Thursday, April 17, 2014

Daniel Steenstra - hand potter

For years I have been meaning to do a post about Daniel Steenstra but I keep putting it off because I don't know enough. So I have finally decided to put down what I do know - we can always add to it later! I would very much appreciate any comments/corrections/further information on this post.. it has got a few assumptions, and more than a few gaps!

Meanwhile, here is a picture of Daniel Steenstra at work. It is taken from a large newspaper advertisement  - undated, but almost certainly 1960s. He was demonstrating his craft at the Crown Lynn shop in the Milne and Choyce department store in Queen Street, Auckland.
This is a vase which I am confident that Steenstra made and decorated. It was hand potted, then coloured slip was dabbed on to create a mottled effect. The horizontal lines are hand-incised grooves. He also made plant pots and lidded kitchen jars in the same style.
Another picture from the newspaper advertisement shows the types of vases Steenstra was making at the time. Imagine if you had all those on a shelf today...   The planter  in the top right hand corner is decorated in the same pattern as the vase above.
This link on the New Zealand Pottery site will take you through to a very interesting range of examples of work believed to be by Daniel Steenstra. (except that nothing in my records would indicate that he made the dogs shown in one post.)
Daniel Steenstra began work at Crown Lynn in 1953, and worked there for about 20 years. Occasionally during downturns he was put off, and had to find work elsewhere.  In the end, as Crown Lynn became more mechanised, his skills became less and less relevant and he moved to Beach Artware, a much smaller pottery.  He died in 2000 before I began my Crown Lynn research but in 2004-2005 I spoke to his wife Wendy and his son Dominicus, and also to Israe Paraone, who  worked closely with him in the 1970s.  
For many years I have struggled with a basic conflict over Daniel Steenstra. Some people told me he decorated his own work; others said his vases were painted by Crown Lynn hand decorators such as Frank Carpay, Doris Bird and Eileen Machin. Happily, I think I am now a bit clearer about this question. One clue is in my interview notes with Israe Paraone, who  told me that Steenstra did paint his own work, and described his technique (see below).  My interview notes from Eileen Machin tell me that some Steenstra pots were hand painted by Eileen and her colleagues, while others - described as 'outdoor pots' were slip banded by Daniel on the wheel.
So my educated guess is that Steenstra decorated vases and planters in the style of my vase above, and that he also occasionally decorated other items, but most of his vases were hand painted by other people.
Everyone who spoke about Steenstra told me that he was incredibly skilled with his hands. Israe Paraone told me that he could roll a cigarette one-handed, in his pocket. 'He would roll my cigarettes for the day – and look at you and grin.'  (EDIT - I did have a reference here to Steenstra's hands being damaged in the war, but his family says that is not true so I have removed it.)
Israe described Steenstra's decorating technique like this: ' Danny would … mix up all the slip and glazes that go together in the weirdest way, use part of a torn old jumper, (as a paintbrush) and he would have two fish swimming underwater in the weirdest way...He was a very humorous, very talented, very funny guy. He had a quiet pride, he didn’t need the acclaim.'
Israe and Dominicus both told me that Daniel Steenstra helped the design team by making one-off samples as they were developing new shapes, and Israe said he also understood machinery and was a powerful innovator in how some of the processes at Crown Lynn evolved.
Both Crown Lynn founder Sir Tom Clark, and long-term finance manager and later GM Colin Leitch told me that Steenstra made lots and lots of very small items.  Many were decorated in white, said Colin. This little treasure, no more than 6 cm tall, was found by John Shears - thanks John for the photos.  
Steenstra's  skills were such that he could hand-pot a jar and lid, and the lid would fit perfectly without measuring; this is a highly technical skill. Sir Tom told me that Steenstra was 'the sharpest smartest thrower you ever saw in your life. Just throwing. One piece after the other, boom boom boom ....he was a very hard worker. Did a tremendous job.'  However Sir Tom told me he fell out with Dan Steenstra over money - he wanted more pay than Tom was prepared to give.

It is generally believed that these larger green vases with white dots were also made and decorated by Dan Steenstra, though I have not yet seen any documentation to confirm this. (photo thanks to Geoffrey and Brenda Clark). I have read that there were eight different vase shapes in this style.
Lastly, I have a handful of other small vases which I believe were made by Daniel Steenstra though once again I have no proof.  Somewhere I have a note that he made little 'baroque' vases - but for the life of me I can't find that note now when I need it! At any rate, here are my small vases, the largest is only 8 cm tall. This is not the first time these vases have appeared on this site.. forgive me, but I do love them!
So. I hope that as time goes by we can put together more and more pieces of the Daniel Steenstra puzzle. He is one of the many unsung heroes of Crown Lynn.

NOTE... After I posted this, Ev from the New Zealand Pottery site gave me a link to the Auckland Museum Library site, which has some photos of Daniel Steenstra at work.  It's a bit tricky - click on the link below, then click on the listing for Crown Lynn, then you  will see eight pages of listings of photos etc. The pics of Steenstra are on pages 7 and 8.

But now it's stopped raining (finally) and I am going to see what's left in our vege garden after a week of rain and wind and rain and wind...

Take care



  1. Found 9 photos from the Auckland Museum collection of Daniel Steenstra ...

    1. Ev this is driving me nuts... this link does not appear to work and I can't find where you searched on the Auckland Museum catalogue.. help!

  2. Thanks very much Ev. I will add this link to the main body of my post as well.

  3. this is great to know. I think I just found a tiny Steenstra for CL yellow vase.

  4. Just what I was looking for. Thank you so much for recording and sharing your knowledge.