming sense of exhilaration... . It was just a lovely simple pot, but it evoked in me a profound desire to become a potter.'[22] She enrolled in part-time ceramics classes at the Canberra Technical College taught by the Dutch émigré potter Henri le Grand, began learning Japanese and, with the help of her contacts at the embassy, in 1959 found herself setting out for the famous Japanese pottery village of Mashiko.

In May 1960 Cecily Gibson attended the World Design Conference in Tokyo. Also at the conference was a young British potter named John Chappell and the New Zealander Helen Mason, and it was through an invitation extended by Mason to Chappell for him to visit New Zealand that the first really significant connections would be established between Australia and Japan.

Gibson would remain in Japan until 1964. Despite achieving major successes, culminating in a one-person exhibition at the Mitsukoshi gallery in Tokyo, Gibson remained outside of the mainstream of Australian ceramics and as a consequence is little known in this country today.

In 1960 Les Blakebrough was contacted by Helen Mason, asking if he would look after John Chappell during his stay in Australia en-route to New Zealand. Blakebrough enthusiastically agreed, hosting Chappell at Sturt at a time when the workshops were at a significant point in their evolution. Following McMeekin's departure Blakebrough had altered the production process, with the result that the workshop now was paying its own way. Still, Blakebrough was on a steep learning curve and Chappell was able to offer much valuable advice – most of a potter's knowledge is gained empirically and Chappell's experience showed. It was during this time that Blakebrough first considered going to Japan.

In 1962 Bernard Leach made his one brief visit to Australia. His main destination was New Zealand, as might be deduced from his account of this time in Beyond East and West, where the few days he spent in Sydney are described in less than a hundred words. Leach, having flown overnight from Tokyo via the Phillipines, was met at Sydney airport by Ivan McMeekin and Peter Rushforth and taken straight to a reception at the University of New South Wales. Once there, he 'suffered the good-hearted handshakes of a multitude of people — my sympathy went out to the Royal Family.[23] Les Blakebrough remembered the event as being slightly awkward, with attendees lining up to be introduced to Leach, so the allusion to a royal visit seems accurate enough.

The most complete picture of Leach's visit is given by Ivan McMeekin, reporting on the film evening and lecture Leach gave in Sydney. Here, we see several familiar themes being raised by Leach, as he screened both the documentary that had recently been made by the B.B.C. on his activities in St. Ives, titled A Potter's World[24], as well as a second film which took as its subject Leach's old Japanese colleague Kenkichi Tomimoto.

In addition to answering questions of a technical nature, Leach introduced a discussion of aesthetics by comparing the qualities of medieval English jugs to ceramics which were influenced by 'the courts of Europe'[25], in other words ornate wares made for the moneyed classes. He then equates these two kinds of ceramics with a division between the countryside and an essentially urban taste: 'There are two broad ways of looking at crafts — including pottery; that of the countryman and that of the courtier ...'[26], and ends his talk by acknowledging that the contemporary craftsperson is a creature of the: 'Age of Leisure. ... The modern craftsman is not a village-minded person – parish pump — he has got to be a citizen of the whole world. He has all of man's doings to draw upon and the weight of tradition behind him. ... Yet he is more privileged in a way, for though these people who did far better work in their villages ... were secure in their unity and we are insecure in our universality, yet we have the maturity of mankind to look towards with the hope and belief that it will regain much that has been thrown away too quickly, and will regain certitude and faith...'[27]

For all the logical inconsistencies and generalisations, what this demonstrates is Leach's willingness to place pottery at the centre of the kind of social debates that were occurring in the 1960s, just as he had done in the 1920s when he issued his first major essay on craft, A Potter's Outlook. For Leach, the craft of pottery was a metaphor for the divisions between modern and pre-modern life, the city and the country, even man and machine. It was a way of life, and not to be taken lightly.

The October 1963 issue of Pottery in Australia carried reports from no less than six Australians who were either travelling to, or who had just visited, Japan. Cecily Gibson, Peter Rushforth, Jean Higgs, Ivan Englund, and Robert Hughan (Harold Hughan's son) all contributed articles, as did Les Blakebrough, who described his experiences of living and working in the pottery village of Onda, a remote and tiny community which had been mythologised by Yanagi and Leach to the point where it was seen by Western potters as a kind of oriental ceramic arcadia.

The Japanese potter Takeichi Kawai, who was to be of such great assistance to Western potters wishing to study in Japan, also contributed an article titled 'Letter from Kyoto', which ends with a paragraph that begins, 'Next year, at the suggestion of my friend John Chappell, I shall be visiting Australia ...'

Les Blakebrough was in Japan at an interesting time. Numbers of American potters were studying there, and the Americans Doug Lawrie and Fred Olsen both worked near Kawai's studio in the Gojozaka area of Kyoto, as did Donna Nichols, who was friendly with Cecily Gibson. Chappell had moved to Do Mura, a village outside of Kyoto, where Blakebrough would visit to make pots and help fire the kiln, a scene celebrated in verse by the American poet Gary Snyder, who, with other artists and poets like Alan Ginsberg, found Japan as fascinating as did Western potters.

“The Firing

for Les Blakebrough and the memory of John Chappell

Bitter blue fingers
Winter nineteen-sixty-three A.D.
showa thirty-eight
Over a low pine-covered splay of hills in Shiga
West-south-west of the outlet of Lake Biwa
Domura village set on sandy fans of the sweep
and turn of a river
Draining the rotten-granite hills up Shigaraki
On a nineteen-fifty-seven Honda cycle model C
Rode with some Yamanashi wine “St Neige”
Into the farmyard and the bellowing kiln.
Les & John
In ragged shirts and pants, dried slip
Stuck to with pineneedle, pitch,
dust, hair, woodchips;
Sending the final slivers of yellowy pine
Through peephole white blast glow
No saggars tilting yet and segers bending
neatly in a row —
Even their beards caked up with mud & soot
Firing for fourteen hours. How does she go.
Porcelain and stoneware: cheese dish. twenty cups.
Tokuri. vases. chawan.
Crosslegged rest on the dirt eye cockt to smoke —

The hands you layed on clay
kickwheeled, curling,
creamed to the lip of nothing,
And coaxt to a white hot dancing heat that day
Will linger centuries in these towns and loams And speak to men or beasts
When Japanese and English
Are dead tongues.”

— Gary Snyder from The Back Country A New Directions Book 1968

In January 1964, Les Blakebrough and John Chappell met Takeichi Kawai on his arrival in Sydney. There is a remarkable photograph taken on the upstairs balcony of the Hungry Horse gallery in Sydney of the three men, joined by the American Fred Olsen, marking the occasion of Takeichi Kawai's first Australian exhibition. The international nature of the gathering demonstrates how far Australian studio pottery had come in a relatively short time and emphasises Japan's importance as a place where potters from many countries gathered to work and celebrate ceramics.

Tragically, John Chappell would be killed in a motorcycle accident on Sydney Harbour Bridge a short time after this photograph was taken, but his all too brief contact with Australian ceramics would have a lasting effect.

The years 1963/64 would also see the only comprehensive exhibition of New Zealand pottery to be shown in Australia, courtesy of Kenneth Hood, curator of decorative Arts at the National Gallery of Victoria. This is unsurprising, as Hood was by far the most active of all museum officials at the time in promoting ceramics and his activities, combined with the extensive Asian holdings of the NGV, placed it at the forefront of curatorial activity in ceramics in the early 1960s. The acknowledgements in the catalogue to this exhibition, which features the work of no less than thirty-two New Zealand potters, together with twenty-eight Australians, credits the Editorial Committee of the magazine New Zealand Potter with selecting the New Zealand participants[28]

In his introduction, Hood reiterates what is by then the standard story of the development of ceramics in Australia and New Zealand, citing the lack of an indigenous tradition 'in either country ...on which potters could build'[29], and the importance of 'Chinese Sung and T'ang artists, ...English medieval pottery ... and, more recently, from Japanese ceramics'[30], as well as noting that potters 'are also beginning to discover the exhilarating possibilities of ceramic sculpture and new forms'.[31] In other words, ceramics had come to Australia and New Zealand via Leach in the post-war period, and now local potters were beginning to branch out a little. As usual, the pre-war, often feminine, contribution to ceramics was ignored, as was a hundred years of local ceramics manufacturing.

Nonetheless, the exhibition was comprehensive and it travelled throughout Australia. It was the first — and last — major survey of New Zealand and Australian ceramics to have been undertaken.[32]

End of the Affair

In this chapter, I have sought to present an overview of Australian ceramics at a crucial time in its development. Since the main aim has not been an analysis of the artistic value of the work that was made, many individuals have been omitted who, on this criteria, should have been included. If Leach has been a constant theme, it is due more to his impact as an author than the presence of his pottery, which, at least in Australia, was rarely seen in any other form than in reproduction. But Bernard Leach wrote where other potters didn't and the word is a powerful thing.

When all is said and done, the numbers of Australian potters who literally took Leach at his word were few. As early as 1963 some, like the Queensland potter Milton Moon, publicly challenged the validity of Leach's ideas in the pages of Pottery in Australia,[33] paraphrasing a young Australian art critic by the name of Robert Hughes, writing that: 'I think I've seen that Sung before.'[34]

Any examination of the work made during the middle-sixties actually shows that a wide variety of approaches were employed, the only unifying factor being that a stoneware firing and low-keyed glazes predominated. Everything was allowed, it seems, unless it was bright, glassy and made in earthenware. But towards the end of the 1960s an irreverent, iconoclastic and, to many, provocative stream of ceramics arrived in Australia via the West Coast of America. In addition to the abstract expressionist ceramic interventions styled after Peter Voulkos, which often shared at least superficial parallels to the distortions of some Japanese tea-ceremony vessels, there appeared a new body of colourful, subversive ceramics, either based on the vessel or purely sculptural, that broke the final taboo not only by their sexual or social content but also though their (re)employment of the panoply of earthenware techniques. This was Funk, and, in a curious coincidence, its arrival coincided with an exponential increase in the amount of funding available for the crafts in this country.

The first half of the 1970s saw the arts, and its subset the crafts, benefit from government funding to an extent which was unprecedented. In particular, grants available to individual craftspeople meant that they were able to make work which need not concern itself with the demands of the marketplace. This greatly benefited ceramists working in a non-functional, non-traditional way, as there was a very limited market for this type of work outside of specialist collectors and museums. And, although the anglo oriental style was perhaps not as dominant as it once was, the entire field of the crafts had undergone such an enormous expansion that there were in fact more potters working in a traditional, functional style at the end of the 1970s than there were at the end of the 1960s.

Although the last forty years saw a period of expansion and then a contraction in ceramic activity in Australia, it remains true to say that very little has changed structurally since the early 1970s. Ceramics still occupies an interstitial position somewhere between the fine arts and crockery, with various practitioners staking out parts of that nebulous territory as their own. Every style, from conceptual gestures to facsimiles of Japanese tea wares are apparent, all sharing a space which seems increasingly tenuous, given the constraints placed on art education and the demands on the public's discretionary income. If there has been a change, it is in a long awaited and much needed evaluation of ceramic history, and it is perhaps understandable that much of this initial analysis is given over to the role of Bernard Leach and his influence on the craft and art of ceramics.


  1. Peter Rushforth in Damon Moon In the Beginning was the Word: Bernard Leach and Australian Studio Pottery from 1940 — 1964 Doctoral thesis University of South Australia 2006 p. 215
  2. It is not possible here to discuss whether Leach represented a particular facet of modernist aesthetics, but it is question that certainly needs to be asked.
  3. Hermia Boyd in John Vader The Pottery and Ceramics of David and Hermia Boyd Mathews Hutchinson 1977 p. 37
  4. Also see Margaret Preston 'Pottery as a Profession' Art in Australia Third Series [Vol. 3] No. 32, Ure Smith, Sydney. June-July 1930
  5. ibid
  6. An intriguing coda to this story concerns a letter to Bernard Leach, dated April 1938, from a correspondent known only as 'Mary', whose address is given as Lower Mitcham in South Australia, a suburb very close to the location of the Lyme Studio. In this letter, 'Mary' writes of a fire that has destroyed part of the studio and some pots, but that a Kenzan pot survived unharmed. Although various sources indicate that Mary Egerton left Australia in 1932, it is unlikely that there was another 'Mary' living in the vicinity who was a potter and who knew Leach well enough to sign a letter to him using only her first name, not to mention the matter of the Kenzan pot and Leach's place in that particular ceramic lineage. For the Egerton letter see entry #5971 — 5986 Volume 1 Catalogue of the Papers and Books of Bernard Leach compiled by Alyn Giles Jones, Crafts Study centre, Surrey. For discussion of Egerton in South Australia see Noris Ioannou Ceramics in South Australia 1836 — 1986: from Folk to Studio Pottery Wakefield Press 1986, pp. 310 - 312
  7. A.L. Sadler Cha-no-yu The Japanese Tea Ceremony First edition 1933, J.L. Thompson & Co. Kobe and Kegan, Paul, Trench and Trubner & Co., London. Abridged edition 1962, Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc. Vermont and Tokyo.
  8. See entry # 2333, p. 226 & # 9996, p.493 Volume 1 Leach archives op cit.
  9. A.L. Sadler The Art of Flower Arranging in Japan Country Life Ltd. 1933
  10. John Barnard Knight
  11. Reg Preston quoted in Grace Cochrane The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History New South Wales University Press 1992, p. 146
  12. A. L. Heatherington Chinese Ceramic Glazes Second revised Edition P.D. & Ione Perkins, 1948
  13. Ivan McMeekin 'In His Own Words' Ceramics, Art and Perception No. 13, 1993, p 62
  14. ibid
  15. ibid
  16. Helen Mason Ten Years of Pottery in New Zealand New Zealand Potter 1968, p. 16
  17. Michael Gill interview with the author conducted 4 January 2008
  18. I always find it surprising that A Potter's Book found its way to Australia so quickly, given that there was a war going on.
  19. Chas [Charles] F. Binns The Potter's Craft D. Van Nostrand Co. 1910
  20. Patrick McCaughey in Kenneth Hood Harold Hughan: a retrospective exhibition in honour of his ninetieth birthday National Gallery of Victoria, 1983
  21. see endnote 111
  22. Cecily Gibson quoted in Damon Moon op cit.
  23. ibid p. 276
  24. Film A Potter's World directed by John Read for the BBC, 1960
  25. Bernard Leach quoted in Ivan McMeekin 'Transcription of Bernard Leach's Film Evening' Pottery in Australia Vol 1 No. 1 May 1962
  26. ibid
  27. ibid
  28. Australian & New Zealand Pottery catalogue to the exhibition organised by the National Gallery of Victoria. No publication details available, catalogue in the possession of the author.
  29. ibid
  30. ibid
  31. ibid
  32. The New Zealand artists were Martin Beck, Nancy Beck, June Black, Doreen Blumhardt, Barry Brickell, Len Castle, Betty Colson, Roy Cowan, Helen Dawson, Denis Hanna, Mary Hardwick-Smith, Wailyn Hing, Jack Laird, Helen Mason, Margaret Milne, Muriel Moody, Guy Mountain, Jim Palmer, Particia Perrin, Juliet Peter, Betty Rapson, Inez Rennie, Rachel Rose, Peter Stichbury, Graeme Storm, Lee Thomson, Hilary Thurston, Carl Vendelbosch, Lilyan Walcott, Jean Weir, Jocelyn Wilkie, Wilfred Wright.The Australian artists were Les Blakebrough, David Boyd, Mollie Douglas, Phyl Dunn, Ivan Englund, Patricia Englund, Wanda Garnsey, Marea Gazzard, Guy Grey-Smith, Harold Hughan, Eileen Keys, Alex Leckie, Henri Le Grand, Col Levy, Alan Lowe, Carl McConnell, Milton Moon, John Perceval, Reg Preston, Rachel Roxburgh, Peter Rushforth, Bernard Sahm, Edward Shaw, Margaret Shaw, Derek Smith, Charles Swain, Margaret Tuckson, Jeffery Wilkinson.
  33. Milton Moon 'Pottery: a Personal View' Pottery in Australia Vol. 2 No. 1, 1963
  34. ibid