Monday, September 21, 2020

Christine Harris - the early days

Christine Harris was one of the first New Zealanders to make colourful, casual slipcast household pottery. This post tells how she began as a one-person operation, selling her work at the Auckland markets. My next instalment will tell the story of Studio Ceramics, where her designs were made on a commercial scale. 

This post includes photos from news clippings given to me by Christine. I have noted the source when available. 

Above: Christine Harris. Note the spectacular work displayed behind her. 
From the New Zealand Herald 2 June 1988

Christine Harris was a young mother living in Gisborne when she first learned to throw pots on a wheel.
 
In the late 1970s she moved back to Auckland with her small daughter Carly. After a successful venture into stone sculpture, Christine returned to ceramics, this time making and hand-painting slipcast ware.  Along with a handful of other pioneer designers she injected a jolt of colour and style into a market previously dominated by earthy brown studio pottery. 


Above: an early Hibiscus pattern bowl handcast by Christine Harris when she was still learning her craft. It was made in about 1983. Christine used variations on the 'CH' mark throughout her working life. 
Valerie Monk collection

By about 1983 Christine was selling boldly coloured platters, mugs, bowls and vases at Auckland’s busy Victoria Park Market. Later, an assistant was hired to sell at the Oriental Markets. Although her work was still clearly experimental, Christine could barely keep up with demand.  Some ware was cast at the workshop, but like many contemporaries Christine also bought ready-made blanks from Western Potters Supplies and decorated them for sale.
 
Even at this early stage the focus was on designs which were quick to decorate and instantly appealing.  Buyers queued for her work, especially for mugs with black and white stripes or bright blobs of cobalt blue.  Christine also experimented with teapots and cups and saucers. At first her decorations were hand-painted onto greenware then coated in clear glaze and fired. Later, decorated ware was bisque fired then clear glazed and fired again. 

Above: an early duo, hand painted in the pattern which was later known as Pacifico. 
Valerie Monk collection.

As Christine’s skills increased, she became more adventurous with colour and shape. Based in a series of small studios around central Auckland, including D’Art Studios and City Workshops, she worked alongside Bob Steiner and other up-and-coming artists.  At one stage the Limbs dance company rehearsed upstairs.  With advice from colleagues and from staff at Western Potters Supplies, Christine learned to shape, decorate and fire ceramics to a professional standard.  She made quirky vases, candlesticks, ‘happy pots’ and the occasional sculpture in bright colours and metallic glazes.  Black and white stripes and spots were recurring themes.  

Above: handbuilt vases from the mid to late 1980s. Image from 'Christine Harris Ceramics' brochure, 1990



Above: This hand-built bowl is from a 1987 series Christine called ‘Rough and Ready.’  
Height 7cm W15. 
Valerie Monk collection.

Christine says her slipcast and hand-built shapes and designs were deliberately ‘a bit wonky’ as opposed to the precise output of more traditional manufacturers. 


Above: hand- decorated Memphis style vases. 
Image from 'Buying from New Zealand.' Clipping undated, C1988   



Above: ‘Happy Pots’ from 1990.  Slipcast bodies were embellished with hand-built arms, legs and hats. Image from New Zealand 1990 Official Souvenir Publication.


Above: a vase from 1987.  The exterior is hand-decorated with a matt finish. The interior is glazed in shiny white. Christine usually dated her art pieces.  Height 23 cm. 
Valerie Monk collection. 

By the mid-1980s, Christine’s colourful work was stocked by upmarket design stores, where her towering Memphis-style vases sold for hundreds of dollars. A few pieces found their way overseas and one even featured in the New Yorker magazine.  


Above: a large vase in the Black Geometric pattern. 
Image from 'Christine Harris Ceramics' brochure, 1990

A pair of white vases with flashes of gold were accepted for the 1985 Fletcher Brownbuilt ceramics awards  but were unplaced. They were marred by firing cracks - Christine says she was still having technical problems with these complex shapes.   

Above: a vase in the same style as the Fletcher Brownbuilt entry. 
Image from 'More for House and Garden' magazine, clipping undated

Through most of the 1980s Christine Harris was working very long hours at her one-person operation. Then came the 1987 stock market crash. Many collectors lost their funds and could no longer pay for large art vases.  Christine quickly realised that her economic future lay in mass-producing smaller, less expensive pieces, especially the very popular Floral pattern dinnerware. Friends encouraged Christine to find a way to set up a factory - and that story will be told in my next post. 

Above: Floral dinnerware in 1990. Image from 'Christine Harris Ceramics' brochure.

ENDS



Thursday, April 23, 2020

Royal Oak Pottery 1946 - 2014


When we consider Royal Oak Pottery, this is what usually springs to mind.  Quite heavy 'rustic' kitchenware, often with stylised daisy flowers.  But the full story is much richer and more interesting.  Hence, this is the longest post I have ever written. I have tried to trim it down but believe me this is the best I can do.

Through most of the 1940s Owen Salisbury’s Auckland factory turned out thousands of hand-painted Salisbury Ware vases. (See previous post). Then in 1945 the war ended and imported English ware came back on the market. New Zealanders lost interest in homegrown Salisbury Ware and the factory closed in 1946.  

Undaunted, Owen Salisbury set up a workshop in his family garage in the Auckland suburb of Royal Oak. He hand-painted little cactus planter pots from Spartan Products, and placed them on wooden Mexican-style wall shelves. Soon he was able to give up his paid employment and concentrate on the business.

Above: the first Royal Oak ware. Owen Salisbury made wooden shelves and added cactus pots - and a few little Santas - by Spartan
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

As his business grew, Owen Salisbury bought and decorated more bisque ware blanks from Norm Stevens and Dave Stewart at Spartan.  Then Spartan closed, and for a time Owen bought his blanks from Norm Stevens, now a struggling sole operator. From 1952 he was supplied by Cameron and Dorothy Brown at Sherwood Potteries.  

Above: Butterfly wall vase decorated at Royal Oak.  Blank from Sherwood Potteries. 1950s
Louise de Varga photograph, from Julie Cardon collection. From memory about 15 cm height. 

Owen Salisbury’s new business took off and he went back to Crown Lynn for a better supply of blanks. Owen suggested many of the shapes that Crown Lynn made for him. As well as castware, he bought vases hand-thrown by Ernest Shufflebotham at Crown Lynn and sprayed them with bands of paint, mainly in pastel colours. Output quickly expanded and he hired Ted Heart from Crown Lynn to help with decoration.

Above: wall vase in the shape of a hat, decorated by Ted Heart for Royal Oak. 16 cm end to end.  The maker of this shape is still under discussion - either Crown Lynn or Sherwood.

Owen Salisbury was always looking for new ways to expand the business. By the early 1950s he had commissioned metal mesh (lacemetal) ware and wrought iron ware including plant stands and planters, telephone tables, fire screens, magazine holders, umbrella stands and wall-mounted shelves in various configurations.  Much of the metalwork held vases, pots and planters made by Crown Lynn or Sherwood Pottery and decorated at Royal Oak.

Above: Royal Oak lacemetal planter. The green leaves were cut out of old food tins then painted. Vase probably by Sherwood. 21 cm end to end.


Above: Royal Oak metalware wall decorations and ornaments.  Pottery blanks by Crown Lynn and (probably) Sherwood Pottery. Image from a Royal Oak catalogue, courtesy Edward Salisbury. 

In 1956, Owen’s son Edward Salisbury started work at his father’s factory – just before the entire factory burned down. The business moved to a nearby building in Manukau Road and Edward’s first job was to clean up the remains of the burned factory.   Only a few days later Crown Lynn also had a huge factory fire.  Despite these setbacks production continued, with hand-decorated vases and ornaments selling as fast as they could be made.

Through the years the business had its ups and downs, and staff were hired accordingly.  Key staff at various times included Ted Heart and Darryl Hargreaves (decorators) and modeller Peter Cooke.

By the end of the 1950s, the Royal Oak metalware catalogue had expanded still further, and stand-alone vases and ornaments also found a ready market. In 1956 the family established a warehouse in New Plymouth, run by Owen’s brother Raymond.  Output was limited only by inconsistent supplies of Crown Lynn blanks and by import restrictions on metal mesh.   Royal Oak sold metal ware until about the mid-1960s. In the late 1960s Royal Oak made Formica coffee tables and tea wagons and at times also sold imported crystal, bone china, porcelain, lamps and dinner ware.

Above: Royal Oak planters. These pots were first made by Crown Lynn in 1964
Photograph courtesy Edward Salisbury. I don't have one of these to measure but I estimate that the tallest would be about 80 cm in height. 


Above: This ornamental shell, decorated at Royal Oak, was first made by Crown Lynn in 1961. Length 27 cm. 
  
From 1961-1964, Royal Oak was still buying blanks from Crown Lynn, including candle stick ends, a butterfly,  a crocus vase and the familiar shell above.   Royal Oak also sold finished Crown Lynn ware including whiteware vases and swans. At Crown Lynn, Daniel Steenstra made and decorated a range of planter pots, vases and kitchen jars for Royal Oak.  Some were unmarked; others had a Royal Oak stamp on the base.  Some Crown Lynn plates were also stamped Royal Oak and presumably retailed through the Salisbury family.  

Above: a planter made and decorated by Daniel Steenstra at Crown Lynn and sold at Royal Oak. Photograph courtesy A. A-S.. Height estimated 19 cm. 


Above: this Crown Lynn colourglaze dessert bowl carries a Royal Oak stamp

Royal Oak kitchenware
In the early 1960s Owen Salisbury began making pottery from scratch.  He imported a kiln from England and began mixing his own clay body. Young Edward dug the first clay out of a hillside in Waiwera and later supplies came from Auckland’s north-western motorway construction site and the big deposits near Matauri Bay in Northland.  

At first Royal Oak made mainly ornaments, but by the mid-1960s the family was making thousands of pieces of practical kitchenware.   

Salisbury called his new range Colonial Ware, but in about 1967 it was renamed Winfred May Pottery – after a Mrs Winifred May Cullen who was hired to market Royal Oak ware to retailers.  The range included coffee sets, mugs, storage jars, salt pigs and oil bottles. Later there were casseroles, ramekins and jugs.

Above: Royal Oak’s Winifred May ware.
Photograph from a catalogue, courtesy Edward Salisbury

Above: Mugs were a consistent best seller for Royal Oak.  The bottom layer are the popular 'P30' shape. It is estimated that through the years about 250,000 of this shape alone were sold.  

Sadly, Mrs Cullen soon fell ill and later died, leaving Royal Oak without a marketer.  In 1969 Owen Salisbury again joined forces with Arthur Martin. Trading as Martex, Martin sold Royal Oak kitchenware under the brand name SAMA, an amalgamation of the names Salisbury and Martin.  
Above: Royal Oak salt and pepper with the Sama stick-on label. Height 9 cm. 

By 1974 Royal Oak was selling direct to retail shops. New glaze colours included white, nut brown, orange, dark blue and mottled brown, almost always with shiny dark brown around the top.  
Above: Royal Oak ware from the early 1970s.
Catalogue images, courtesy Edward Salisbury 

In 1976 Owen’s two sons Edward and Stewart moved production to a much bigger factory in Henderson. By this stage Owen was content to work on glaze development and his own small-scale projects and it was some years before he too made the move from his workshop at Manukau Road to the Henderson factory. 

Edward Salisbury and the rest of the team were great do-it-yourselfers.  They tackled everything from kiln repairs to modelling, mould making and slipcasting. Clay body and glazes were made by the family using recipes created by Owen Salisbury and tested in their own laboratory.  All Royal Oak ware was slipcast, so they kept away from circular items like plates which Crown Lynn could make much faster on their mechanised jiggers.   Most Royal Oak has a flat dry base with no discernible foot ring. However sometimes Edward carved a foot into the base of the plaster mould. 

In 1978 Owen taught Royal Oak’s first artist, Lynley Trail, to decorate ‘Daisy Ware’ with simple stylised flowers in brown, blue and later pink.  By 1979 there were over 20 staff turning out 1000 storage jars a month, along with teapots, coffee sets, mugs, salt pigs, egg cups, oil bottles, jugs, ramekins and casseroles - and even a hanging garlic holder.  The simply decorated ware was quick to make, with only one trip through the kiln. At first, lettering – eg ‘sugar’ – was hand-brushed. Later, transfers were used.

Above: Royal Oak Daisy pattern teapot. Cane handles (and corks) were bought in bulk and fitted at the Royal Oak factory. 


Above: Royal Oak Daisy Ware. Brown sold better than these blue and pink colourways. Blue jar at rear, 12 cm excluding cork. Wet/dry spoon holders 8 cm. 

In about 1979 Stewart Salisbury left the family business and moved to Australia. After a couple of years he came back to New Zealand and established Stewart Pottery in Henderson.

1979 was the year of peak production. Edward Salisbury estimates that at least 250,000 of the basic ‘P30’ shape coffee mugs were made over the years.  In the early 1980s, Tasti Products ordered 10,000 jars for ginger.  Some Royal Oak pottery was exported to Australia and the Pacific Islands.  In the 1970s the Royal Oak shop also sold Temuka ware, but Edward recalls that it was inclined to chip and customers complained.  

For several years Royal Oak focused on the popular hand-painted Daisy Ware, but in 1982 they began using German-made transfers –  brown and orange ‘Autumn’ for the South Island and ‘Rustic Rose’ for the North Island.   


Above:  Royal Oak kitchen containers with the ‘Autumn’ transfer. (To my regret I did not buy this lineup. Photo taken in the shop, hence price stickers)  Height estimated 14 cm.


Above:Kitchen jug with the ‘Rustic Rose’ transfer. Height (from memory) 14 cm. 

In 1 March 1985 the family patriarch Owen Salisbury died, and his workshop in Henderson was emptied out and closed.  By this stage demand had begun to ebb and parts of the big Henderson factory were progressively shut down.  It finally closed in 1996. 

For the next few years, Royal Oak pottery was made in a workshop at Edward Salisbury’s home in Green Bay.  There was a big order for mugs for Apex Valves, with recipients’ names hand-lettered onto each mug.

In the year 2000 Edward moved to the small Waikato town of Paeroa, and after that he continued making Royal Oak on a smaller scale, selling mainly at craft markets.Without the burden of running a factory he was able to create more shapes, for example kiwi, pukeko, lizard and john dory fish figurines. 

In 2014 Edward Salisbury retired and production of Royal Oak pottery ceased completely.

Owen Salisbury 

Above: Owen Salisbury in 1962
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

Until Royal Oak Pottery moved to Henderson in 1976, Owen Salisbury was very much involved in day-to-day production.  After the move he stayed at his workshop in Manukau Road and had time to experiment with new glazes, shapes and decorations – and to go fishing.
From this time, Owen’s work can still be identified as Royal Oak but many pieces have his own style. He made and decorated slipcast coffee mugs, wine goblets, decanters, vases and the like. Some carried the Royal Oak sticker, and a few pieces were signed on the base with Owen’s mark. He created his own ‘Lava Glaze’ from scoria dug from under his home, and marked the product with specially printed labels.

There has been a suggestion that the thick speckly glaze as seen on the salt and pepper below is Lava Glaze, but the family is very clear that the term was used only by Owen for a few of his products.

Above: this salt and pepper is in White/Brown, not Lava Glaze. Height 4.5 cm.

Owen Salisbury’s work was sold through his on-site shop as well as the Royal Oak Pottery outlet store.  For some time, his entire output was bought by a Queen Street gift shop.  When the lease on the Royal Oak building expired, Owen joined the rest of the team in Henderson. Until his final illness in 1985, he had  his own workshop close to the main factory. Owen's son Edward estimates that there were 300 buckets of various glaze mixes in the workshop when it was cleared out after his death.

Above: Floral mug by Owen Salisbury. He also made vases and other ware in this pattern
Photo courtesy Edward Salisbury

Above: 'Lava Glaze' vase by Owen Salisbury. 
Image courtesy A. A-S.


Above: Wine container by Owen Salisbury. There was also a 'Rum' version and possibly others. Height 18 cm. 


Identifying Royal Oak 

Much of Royal Oak Pottery's output is not marked.  Most carried a sticker when it left the factory, but of course once an item has been used a few times the sticker disappears.
Because all the shapes, moulds and glazes and clay body were made in-house, Royal Oak is quite distinctive. Its heavy country-style look struck a chord with New Zealanders who were ready to move on from the precision and symmetry of Crown Lynn.

Below: Royal Oak stickers and stamps 

Early Royal Oak sticker. Used (I believe) on the hand-painted ware made C 1946-1960s

Royal Oak Pottery sticker. Used from 1975 to 2014

Winifred May Pottery.  C 1967-1968

Sama by Martex sticker C 1969-1970


Colonial Ovenware sticker late 1970s 

Royal Oak Pottery stamp. Occasionally found on Royal Oak kitchenware


With the compliments of Royal Oak Pottery Used by Crown Lynn when making glazed ware for Royal Oak 

Royal Oak Potteries stamp.  Used by Crown Lynn when making glazed ware for Royal Oak



Below: Owen Salisbury's marks and stickers from late 1970s - early 1980s 

Above: Owen Salisbury's impressed mark.

Harvest Brown Ovenware


Lava Glaze from Volcanic Cones... 

With the compliments of Owen Salisbury.  Royal Oak Pottery

Royal Oak Pottery Owen W Salisbury

Salisbury


ROYAL OAK POTTERY TIMELINE
1946 – Owen Salisbury established Royal Oak Pottery in a workshop at his home at 714 Mt Albert Road. First ceramic blanks supplied by Spartan Potteries.
1947 – As Royal Oak Pottery expanded, blanks were supplied by Norm Stevens (ex Spartan), Cameron Brown (Sherwood Pottery) and then Ambrico/Crown Lynn. By now Royal Oak was also selling various metal scroll ware items – plant pot stands etc.
1956 – Royal Oak Pottery was registered as a company. A branch warehouse was set up in New Plymouth and managed by Raymond Salisbury (Owen’s brother).
1956 - Edward Salisbury started working full-time for the family business. In December 1956 the factory was destroyed by fire.  
Early 1957 – A new factory was established at 697 Manukau Road, Royal Oak.
1959-1964 - Crown Lynn was making some moulds for Royal Oak
1960 – The first kiln arrived from England and Owen Salisbury began making his own ware. Modeller Peter Cooke moved from Crown Lynn to Royal Oak. 
1967 – Winifred May kitchenware was introduced.  Metal ware was discontinued.
From C1969 –Arthur Martin sold the entire output as ‘SAMA by Martex’.
C1973 – Owen’s younger son Stewart joined the family company.
By 1974 Royal Oak kitchenware was marketed direct to retailers. It came in six colours - white, nut, orange, blue, mottled, and earth.
1976 – Royal Oak Pottery moved to 28 Henderson Valley Road. Owen Salisbury stayed in Royal Oak
1978 – The hand-painted daisy pattern was introduced in brown and blue (and later pink).  Some pottery exported to Australia and the Pacific Islands.
1979/1980 – Stewart Salisbury left the family business and later established Stewart Pottery.
1983 – Autumn and Rustic Rose transfers introduced. 10,000 small ginger jars made for Tasti Products.
1985 – Owen Salisbury died.
1998 – The Henderson factory closed. Royal Oak pottery continued at Edward Salisbury’s home in Green Bay.
2000 – Edward Salisbury moved to Paeroa, still making Royal Oak pottery sold mainly at craft fairs.
2014 – Edward Salisbury retired and production of Royal Oak pottery ceased

SOURCES
My heartfelt thanks to Edward Salisbury, son of Owen and Cecily Salisbury, for the large amounts of information he gave me. This came from notes and records complied by Edward, plus an interview I recorded with him.  Further valuable information is from Ev Williams and the New Zealand Pottery Forum website and from the book New Zealand Pottery, Commercial and Collectable by Gail Henry.

ENDS