Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not just Crown Lynn - get help to identify your pottery

If you would like to know more about a piece of NZ pottery - of any age or genre - drop into our FREE pottery clinic in Titirangi on Sunday 27 Nov between 1 and 3 pm.

Ev Williams, the co-founder and moderator of the NZ pottery website and I will be at the Learning Centre at Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery (previously Lopdell House Gallery) holding the clinic under the umbrella of the Auckland Festival of Ceramics. 

Anytime between 1 and 3 pm,  just bowl in with your piece of pottery. If you have questions we will endeavour to help; if you just want to show us something special, then we will be delighted to have a look.  

Together, Ev and I have a formidable knowledge of NZ studio and commercial pottery including  Crown Lynn, Orzel, Beach Artware, Titian, Royal Oak, Studio Ceramics, Christine Harris, Keriblue - you name it! (she says optimistically).  Much of our wonderful NZ pottery is unmarked, but after decades of researach Ev and I can identify most of the makers and manufacturers. 

Ev has an exellent working knowledge of her fellow studio potters - she should be able to identify the maker of your interesting hand-thrown piece with the mysterious mark.

Don't be shy. We would love to see you and your pottery. And we will have some examples on display too.  Meanwhile, here are a few pics to whet your whistle:

Beach Artware - orange is very popular, but you also see Beachother colours including brown, green, and blue. It is very very very seldom marked. 

Brendan Adams which is becoming increasingly collectable.

Ev's favourite shino glazed pots from her extensive collection

Christine Harris from her days at Studio Ceramics - love those crazy egg cups!  The pattern at the right rear is called Belize.

 Kevin Kilsby - who is still making his delightful ware in Auckland.

 Bob Steiner - likewise, Bob still has a busy workshop and sales shop in Auckland.

Petra Ceramics, Stage Artware and Terra Ceramics.

Royal Oak

Daniel Steenstra for Crown Lynn

 Parker Pottery
Early Christine Harris

Etc etc etc etc!  There are millions of different pieces of our precious NZ-made pottery around. Let's find out as much as we can about it and feel proud!

Remember though that Ev and I are not valuers. We can give you an indication of the rarity and coolectableness of a piece, but neither of us are particularly keen on trying to estimate what it might be worth.

Thanks to Creative New Zealand for supporting this event.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The mysterious terracotta vases...

For years now I have been trying to work out who made the Crown Lynn terracotta vases.  They look like this (my one and only example.)
They are hand thrown and have a Crown Lynn star and tiki stamp on the base. My example is 16 cm high and most are a similar height or smaller.
These pots are quite classy - hand thrown terracotta which has often been textured with some kind of tool, then dipped in various glazes and slips (the muted green around the neck of my pot above is coloured slip - a mixture of runny clay and a mineral colour.)
The terracotta ware was first mentioned in Gail Henry's groundbreaking book New Zealand Pottery Commercial and Collectable. When I was interviewing Crown Lynn's founder Sir Tom Clark I showed him the photos from Gail's second edition (page 196) and he said no, Crown Lynn  would never have made anything out of terracotta, because coloured clay would have contaminated the machinery, discolouring the white clay body which they were working so hard to develop. 
Which leaves us with a problem!
There is no doubt that these pots are Crown Lynn, they are clearly stamped with the star and tiki mark, which was used from about 1948-1955.  And my pot is by no means a one-off - see the lovely collection below, belonging to mumof1 from the New Zealand Pottery website.
Unfortunately during the time when I was interviewing Tom I didn't own one of these pots, and I didn't take the time to pursue the mystery. Now I am not aware of anyone who worked at Crown Lynn during that early period who is still with us.  
The terracotta ware has been attributed to a couple, Arthur and Olive Rhodes - but I am struggling to find any meaningful reference to potters with this name.  So far as I can ascertain, the reference to the Rhodes' comes from the catalogue of the huge Jim Drummond sale at Art + Object in Auckland on 3 May 2009. Here is a link to that exceptional catalogue, a real gem and thanks so much to the auction house keeping it online.  The terracotta vases are items 232 - 234, page 15.
Anyway. Jim told me that the reference to the Rhodes' which he used in his catalogue came from an old exhibition catalogue, but he couldn't find a copy to show me (by the time I asked him, several years had passed since Jim had closed his wonderful antique shop, and his papers were stored or dispersed.)  I have asked the auction house, and everyone else I can think of if they know anything about Arthur and Olive  Rhodes but so far I have drawn a blank.  Which troubles me.
An online search reveals that Arthur Rhodes was a noted baseball player in the U.S. but not much else.
Te Papa has one of these pots in their collection - 'attributed to' Rhodes.
Ev from the New Zealand Pottery website has done a thorough search for Arthur and Olive without success.
There are other references on the NZ Pottery site - click here then do a search for Rhodes - but everyone seems to have drawn the same blank.
And nothing useful appears even if you do an international online search.
It seems very very odd that such accomplished craftspeople have disappeared without trace. 
So let's say that these pots were made by someone other than the elusive Rhodes? Umm... who?   The two main hand potters associated with Crown Lynn were Ernest Shufflebotham and Daniel Steenstra, although there were others.  Shufflebotham is known for his pure elegant forms, mainly white and pastels. These shapes don't really look like his.  And Steenstra joined Crown Lynn in 1953, at most only a couple of years before - to my knowledge -  the star and tiki stamp was discontinued.  The pots are more in his style than in Shufflebotham's, but I have never seen a reference to Steenstra making anything at Crown Lynn out of terracotta. And all his work I have seen so far is rounded rather than angular. He did use texture to decorate some of his work, but that's about the only connection, and a flimsy one at that.
So what do we know? 
This terracotta ware was made by Crown Lynn, probably between 1948 and the early to mid 1950s.
They are hand-thrown by someone who knows what they are doing, then textured with a tool, then decorated with coloured slip (slip is liquid clay) and with glaze.
They were most probably made by someone away from the Crown Lynn factory - I say this because Tom Clark had no memory of them, and because they are made from terracotta which would not have been allowed anywhere near the machinery which mixed the white clay body which Crown Lynn developed for its domestic ware.
The range appears to consist of all sorts of vases and a few ashtrays.   

So the jury is still out on this one.  My best, most 'educated' guess, is that there was a potter who worked outside the Crown Lynn factory somewhere, who made a job lot of these hand-thrown pots which were sold under the Crown Lynn brand. Who it was, I have no idea.  Sadly so many of Crown Lynn's paper records were destroyed over the years in factory fires, or dumped when the factory closed in 1989.

Our only hope is that something turns up in the records which are now held in Te Toi Uku, the new Crown Lynn museum in West Auckland. This museum, which is open by arrangement, houses a large collection of papers and objects collected by the late Richard Quinn. Researchers are currently sifting through this collection so who knows - something may turn up. Here's hoping!

EDITS TO ADD - Ev Williams from the New Zealand Pottery website has some interesting thoughts on this pottery. Well worth a read.

My apologies for the lengthy gap between posts. Hopefully I am back on track now.
More soon



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I did in the holidays!

It's been a long time since I last posted on this site - you will be forgiven if you have totally lost interest, but I do have an excuse of sorts.  The biggest event of the summer was our wedding! Yes, George and I got married after 13 years together. Here we are signing the register.  (Papers held down with dive weights.) Photos thanks to our friend Douglas Madgwick.

Our wedding was at home in Whangarei; it was a lovely day and all went well. Afterwards friends and family gathered under our home-made awnings (adapted from old advertising banners) in the garden. 
And guess what the tables were set with.  My favourite Crown Lynn patterns:  I don't have complete dinner sets in all these, but we did have enough plates for 50 plus guests. 

 Here's cheery Topaz.
Beautiful Egmont.
The ubiquitous Echo. I have a very large set but sadly George doesn't like this pattern. So in the shed it remains.
My lovely lovely Nirvana.
And - of course - Autumn Splendour, which will go to my daughter once her children get old enough not to drop plates on the floor.
My friend Lois made us a lovely floral arrangement in her Temuka vase, and of course my precious Kelvinator jug did duty as a water carafe.  Out came my hollow-stemmed champagne glasses. (And no the table wasn't at an angle... blame the photographer!)
We found some quirky opshop salt and peppers and used my collection of NZ commercial ceramic water jugs and that was the table decorations taken care of.  Simple!

More soon - I have some serious stuff to write about Crown Lynn now I have at last got my feet back under the desk.

Take care
Val Monk Irwin.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Early yellow Crown Lynn: rare and under-rated

Before I get going, a quick clarification. In the recent book about Mark Cleverley, author Jonty Valentine speculates that I might be writing yet another Crown Lynn book.  It's true that I wanted to record another interview with Mark, which I have since done, but that interview was never intended to be the basis of a book.

Anyway. Onto another bit of lovely Crown Lynn history.  This post is to introduce you to some of the early yellow ware made by Crown Lynn (then known as Ambrico) in the late1930s and through the 1940s.

In our recorded interviews when I was writing my first book, Tom Clark told me the story behind this yellow ware.  In the very early days, when he and his very small team were working out how to make household ware instead of bricks and pipes, they used a yellowish clay body which was all that was available at that time. They were not satisfied with this, and a huge amount of work went into developing a clay body that would fire to a pure clean white.  If you look at the later Crown Lynn dinnerware you see that they achieved that. Apollo for example is finished with a clear glaze over the plain white clay body.
Tom and his team eventually found the vast white clay deposit near  Matauri Bay in Northland, which became the mainstay of their production right through until the factory closed in 1989.  The Matauri Bay clay mine is now owned by overseas interests.

Pottery clay is complex - often many different ingredients are mixed together to form a white, solid, durable product once it is fired in a kiln. A mix that looks white while it is wet can turn yellow - or worse a muddy grey - when it is fired. Or impurities may show up. Many of the early products were marred by speckles of black iron pyrites. The first whitish clay body was developed around 1948.

This jug is a classic Crown Lynn shape - and it's a muddy colour rather than a clear yellow. The base is unmarked. Height 9 cm, width 9 cm.

Because it is not as sought after as the later dinnerware - and because some sellers don't realise what it is - you may still be lucky enough to pick up the odd piece of this yellow Ambrico ware. Much of this early product is unmarked. Other pieces have the simple 'Made in NZ' backstamp.  This cup is a nice shade of yellow, again that's from the clay body. It is finished in a clear glaze. Note the 'block' handle, which is joined to the cup from top to bottom.  This style of handle stuck to the cup better than the later 'ear' shape which was joined only at both ends.  Again the base is unmarked, with a grainy finish which is quite common with this early ware. This cup is 7.5 cm high and 8 cm across the top.
Below is the lovely early 'Paris' design dinnerware with its distinctive ridges. You could write a book about this ware alone, if only someone was still alive to tell us about it... So far as I can work out, Paris ware was made first with hand-jiggers, then during the 1939-45 war it was made with a complex machine built in-house, which was never completely successful. I believe the same style was made later using machines imported from England. You see Paris ware in the early yellow clay and also in the later whiter clay. The saucer  is 15 cm across, cup height 7 cm, width across the top 8 cm.
This cup and saucer have different variations on the Made in NZ backstamp, indicating they are not a matched pair, but they would have been made around the same time.

This is one of my prized pieces - a very old yellow kitchen mixing bowl.  Height 11 cm, width across the top 25.5.  It is in surprisingly good condition, considering the amount of use it was no doubt subjected to.
And in a similar style, here is a chamber pot, made for the days when we had outside toilets.  I once saw one of these advertised as 'a sort of a bowl with a handle'. Love it!   Height 11 cm, width across the top 23 cm.

The base of the chamber pot is completely unmarked, but the pot is a distinctive Ambrico shape.
Here's another old-fashioned item, a shaving mug.  This is a particularly early version. It is 8 cm high.

Later shaving mugs are in this shape. You can see that by this time they had developed a whiter clay body.  This example is 8 cm high. You often see this shape decorated with transfers or - occasionally - hand painted.  Those styles of decoration were not in use until the very late 1940s.
At a quick scan, this post may seem to lack colour, but please think about the huge amount of trial and error, and pure effort, that went into making Crown Lynn (then known as Ambrico) in those early days.  One of the reasons Crown Lynn is so respected today is because it kept getting better and better - Tom Clark never allowed his team to stand still.  Even after the Matauri Bay clay deposit was discovered, the search for good clay continued.  Tom's wife Patricia told me that on their honeymoon he would stop the car and jump out and dig a piece of clay out of the bank... and put it in his mouth.  Good clay is smooth - and tasting it is a quick and easy way of testing for grit.

More soon
Take care

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two important Auckland events - Mark Cleverley designer

Mark Cleverley was a very influential designer who worked at Crown Lynn through the 1970s.  In Auckland there are two events showcasing him and his work:

The Going West Festival
The Going West Festival talk is a must see - it will feature Mark Cleverley talking about his work, especially his time at Crown Lynn. I will also be on stage, along with Jonty Valentine who did much of the research for the exhibition at Objectspace.  I am anticipating that most of the hour-long session will be Mark telling us about his time at Crown Lynn - what he designed, why he designed it, where his inspiration came from, etc etc. There is a $15 entry fee; $12 concession. The session is chaired by Objectspace director Philip Clarke.
Venue: Titirangi War Memorial Hall, 500 Titirangi Road, Titirangi, Auckland
Time: 9.00 am on Saturday 13 Sept 2014
Here is the full website for the Going West Festival - a wonderful weekend to be had! Friday 12 Sept-Sunday 14.

The exhibition
The Mark Cleverley: Objectspace Master of Craft exhibition covers Marks entire career - as well as Crown Lynn, he designed for many other media including packaging and stamps.  It is well worth a visit - and don't leave it too long, it closes on 11 October. To accompany the exhibition a book written by Jonty Valentine and  Sherry Blankenship has just been published by Bateman. Here is a nice review on Design Assembly which features gorgeous pics from the book!
Venue: Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Rd, not far from the intersection with Great North Rd and Karangahape Rd.
Closes 11 October 2014

Mark Cleverley worked at Crown Lynn through the 1970s, after coming to their notice through consistent successful entries in the annual design competition.  Mark is a very accomplished designer who has received a number of prestigious awards. He taught at Wellington Polytechnic and Victoria University after leaving Crown Lynn.

Here are some pics from the exhibition, courtesy Ev Williams.  Below we see three experimental designs at the rear, with golden Sundowner, Purple Myrtle and Ellerslie hotel ware in the foreground.
Here is the classy ware made for Bellamy's restaurant at the Beehive. Truly elegant in rich browns with a slight purplish iridescence when the light is right.These examples came from Parliamentary Services.
Lastly, here are two popular patterns Mark is proud of - Palm Springs on the left and Ponui on the right.

And here, for a wee treat, are my pics of some of my favourite designs by Mark Cleverley.
This is Ponui:

Juliana (rare in New Zealand)

My precious Bellamy's plate.  To my knowledge this ware was never released on the open market so I am very glad I stumbled upon one years ago in an op shop.

Lovely cool elegant Apollo.  This shape used to be very easy to come by, but now its not often found in the shops - I guess people have realised what a pleasure it is to use.

More soon
See you at Going West at 9.00 am on Saturday 13 September!