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