Saturday, October 20, 2012

Early days: Doris and Harry Bird

This sugar bowl is one of my favourite pieces of Crown Lynn.  I also have the matching teapot and milk jug.
The set is quite small, this sugar bowl is about 10 cm tall and 15 wide. It was hand painted by Doris Bird in the 1950s.   I found it at the Browns Bay market.  Doris Bird's daughter Gina tells me that she was the only decorator at Crown Lynn who was able to do this design – which is one continuous squiggly line. The technique originated in England, and English-made items with the same design also turn up occasionally.

Doris Bird and her husband Harry were two of the many many people who contributed to the success of Crown Lynn. Both left jobs in English potteries in 1948 and emigrated to New Zealand with their young family to work at the fledgling Crown Lynn pottery. Harry was a warehouseman and Doris a hand painter and decorator.

Until they - and other English experts - arrived, Crown Lynn had been struggling with decoration.  Tom Clark's team had developed trickle glazing to a fine art, as this was the only means of decoration available to them.  During the war they couldn’t import English-made transfers – and in any case they didn’t know how to apply them. As soon as possible after the war ended, Tom employed experts from English potteries, and very quickly the product moved from this:

To this:

The outline of the floral design on this plate was a transfer applied with a roller. The dark blue outline was then hand coloured by Doris. Lastly, a coat of clear glaze was applied and it was fired in the kiln. 
The newly recruited (also English) modellers and mould makers created finer and more elegant products along the lines of the English potteries. Many were decorated by Doris, including this early coffee pot (1950s) which is particularly special as she signed it. It is from around the mid-1950s.
Decorating with gold was especially difficult – if the kiln was too hot the painstakingly applied gold would vaporise and disappear; not hot enough and it failed to stick.  The 'gold' decorations were actually black when first applied and turned gold when heated during the firing process.  Even in those days, gold was very valuable; discarded brushes were burned to retrieve it. 
Thanks to their family I have photos of Harry and Doris. Here is Doris hand painting the Toby jugs made by Crown Lynn in the 1950s.
This picture of Harry was taken at his retirement in 1970:
At that time Crown Lynn staff often decorated chamber pots as gifts for farewells, birthdays etc. Very, very occasionally these oddities turn up for sale – complete with silly poems and slightly ‘off’ jokes.

Both Harry and Doris made a very positive contribution to Crown Lynn. They courageously came to the other side of the world to work for a very new and primitive enterprise. Harry brought order to the rather chaotic warehousing systems and was soon promoted to grading manager, monitoring the quality of the factory's output. Doris, along with other newly employed English experts, added a new level of elegance to the previously rather primitive products. By 1953 Doris was assistant to head designer David Jenkin. After taking up this role much of her work involved decorating one-off samples.
Below is another example of  Doris's work – an elaborate ‘loving cup’ created to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953. It was designed by New Zealand born designer David Jenkin and English modeller Peter Cooke. Hand potter Ernest Shufflebotham made it, and Doris applied the decoration. Ernest came from England to work at Crown Lynn in 1948, the same year as Harry and Doris. He created hundreds if not thousands of lovely white vases – but that’s a story for another time.
More next week

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