Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Beach Artware C1971-1977

This gorgeous tea container was hand-thrown by Daniel Steenstra at Beach Artware in the mid-1970s. It is glazed in a glossy lead-based orange, with a glaze known as grey star around the top. There is no maker’s mark. Height 15cm.

Long before I found this piece, I had heard about orange Beach Artware.  Peter and Eva Beach and their successful pottery were a bit of a legend.  Through most of the 1970s they made thousands of kitchen storage jars and salt pigs - and they hit a sweet spot in the market, especially with their orange. 

Sadly, Beach Artware lasted for less than ten years. Peter had severe arthritis and died when he was only 42 years old. Not long after, Eva sold the business.

A few years back, I tracked down Eva and her daughter Sharon Codlin. Ev Williams and I were fortunate to be able to interview them before Eva in her turn passed away.

Above: Sharon Beach Codlin (left) and the late Eva Beach in 2015. Eva is holding one of the original lamp bases made in the family garage in the early 1970s. Photo V Monk.

This is what Eva and Sharon Beach told us. It is quite a long story but hopefully worth reading.

Aucklander Peter Beach began making kitchenware in his Henderson garage in the very early 1970s. He had been working at Crown Lynn as a glaze chemist until his arthritis forced him out of a job.

Peter recruited Daniel Steenstra, also from Crown Lynn, as his potter and designer and they soon had an order for 1500 lamp bases for a New Zealand chain store. There were two shapes, both modelled by Steenstra then slipcast.

Lamp bases - the first products from Beach Artware. The shape on the left was later adapted to make imposing salt and pepper shakers. Height 14 cm. 

Peter Beach and Daniel Steenstra then began making hand-thrown kitchen containers and within weeks they were so busy that Peter’s wife Eva and their 15-year-old daughter Sharon both joined the new enterprise. Before long they outgrew the garage and moved to a factory at 2A Rabone St in Henderson.

Peter Beach in the mid-1970s. Photo courtesy of the Beach family.

At its peak Beach Artware operated from three adjoining factory buildings with 13 staff. A team of production throwers made up to 600 hand-potted pieces a day, plus hundreds more pots were slipcast in moulds.   At a conservative estimate, 4000 pieces of Beach Artware were churned out every week.

This was a prosperous business. Peter and Eva built a stylish Spanish-style house complete with a swimming pool on ten acres in Kaukapakapa.

During those early days Peter told a local newspaper that Eva was the business brain.  ‘She’s co-director of the company, company secretary, sales director, kiln loader, packer, delivery girl.’  Eva ran the office and did the accounts, as well as her hands-on roles. Peter was the technical expert with overall management of the factory. He made most of the moulds for the castware and, importantly, he made glazes.

Beach orange-glazed ware was a runaway success. Peter had begun experimenting with orange at Crown Lynn, but didn’t get it into production until after he set up his own business. At first he made a rich matt orange with uranium oxide, but then the Government banned uranium imports and he changed to a glossy lead-based orange. The two glazes are quite easy to tell apart.

Above: the shiny lead-based glaze is on the left and the matt uranium on the right.

Both orange glazes had toxic components and could not be used where they could contaminate food or drink. It is unlikely that there are any orange Beach mugs, and the kitchen jars are white inside.

After joining the family enterprise as a young girl, Sharon thrived in the busy factory. She learned to throw pots as well as casting, glazing, finishing, and loading kilns. She also inscribed the words on most of the Beach Artware kitchen containers. Once she carefully inscribed “CORNFLOWER’ on a consignment of bright orange jars – her dad was not impressed. 

Sharon Beach Codlin still uses these kitchen jars today. Photo V Monk from S Codlin collection.

Daniel Steenstra, originally from an old-established pottery family in Holland, was the star thrower.  Eva told us that he ‘worked like a machine’, turning out hundreds of pieces all exactly the same with perfectly fitting lids. The lids were not made specifically for each pot. They were laid randomly in gaps between pots in the kiln, and lids and pots were married up after firing. 

Daniel Steenstra at Beach Artware. Photo courtesy of the Beach family.

Steenstra often decorated his pots with textured lines or chattering – imprints from a carved wooden tool rolled over the soft damp clay. 

Above: Vase and bowl decorated with chattering, though not necessarily by Steenstra as other Beach potters also learned the technique. Vase height 14cm, bowl 6cm.

Above: Another feature of Steenstra’s work is the koru-shaped swirl on the inside of pot lids. This detail helped prevent stress cracks. Again, other hand-throwers at Beach copied him. This detail is often found on hand-thrown Beach Artware, but is not specific to Beach. Below: the same whorl is very often found on the tops of Beach Artware salt pigs. 

Steenstra was a prolific maker of tiny pieces, including bud vases and little salt pigs and pepper shakers.

Above: These pieces are all less than 10cm tall. From left: bud vases, spice jar (front), an incense jar and a matching salt pig and pepper pot. Some Beach Artware bud vases are cast, while others are hand-thrown.

As well as orange kitchenware, Beach made various shades of brown and green, and a deep midnight blue with gold sparkles. There were kitchen jars, spice jars, jugs, salt pigs, salt and peppers, mugs, coffee pots, tankards, bird feeders, incense jars and the occasional jug, vase or bowl. Over the years several clay bodies were used, including white, terracotta red and a sand colour. Almost without exception the hand-thrown ware is has a flat, unglazed base. 

Above: Beach Artware salt pigs. The one on the left has been too hot in the kiln which caused the glaze to discolour. The salt pig in the centre carries the rare ‘DS’ mark.

Above: more Beach Artware salt pigs!  In the 1970s, these containers were a fixture on almost every New Zealand kitchen bench. Beach salt pigs are generally around 15 cm tall.

Most Beach ware is unmarked, though some slipcast pieces have TRADITIONAL NZ or BEACH ARTWARE or BEACH NZ impressed into the base. The ‘Traditional’ name arose because the company’s full name was Beach Artware Traditional Pottery.

Above: These Traditional jars were very popular.  Most are clearly marked and were known in the factory as ‘Trad jars’.  Please excuse the red sticker – it is my catalogue number. 
This jar is 14 cm tall.

Peter and Eva sold to about 90 retail outlets throughout New Zealand and made a few exports to Australia. An initial order from Melbourne was for 1000 pots.   They also had a shop at the factory – sometimes buyers were lined up waiting when the kilns were opened.

It was a constant struggle to keep up with demand. Eva would rush down to the factory early in the morning to empty the kilns.  Some pots were still so hot they burned the cardboard boxes as she packed them.  This of course is risky. Pots should cool slowly in the kiln; a sudden drop in temperature can make them crack.

The hand-throwers had a certain amount of leeway when it came to shapes. To my knowledge, the Beach family relied on glaze and texture for decoration; they never attempted to use commercial decals or hand-painting. The three pics below show Beach kitchen jars in various glazes. They are around 12-14 cm tall, including lids.

Most Beach jars are lidded, but a few (eg right, above) were made for corks. 

Above: this dark brown with the flowing creamy glaze over the top was almost as popular as orange.

Above: Beach Artware spice jars. They are about 9cm tall and mainly castware.

Daniel Steenstra mainly worked at production throwing - '100 pots a day' was his aim, but occasionally he made something special.  He threw the bowl below then carved it, using skills he learned from his pottery family in Holland. The style is called Snywerk and is very collectable.  He made this piece for the Beach family, who still treasure it today. From memory it is about 20 cm wide.

The bowl is marked DS by Daniel Steenstra.

Many younger potters learned their craft from Daniel Steenstra at Beach, among them Reg Matthews, Steve Fullmer and Peter Lenker - and of course Sharon Beach. Terry Williams was the glazer for many years.  Less skilled jobs were often filled by travellers in search of short-term work. Some were Hare Krishna devotees who took time off during the day for their religious obligations. All in all, Beach Artware was a very happy, busy place to work.

Throughout the early to mid- 1970s the business  prospered, but Peter‘s arthritis got steadily worse. He was in constant pain and becoming increasingly crippled. Until the family bought an automatic car, he was unable to drive without Sharon at his side to change gears.

At his workbench Peter made a special track for his seat to roll along, and he even had his painfully gnarled fingers surgically shortened so that he could continue to work.

In June 1977 Peter Beach died from complications related to his arthritis.  He was only 42. Everybody I have spoken to says that despite his illness he remained cheerful, positive and energetic to the last.

After Peter’s death, Eva was forced to sell Beach Artware to pay Government death duties – a tax which was abolished very soon after. The business was sold as a going concern, including all the shapes, moulds and glazes.

The new owner Don McKenzie re-named the business Kiln Craft. Then there was a legal challenge from Kiln Craft in England and the name was changed again, this time to Clay Craft.

Unfortunately, McKenzie was new to ceramics and at first he struggled to make consistent quality pieces. Many of the staff left during this time.  Sharon Beach and Reg Matthews moved to Norm Parker at Parker Pottery, while Daniel Steenstra went to Stewart Pottery, then moved again to help Eva’s stepbrother Peter Lowrie, who set up his own pottery after Beach was sold.

Identifying Beach Artware

Apart from the castware marked with TRADTIONAL or variations on BEACH, and the odd piece which carries the tiny DS mark for Daniel Steenstra, Peter and Eva Beach did not mark their product, not even with stickers.

So far as I am aware the orange pots – both matt and shiny - are almost guaranteed to be Beach, but the greens and browns are less straightforward.

There are strong similarities in both glaze and shape between Beach Artware and the Kiln Craft ware made immediately after the takeover. For example this mug shape was developed at Beach Artware, but you also see it marked as Kiln Craft and Clay Craft.

Above: These mugs were all made at Beach Artware. From left, they are marked Beach Artware (although the mark is heavily smothered in glaze), Traditional and Beach NZ. H 10cm.

However the two mugs below, in exactly the same shape, were made after Don McKenzie bought out Eva Beach.  They are marked Kiln Craft (left) and Clay Craft. 

Although Don McKenzie changed many glaze recipes after the takeover, there are strong similarities between the glazes used by Beach and the glazes on Kiln Craft pieces. 

Beach Artware jar

Kiln Craft jar

Above: The top jar was made at Beach Artware but you see almost exactly the same glaze on the 'Trad’ jar which is clearly marked Kiln Craft.

Above: These bowls were hand-thrown at Beach, but very similar shapes appear as castware with a Clay Craft mark. Width 11cm

There are also crossovers with a couple of other potteries.  When Beach staff moved on, they took their skills and their potting styles with them. Some Parker Pottery is very similar to Beach; this is because Sharon Beach and Reg Matthews moved to Parker after Eva sold up.

For example the two jars below are very very similar. I took them both to Eva and Sharon, and after a great deal of deliberation they decided that the honey jar was almost certainly Beach, while the marmalade container is Parker. The shapes are pretty much identical but the glazes are different. Sharon and Eva did not think that Norm Parker would have had access to the Beach family’s glaze recipes.
Beach Artware
Parker Pottery

There is also quite a bit of confusion between Beach Artware and Peter Lowrie's pottery. Peter Lowrie was Eva's stepbrother, and he worked for Peter Beach and Eva for a time. After Eva sold, Peter Lowrie set up his own pottery and recruited Daniel Steenstra to work for him. Because Steenstra was the senior thrower (and teacher) at Beach, there are strong similarities between the shapes made at Beach and at Lowrie. To add to the confusion, some Lowrie glazes are very similar to Beach, especially the brown.

Fortunately there is one clear difference.  On Beach ware, letters were inscribed into the soft clay, while Peter Lowrie and Daniel Steenstra used soft slip to create raised letters.

This is a link to a previous post on Peter Lowrie's pottery.

Above: These jars are not Beach Artware! They are typical of Peter Lowrie’s range. The shapes are similar to Beach but the writing is raised rather than scratched into the clay.


Unless otherwise noted the photos are taken by me from my personal collection

My information came from the following sources: 
  • Eva Beach and Sharon Codlin, interview with Valerie Monk and Ev Williams, 20 June 2015
  • Newspaper clipping, PETER BEACH: Potter. Unidentified publication, given to the author by Eva Beach
  • Ernie Cooper email to Valerie Monk, 7 July 2015
  • Steve Fullmer, telephone interview with Valerie Monk, 2 October 2014
  • New Zealand Pottery Forum website

Saturday, June 8, 2019

In memory of Alan Topham

In early June 2019 we lost another Crown Lynn stalwart.  

Alan Topham, who was Crown Lynn marketing manager for ten years then general manager for another ten, has passed away after several years of failing health.  

Alan Topham as general manager of Crown Lynn in 1978

When I was working on my first book Alan was one of my most prolific and reliable sources. He was deeply knowledgeable and unfailingly helpful in the face of my never-ending questions. Betty made me equally welcome - and provided delicious lunches. 

The first time I went to see Tom Clark, he told me this: ‘The person who is still alive who would be able to give you the most help would be Alan Topham. Alan was right on top of every goddam thing… he’s a walking encyclopaedia, he occupied a lot of important positions in Crown Lynn. He made a big contribution.’ 

And so I found it to be.  

For many decades Crown Lynn made and sold millions of pieces of beautifully designed and technically excellent tableware and other homewares – and Alan Topham made a huge contribution to this very successful enterprise.   

When I read back through my interview transcripts today, I was struck by how much Alan actually knew, and how much time he spent passing on that knowledge to me. He helped me understand the complexity of the ceramics business – from mixing the clay body, to designing, shaping, firing, decorating, warehousing and of course marketing.  For much of his time at Crown Lynn it was Alan’s responsibility to ensure that all the departments were at the top of their game, every day.   

Alan had a vivid turn of phrase, and during our many conversations he was always positive. He never swore and never had a mean word to say about anyone. When he talked about his colleagues at Crown Lynn one of his favourite sayings was ‘you could bottle their blood’ – he loved and respected the loyalty and hard work and energy and innovation that went with Crown Lynn, especially in those early days in the 1960s and 1970s. 

This is what he told me about working at Crown Lynn: 

‘I loved the job, it was so rewarding.  From the viewpoint of taking a raw material and you lived with it right through to the finished product. And when that finished product comes out of the kiln you look at it… and you (feel great pride). And the reward of employing 500, 600, 700 people, who were dependent on your decisions. 

But we worked hard, very hard, I had to be at work every morning at 8 o’clock; I lived on the North Shore, drove frantically over to New Lynn. I wouldn’t get home till 6.30, 7 at night but I loved it. I think it was very hard on Betty and the children.  

Then I started travelling overseas a lot, but Tom had this lovely philosophy - if you were getting three meals a day and a roof over your head just ‘get on with it sonny’ – but he loved to have a bit of fun at the same time. It was hard tough going, hard tough going but you always had an executive dinner during the year and there was always time to have a few beers and a bit of fun, a few laughs with the guys.’ 

Alan joined Crown Lynn as sales manager in 1963.  His family owned the crockery importing business John Raine Ltd, so it was a real break from Topham tradition to move to a New Zealand manufacturer which was in effect in opposition to the family business.  He told me he copped a lot of family flak for his change of direction, but he was resolute in wanting to work at Crown Lynn with Tom Clark, who he liked and admired.
From the Crown Lynn magazine October 1965 

Alan immediately began investigating export prospects – at this stage Crown Lynn was growing rapidly and Tom Clark was very keen to expand into the huge consumer base of the United States and Canada.  Before long Alan gained the title of marketing manager.  Then in 1969 he became general manager, replacing Tom Clark who moved to Ceramic House to run Ceramco, Crown Lynn’s umbrella company.  

From the Crown Lynn magazine December 1969

During Alan’s time at Crown Lynn, design was at the forefront, with a focus on New Zealand themes.  The company developed many new techniques and styles of decoration, and the annual Crown Lynn design award achieved prominence.  There were hundreds of entries and the presentation night was a highlight of the Wellington social calendar, with awards often given out by the Prime Minister of the day.  

Alan also oversaw the development and production of the Dorothy Thorpe ball-handled designs, which were a huge innovation at the time and are avidly collected today.  

Another high point was the development of the new brown ‘fish-hook’ design for the tableware at Bellamy’s restaurant at Parliament in Wellington.   
From the Crown Lynn/Ceramco magazine summer 1977

Alan’s marketing expertise was greatly valued. In 1975 he led a government trade mission to the Arabian gulf states, and in the late 1970s he was seconded by the government as an export year adviser.  After that secondment ended, Alan moved to Ceramco as corporate manager for export and public affairs. Colin Leitch succeeded him as Crown Lynn general manager. 

Alan finally left Crown Lynn and Ceramco in 1982, when he came full circle and bought the family business John Raine Ltd.  

I will always treasure the memories of the time I spent with Alan and Betty, and I am grateful for the amount of time and expertise he gave to me and to other researchers as we work to piece together the story of New Zealand’s wonderful Crown Lynn.  

Rest in Peace, Alan. 
And my condolences to his family and to his many friends

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A lovely (and important) Crown Lynn story

I recently heard from Ernie Cooper, one of our Crown Lynn stalwarts from way back. 

Ernie sent me a story recalling  his last day at Crown Lynn before he left for the UK to begin a four-year ceramics degree at Stoke-on-Trent.  He was 21 years old at the time and this was 1965.
Ernie had begun work at Crown Lynn as a cadet two years before. 

After gaining his degree, Ernie returned to Crown Lynn as laboratory supervisor.  Harry Jones was the chief chemist. A couple of years later when Harry retired Ernie accepted the position of chief chemist. From 1973-1975 he was  assistant factory  manager (John Heap was the factory manager). He was then promoted to general manager of Gallard & Robinson, a technical ceramics division of Ceramco operating out of Sydney.

Ernie was also involved in Clay Craft and Terra Ceramics. He is now a business consultant living in Australia. 

This photo shows Ernie Cooper as a young Crown Lynn cadet. He is measuring the thickness of glaze that has been sprayed onto a small plate. In the background you can see a kiln car loaded with Bisque ware waiting to be unloaded. 

Here is Ernie Cooper's story of life at Crown Lynn in the 1960s. 


I’ve just run from home, 12 Admiral Beatty Ave, Mt Roskill, about 4 miles and it is now 8 AM. I reached the roundabout at Wolverton Road, Portage Road & Totara  Avenue (now Clark Street), as I head down Totara Avenue passing Robinsons packaging I get my first sight of Crown Lynn just beyond a vacant block on the left-hand side heading into New Lynn. It’s not very impressive a plain brick building with very high windows, this is actually the bisque warehouse but you wouldn’t know it from the outside. The first entrance is an asphalt quadrangle with the seconds shop on the right-hand side, the cafeteria on the left and the main entrance straight ahead. Alan Topham’s office is on the right between the seconds shop and the main entrance. The main feature of the entrance is a large Monstera deliciosa (fruit salad tree) I never see any fruit, it’s always removed by the Crown Lynn workers before it ripens. Later in the day you will find 1 or 2 white coated gentleman at the main entrance waiting to guide groups through the more easily accessible parts of the factory.

I don’t use the main entrance.  I carry on a little further down Totara Avenue to the second quadrangle which has the main office on the right-hand side and a series of offices on the left, one of which will to be my future office which I will share with John Heap. John would be promoted to factory manager after Fred Hoffman left Crown Lynn to run the Titian factory. But today I’m going to walk through the factory for the final time, a familiar place as I have spent the last 2 years as a cadet working in every department. My last day at Crown Lynn before heading off to Stoke-on-Trent to start a 4 year degree at the North Staffs Technical College, I will join fellow cadets Rod Humphrey and Rick Poynter who are already in their second year in the UK. 

I’m heading out to the yard at the back of the factory near the old clay pit where a lot of the raw materials are stored. There are bunkers for each of the different clays ready to be processed, Glen Afton a plastic local clay, Mount Somers from Christchurch a rock like China clay and a beautiful white clay from Matauri Bay. In the open-sided shed there are bags of Feldspar from Scandinavia and imported Talc. I well remember each time a feldspar shipment arrived, any spare labour (which included cadets) was given the job of unloading semitrailers and stacking the feldspar bags by hand 50 high in the sheds. This was hard and dusty work and after 8 hours the reward was one large bottle of beer (DB Green) for every slave. This was dusty Each of the raw materials needs to be processed in a unique way, the Mount Somers clay for example has to be broken up with a sledgehammer prior to milling. Although this is a backbreaking task it’s a popular job as sometimes you can break open one of the rocks and find spectacular crystals of Iron Pyrites (Fools Gold). In this backyard there is also the Plimortar department, an additive to make mortar more pliable, which is run by Sam Lawson (who was later father of the famous Lawson Quins) Sam later started his own mortar additive business but that’s a story for some other time.

As I head into the factory the noise is overwhelming - the tube mills with silica pebbles and silica block lining roar as they rotate and grind the various clays into ‘slip’, Blungers add to the mayhem as they beat the more easily broken down clays to pulp. This is a 24 hour operation good job it’s well away from the nearest habitation! The mills and blungers drop their loads into underground wells where the mixing of the earthenware & porcelain bodies begin, the slip is hot from the mills, making an uncomfortable humid atmosphere. Nearby Mono pumps fill the filter presses at high pressure causing the occasional blowout which just adds to the noisy humid confusion. I’m happy to move on to the quieter Pug room where the filter cake is processed into extruded blocks and left to age for a few days. The clay preparation department is Jeff Ball’s domain, Jeff and his brother Gordon immigrated to New Zealand from Stoke-on-Trent to join Crown Lynn (they were affectionately known as right and left ball).

Gordon Ball looks after the jiggers and jollies, plate and cup making equipment, in the main part of the factory. Smaller pug mills are used to extrude the clay into smaller cylinders that are required for these machines. Jiggers and jollies rely on 2 things - plaster of Paris moulds and a forming tool, jiggers rotate a mould while the forming tool shapes the back and the foot whereas the Jollies rotate the mould and the forming tool shapes the inside surface of hollow ware.

The mould making is run by Ray Machin (another of our Stoke imports) with the help of Tam Mitchell the head modeller. There are several benches each laid out with mould making equipment, the plaster of Paris is made in batches and carried by hand back to the benches. Hemara Hemara is the gun mould maker and today he’s going for the record of the most moulds made in one day. Everyone keeps out of his way giving him the best access to the mixing equipment, there is a bonus system operating so Hemara will earn good money today. It’s now 10 AM, the hooter blows and everyone downs tools and picks up their darts. The mould room has a very active social club based on money raised from the dartboard.  There is the annual fishing trip to be paid for, every time someone gets a Shanghai everybody else must contribute six pence to the cause. Another hooter and it’s back to work.

Bob Farrington produces the forming tools for the jiggers of the jollies working out of the engineers shop. The engineer shop has recently been extended - some say to accommodate the mast of the yacht Buccaneer, Tom Clark’s latest acquisition!

The moulds with their cargo of ‘green ware’ are put into the mangle dryers which carry them through a heating zone that dries them to a leather hard state ready for fettling. And then on to the tunnel kill for the first firing. The green ware is very fragile at this stage and it’s Tony Rakich’s job to oh so carefully move the green ware from the fettlers to the drying area (you will notice the smell, Tony also dries his garlic up here!) and then on to the area where it will be loaded onto the kiln cars.

It’s time to have a word with Dr Heine, he is in charge of the bottom laboratory responsible for checking the earthenware porcelain body formulations are correct and that the various production processes are working properly. Dr Heine is a very qualified German ceramist and an important mentor for the Crown Lynn cadets. I once asked Doc if I could ring him at home and give the results of some firing tests I asked “what your home number Doc” his very German pragmatic reply “I don’t know I never ring myself”.

The tunnel kiln runs nearly the whole length of the factory from the clay preparation towards the cafeteria. At the end of the kiln the bisque is unloaded into wooden crates and trucked into the bisque warehouse. These manual hand trucks were used everywhere at Crown Lynn for trucking crates, glaze drums and anything else that needed to be moved they were also great fun to be ridden like a scooter sometimes with disastrous consequences.

It’s lunchtime now, another hooter, and we’re close to the cafeteria so I go for one of Harry Cheeseman’s famous scones. There is a hierarchy of seating arrangements usually the Stoke crowd congregate together discussing what’s happening at home and the best way to make Oat Cakes (a Potteries breakfast delicacy).

Wandering through the bisque warehouse I remember being asked to sort through some old bisque ware where I found some beer mugs, one I made especially with a black glaze on the outside clear on the inside and added some transfers and gold trim. This piece now resides at the Waitakere Library together with copies of my notes recording my journey through the Crown Lynn cadetship.

At the back of the bisque warehouse is the Murray Curvex decorating room with Jim Byrne the manager, Jim was a colourful character famously banned from the New Lynn RSA. Jim was playing snooker there one night and as he got down to play his shot the lights were turned out for the ode - in a very loud voice Jim said ‘what silly bugger turned the f----ing lights out’ earning him an immediate ban! The Murray Curvex room was the only air-conditioned part of the factory the gelatine bombs and the ceramic inks used to transfer the geometric patterns from the engraved plates to the bisque ware required a constant temperature. The original Murray Curvex machine was imported from Stoke and the others were made in the engineering shop using this original as the pattern - Kiwi ingenuity!

Bisque ware was glazed by spraying or dipping, the 8 to 10 glaze spraying booths ran parallel with the main tunnel kiln and each station was manned by 2 people one spraying the back and second spraying the front. After spraying, each piece was placed into cranks ready for the gloss firing in the Prouty Kilns. The spray booths were semiautomatic and required constant adjustment, the job of Henry Sadler (and me when I was assigned to that department). This job I didn’t mind at all as there was a particularly attractive lady who operated one of the machines and that one always got my special attention!

It’s a short walk from the cup dipping line to the Prouty Kilns which operated 24 hours a day 7 days a week. You could look through the kiln and see the bright red hot zone (~1000° C) in the middle section of the kiln. Occasionally there would be a crash, the cranks would collapse causing a huge mess and stopping the pushing mechanism. Clearing these crashes quickly was essential to keep the production line moving and on more than one occasion I saw Fred Hoffman don a fireproof asbestos suit and get pushed into the hot zone to grab some of the red-hot rubble. Jim Nash was the only person Fred trusted to push him in and pull him out of the Inferno. Under normal circumstances the fired ware from the Prouty Kilns, which was still quite hot, was stacked into the ubiquitous wooden crates awaiting the next process.

The next process was again a rather noisy operation where the pin marks from the firing supports were chipped off using tungsten tipped tools attached to a special vibrating machine. Some of the busiest days I had during my cadetship was keeping the buzzing machines supplied with glazed ware and trucking the finished product into the glost warehouse. Harry Bird looked after this section, a hard taskmaster.

The Decorating room was a short walk from the chipping machines, originally the decorating processes were overseen by John Cowdery but earlier in the year he left and handed the managing of the decorating room to Maude Bowles.  The decorating room was staffed by some of the most gorgeous girls in New Zealand but Maude ran a tight ship and anyone trespassing in her area was given short shrift. This was always the most desirable place to be for the end of year Christmas party! Ah! The end of year Christmas parties (often referred to in more colourful language) sadly I’m not going to see another one of those for a few years!
The decorating room - from a postcard sent to me by Ernie Cooper 

My last port of call is the glaze preparation area, for me this is probably the most interesting of the production processes at Crown Lynn. The Department was originally run by Ron Absalom but more and more he was relying on George Dabb for the day-to-day operations. Little did I know that many years into the future Ron would come to work at Terra Ceramics. I found the frit making and the glaze colouring agents fascinating probably because of my interest in inorganic chemistry and geology. The glaze preparation area was always wet underfoot so the standard footwear was Wellington boots rolled down to mid-calf - not quite the height of fashion. There is a glaze laboratory which tests glaze formulations and formulates new glazes and decorating techniques and this is where I first met Peter Beach who I remember as an enthusiastic ceramic experimenter. Peter was often in at 5:30 AM to make sure he was the first to see new test pieces out of the Prouty Kiln.

It’s 5 to 5 PM now and there is already a line at the clocking off machine, on the dot of 5 there is a mass exodus and it’s time for me to jog home. I think back about the many nights I had stayed back to 9 PM to supervise the ‘twilight’ shift the compensation for which was a Chinese meal in New Lynn.

Well all the hard work has been done, the tickets are booked and the goodbyes said; I’ve had my pep talk from Tom Clark and walked away with a rack of his old pipes, he has just given up smoking, again? So tomorrow I’ll fly out from Whenuapai to Nandi then on to Honolulu and LA with a further stop in New York before landing in London 3 days later. I’ve got a letter of introduction to Blyth Colour Works in Stoke-on-Trent and the North Staffs Technical College is expecting me so let the adventure begin.
I am so grateful to Ernie for this beautiful and informative story. I am glad he took the time to write it all down for us to enjoy.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Frank Carpay did not make the cruet set!

Frank Carpay's Crown Lynn Handwerk pieces are valuable and higly collectable. 


Pic courtesy Heather Thorburn

Below is one individual piece. It looks too rough to be made by Crown Lynn. 

 Here is the base - unmarked. 

There is a long-standing myth that this condiment set was designed by Frank Carpay during the time he worked at Crown Lynn. The sets typically sell on TradeMe for over $100. If they were genuine Carpay, avid collectors would push up the bidding well above that figure. 

But unfortunately buyers still pay far more than a mid-century condiment set is worth, in the belief that they are getting a collectable piece of Crown Lynn.  Many experts have assessed this set and we are confident it is not Crown Lynn and not Carpay. Diligent searches of available shape catalogues have found nothing that suggests that this set is Crown Lynn. 

Sadly the myth is perpetuated – sellers ‘believe’ it is Carpay or ‘have been told’ it is Carpay.

Trust me, it is not.  

In contrast, here are some things that Frank Carpay did decorate.  They are all clearly marked with variations on his 'Handwerk’ signature and decorated with his distinctive loose brush-strokes.  This magnificent platter features in my  Crown Lynn book. It was bought by Sir Tom Clark at an auction in 2004, and  he was prepared to pay whatever it took to own it. 

I was shown this vase by a long-standing Crown Lynn staff member who treasured it.

This is part of a dessert set - one large serving bowl and six pudding dishes. 

Almost without exception, Frank Carpay's work is marked with his distinctive Handwerk motif. This bowl also carries the Crown Lynn 'star and tiki' mark which Gail Henry told us is from the late 1940s-early 1950s. 

Frank (Francis Hubertis) Carpay emigrated to New Zealand from Holland in February 1953, bringing with him the radical new design ideas of European modernists including Picasso. He was snapped up by Crown Lynn director Tom Clark, who hoped to move away from the traditional ‘rosebud’ china which was then mainstream.

Working with Crown Lynn designer David Jenkin, Carpay began to develop his innovative Handwerk series.

This is a publicity shot from the Auckland Star newspaper.  Carpay on the left, David Jenkin on the right. Just look at that wonderful array of work behind them. 
Frank Carpay was possibly able to throw pots, but - to my knowledge - at Crown Lynn he was a decorator only.  At first he painted standard Crown Lynn shapes, then he began designing new shapes for jugs, oil bottles and platters.  

This is what Tom Clark told me:  ‘Carpay sketched the shapes and then we made them. Some were hand-potted, Ernie Shufflebottom (Shufflebotham) made them. Others were modelled and moulded.’ 

There was a great deal of publicity at the time. When Carpay demonstrated his technique in public, he was often surrounded by an eager audience. His work was greeted with acclaim by critics and art aficionados.  

However Carpay’s Handwerk series did not sell well.   Most New Zealanders still preferred conservative designs., and Carpay’s unsold work piled up.  In 1956 he was asked to leave Crown Lynn. 

When I was interviewing Sir Tom Clark in 2004, he told me this was one of his biggest regrets.   

 ‘Finally we had too much stuff and I had to say Frank, I’m sorry Frank it’s not selling sufficient. It is costing too much to keep you. Which broke my heart.  He deserved a better chance than we were able to give him. He was way ahead of his time. Now we all think it is beautiful, wonderful but at the time it was way ahead of their (public) taste. He was a very smart guy, he had rubbed shoulders with Picasso, philosophised with him. ‘

After he lost his job at Crown Lynn, Carpay went on to develop a successful business designing and screen printing fabric for beach wear. 

Here is my one and only Frank Carpay piece.  It is the standard shape 735, and was originally one of a set of small serving dishes mounted on a tabletop 'ferris wheel' arrangement.

Lastly thanks to my fellow collectors and researchers who encouraged me to make a formal statement about the much-disputed cruet set. I would be so delighted if there is  no reference to Carpay or Crown Lynn when the next one goes on sale. 


Douglas Lloyd Jenkins
Frank Carpay

Louis Le Vailant
Considering Frank Carpay
Art New Zealand NUMBER 109 / SUMMER 2003-04

Interviews with Sir Tom Clark and others
Valerie Monk