Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Peter Lowrie/Daniel Steenstra kitchenware - unsung treasures

In the opshops you sometimes see nicely made hand-thrown kitchenware – lidded jars, bottles, jugs and vases like this, in green or brown.   
Coffee jar 20 cm, sugar 14cm
Bottle with stopper 14 cm, jug 9.5
Vases 9cm
This ware was a mystery to me until Sharon Codlin, daughter of Peter and Eva Beach of Beach Artware, told me that it was made by Eva’s half-brother Peter Lowrie.  

With Sharon’s help I made contact with Peter and he told me the story of his business. Peter Lowrie worked at Beach Artware in the 1970s, when Peter and Eva Beach and their team were mass producing kitchenware – mainly lidded or corked jars in orange or various shades of green, brown and dark blue.  Sadly, in 1977 Peter Beach died of complications related to his severe arthritis.  His shocked and sad widow Eva sold the business, and many of their staff moved on. 

After this, Peter Lowrie set up business on his own, throwing and firing kitchenware, mainly lidded jars. About a year later he recruited Dan Steenstra – and that is why we see so many of these lovely pieces, uniformly symmetrical in shape with skilfully made thin walls and base.  Steenstra was an excellent production thrower.  Peter Lowrie described him as fast, accurate and technically very good.  ‘He had an easy way of making production uniform, so they looked like a nice set rather than higgledy-piggledy.’  After Dan Steenstra arrived, Peter focused on support jobs such as glazing and kiln loading. 

Lowrie’s first workshop was in a basement in Kelston, then he moved to a factory in Glenfield, then back to a garage in Mairangi Bay. The business made a comfortable living through most of the 1980s. At its peak there were three electric kilns - two medium and one large, which were in use 6 -7 days a week, either with bisque products or glazing. 

In 1987 the market began to taper off and a year later Peter closed his business and went into car sales. He is now retired in Australia. 

So how do we identify Peter Lowrie’s ware?  Occasionally you find a piece marked with a ‘P’ impressed by hand or with a metal typecasting letter, but most is unmarked. These pics are variations on the "P" from Peter Lowrie's workshop. Peter is not confident that all the ware marked "P" was made by his hand. The "P" was possibly a generic workshop mark.  

Although most Lowrie work is unmarked, there are other identifying features. Many Lowrie kitchen jars carry raised lettering – eg the words “TEA”  and 'SUGAR" on the jars below.  

The raised script was made by squirting letters of semi-solid slip (liquid clay) onto the jars before they were glazed and fired.  (In contrast, Beach Artware jars have the lettering scratched or pressed into the clay). Peter Lowrie told me that applying the lettering was ‘like icing a cake’ and was very fast if the slip mixture was the right consistency.  

You often find neatly formed little pots in Lowrie glazes.  These were thrown by Steenstra who was known for his tiny pots.  (Yes that's my finger on the left - these really are very tiny, only 6cm.)  

Steenstra was also a master of texture - look at the elegance of this ewer below.

Pic thanks to Mike67 from NZ Pottery website

Peter Lowrie told me that his workshop used three main glazes: 
- Cream with brown top, semi-shiny
- Brown and gold (but a bit lighter than Beach glaze)
- Green with a dark base

Here is the cream glaze - the hardest to find. 

Tea bags jar H 10 cm.

Below is a coffee pot in Lowrie green.  The glaze often graduates to a darker green, almost black, at the base. And often there is an irridescent glow to it. 
Coffee pot H 23 cm 

The brown ware is less straightforward to identify. This tall brown jar is marked with a "P" so we can be sure it is from the Lowrie workshop. 
Tall jar 23 cm

The difficult issue is that both Beach and Lowrie used a very similar brown glaze with gold highlights. Peter Lowrie tells me that his was slightly lighter than Beach, but I am struggling to differentiate between the two. Peter Lowrie worked at the Beach factory, and it is likely that he continued to use some of Peter Beach’s recipes and techniques after he set up on his own. 

I am confident that raised lettering is a defining feature of Lowrie’s work – Beach scratched or pressed their lettering into to the soft clay. 

Occasionally you come upon a piece of Lowrie ware decorated like these vases and the lidded bowl. Buy it!   The technique is known as Snywerk and any that we see in New Zealand was almost certainly done by Daniel Steenstra, who learned the craft when he was growing up in Holland.   
Photo courtesy Peter Lowrie

Lidded bowl H 7 cm

Vase H 22 cm

Peter did his own selling, mainly to craft shops, hardware outlets, souvenir shops or florists. When he first started he also sold at home parties similar to the Tupperware system.
Peter occasionally employed part-time fettlers, but mainly he and Danny Steenstra produced the considerable output of this ware on their own.  The ware made by Peter Lowrie is not widely recognised, but I am picking that in years to come it will become just as collectable as the work of better known manufacturers. 

Note that there are still gaps in our knowledge of Peter Lowrie's work.  Comments and questions happily received! 

All the best meanwhile. 


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