ASP Presidents for first 25 years:
Officially the Auckland Studio Potters Society came into being in March 1961 but prior to that, as early as 1925 the stage was being set for the growth and beginnings of the studio pottery movement in Auckland. Briar Gardner had watched pipes being extruded and flanges expertly turned at the family’s Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Co. And so began a long association with the lovely plastic stuff. Wheels were installed in the brick yards and Briar soon built up a collection of pots and bisque them in a brick kiln. Made of coarse pipe clay they were decorated with barbola, paint and gold lacquer and were to be the basis for her first show in 1925. None of the technical data so readily available now was at hand to assist Briar and another forerunner, Olive Jones, in their search for that elusive effect towards which they were constantly striving. Olive had been a student in London at the same time as another NZer Robert Field and in 1934 they both returned to NZ, Robert Field to a teaching position in Dunedin and Olive to set p her own pottery in Auckland. Her first kiln was an oil burner built in the back yard in a 300 gallon iron tank. With the war years, the shortage of imports led to increased demand for locally made goods. Olive built a larger kiln and Briar left the brick yards and built an oil fired kiln in her own back yard and both continued to hold exhibitions throughout the forties.
Yugoslav, Jova Rancich, who had arrived to first work on the gumfields and then as a stonemason, was driven during the depression to revive potting skills learned as a youth in his native Serbia. He tried to interest Briar Gardner in partnering him in the workshop/pottery he started in Titirangi Road. He made coffee mugs when NZers thought it was peculiar not to drink tea. The assured forms of his brightly glazed pots were an attraction to passing motorists playing some part in fostering the growing public interest in studio pottery.
At the conclusion of the war the American Services Hospital became Avondale College and training of workers for the nearby Crown Lynn works was undertaken. Soon the Education Department was prevailed upon to start night classes in pottery and Robert Field came from Dunedin to take charge of this programme. This was in 1945 and many studio potters began their clay involvement there.
Pat Perrin, after wartime service in the Wrens, attended sculpture classes at Elam and on the advice of the late Murray McNair joined the pottery class under Field's tuition thereby starting a long association with pottery. She was the first tutor at the Adult Education classes and for many years taught night classes at Avondale College, and also taught at the ASP for many years. Just a few more names recalled from those Avondale days are Paula King, Len Castle, Betty Brookes, Peter Stichbury, Nancy and Martin Beck, Mavis Robinson, Ron Hall and Melva Firth.
Len Castle went onto the Training College staff and had his early pots salt glazed in the brickwork kilns. He was awarded the Fellowship of the Association of N.Z. Arts Societies for overseas study and spent 1956-7 working in the Bernard Leach Potteries in St Ives, Cornwall. Peter Stichbury also received this Fellowship in 1958 and used it for study, both with Leach and with Michael Cardew in Nigeria. He was on the staff at Ardmore Teachers' College for many years on his return to New Zealand.
The Becks had their kiln and studio at Takapuna and exhibited widely. The late Martin became the first ASP President in 1961. Small groups around Auckland sprang up around this time; meeting to exchange ideas and technique advances with larger groups meeting in Summer Schools at the Adult Education Centre in Symonds Street. The Auckland Society of Arts used to have an annual exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery in which pottery made by the exhibiting members was included. Briar Gardner, Olive Jones, Len Castle and Pat Perrin were represented in these exhibitions, which continued until the formation of Auckland Studio Potters when many of these smaller groups amalgamated.
North Shore Group and the First President:
In 1950 two people in the Auckland area decided to go potting full time, they were Ian Firth and Peter Webb, they opened “Ceramicraft Studios” , initially at 492 Queen Street, City and later moved it to larger premises at 37c Bartley Terrace, (an old mews) Devonport. It was large and airy, ideal for potting activies and gave inspiration to form a potting club. A meeting was called early in 1951 of people in the area interested in involved in pottery and as a result, ‘The North Shore Society of Potters’ was born. Regular meetings were held at the studio interspersed with meetings in the home of Martin and Nancy Beck in Ewen St , Takapuna. Eric Westbrook of the Auckland Art Gallery was elected patron and among others present were Melva Firth, Betty Brookes, Barry Brickell, Kath Caughly, Ron Clear, Peter Webb and Ian Firth. Eventually this group decided it was time to form an Auckland Group and Martin Beck became the president in 1961 of what is now Auckland Studio Potters.
Quote from NZ Potter Volume 4/1:
“At a general meeting of Auckland potters called last March, a group called the Auckland Studio Potters was constituted. Chairman, LM Beck, Secretary, Mrs B Brookes, Treasurer Miss M Robinson, Committee members: Mesdames M Milne, P King, Misses O Jones, P Perrin, V Clear, M Hardwick-Smith, Messrs P Stichbury, D Pierce, T Bayliss, D Watkins. The Auckland Museum authorities have made available their Assembly Hall for limited meetings of the group and so far two meetings have been held. The first was a general discussion with colour slides of previous New Zealand Potter’s Exhibitions and of Peter Stichbury’s Nigerian experiences; the second an address by Wallace Gunson on Oriental Ceramics illustrated by actual pots. Plans are being finalised for an Auckland Provincial Potter’s Exhibition to be held at the Museum from 30th August to 10th September. Entries are limited to potters in the Auckland Province, and the closing date is Friday, 11th August.”
In those early days there were three main centres of pottery in Auckland, New Vision under Tina Hos, Dan Pierce’s Art of the Potter and the Auckland Potters with Martin Beck.
The first exhibition was held in August 1961 at the Auckland Museum. It was titled the First Auckland Provincial Potters Exhibition and was opened by Mr Vernon Brown. Mrs Betty Brookes and Mr Trevor Bayliss, both of them museum staff and keen potters were responsible for the display. Demonstrations of throwing, coiling etc were given daily, proving popular with the public. Twenty seven potters contributed one hundred and fifty entries with most of the better known names represented and a few newcomers emerging.
1962 started with an Art and Design School run by the Council of Adult Education held at the University. Pottery tutors were Graeme Storm and Barry Brickell. In January 1962 Bernard Leach came to NZ starting a tour of Potters groups in Wellington. On arriving in Auckland he was given a civic reception at Crown Lynn Potteries and inspection of the works. He also gave a lecture evening to Auckland Studio Potters at the Museum. On February 7 he was taken to Coromandel for the day in a chartered amphibian by Graeme Storm, Barry Brickell and Jane Buckley.
Bernard Leach excerpt by Trevor Bayliss:
Bernard Leach was the guest of the NZ potters in 1962. He was then of course, long past active potting apart from the odd excursion to the whell and his visit was mainly concerned with extolling his philosophy of potting which at that time was literally the framework upon which all the studio pottery of the Western world was built excepting perhaps some odd spirits such as those on the Californian coast.
It is difficult now to visualise how completely Leach dominated the pottery scene. Although stoneware studio pottery in the West had started before Leach was born, continuing through the Martin Brothers and Staite Murray, it was Leach who finally formed that amalgam of Chinese-Japanese-Western studio pottery that was to dominate Auckland Studio Pottery until the present decade.
Review of Fourth Exhibition, Auckland Museum, October 1964
In general the Auckland potters seemed to have climbed on to a reasonably high but rather drab plateau. This particular showing offered no surprises and little promise. This is perhaps not a bad thing, particularly in view of the level of accomplishment, apart from a few lapses in taste and sensibility nothing was particularly offensive. By the same token, however, it was impossible to feel much joy in the presence of these round brown pots.
A notable exception to the prevailing dreariness was Graeme Storm’s purple stoneware bottle and blue-white stoneware bowl, both of which offered some promise of a new direction.
I will leave it here, Friday 11 March an exhibition of Graeme Storm's work opens at the Gus Fisher Gallery.