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.
From the New Zealand Herald 2 June 1988
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.
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