Sunday, 9 October 2011

Len Castle: Potter

Len Castle

Len Castle 1924 - 2011

Len Castle is recognised as one of New Zealand's master potters with a career that spanned more than sixty years.  Primarily based in Auckland, Len trained as a secondary school science teacher, and had his first introduction to pottery making in 1947.  In 1963 he made the move to leave his job as a science lecturer and become a professional potter. He worked as a fulltime practioner as long as he could.

The following is an excerpt from "Playing with Fire - Auckland Studio Potters turns 50" Published 2011. A Conversation with Tanya Wilkinson.

  "My career has encompassed the emergence, flowering and later transformation of the 20th century craft movement. During that time my highlights have been represented by numerous minor and several major peaks.
   "One of the first peaks was discovering the magic of making forms on a potter's wheel. In 1947 I obtained a copy of Bernard Leach's A Potter's Book, which illuminated the practical aspects of making high-fired pottery and workshop methods."

Excerpt from Sunday Star Times:
  "Castle first exhibited in 1949. He said that one work sold and weeks later he discovered the mystery buyer was his mother.

  ''I was so elated somebody would hand over money for something I had made. It gave me the confidence to carry on.

  ''The locals probably used to think I was a bit loopy. I used to take a wheelbarrow down the suburban streets of Westmere, park it up on the footpath the disappear down a bank to the beach, dig my clay from beneath the sand, carry it up in sacks and wheelbarrow it home.''

 In 1957 Len traveled to Bernard Leach's St Ives Pottery after receiving a scholarship from the Association of NZ Art Societies. 

In 1963 Len Castle was elected to be a member of the ASP committee.  

Another Arts Council grant in 1966 facilitated a trip to Japan where he became interested in shino glazing and the firing that creates the best effects. 

   "While in Japan I developed a passion for shino pottery, quite often not so much for the forms that carried the glaze but the glaze itself." (Playing with Fire)

There followed a period of experimental and the resolve to become a professional potter.

 "From the late 1960s interest blossomed and I decided I would try selling from home rather than have the hassle of packing and supplying the many galleries who wanted my work. We held open weekends often outside in a natural setting.  These were very successful and were our main means of generating an income through the late 1960s and 1970s." (Playing with Fire)

Len received a CBE for Services to Pottery in 1986, and a New Zealand Commemorative Medal in 1990 for services to the country.

In 1994 'Making the Molecules Dance' was the title for Len Castle's  retrospective exhibition based on his work made between 1947 and 1994. It was curated by James Mack, director of the Dowse Art Museum. It toured the country and helped Len become a national icon.  Len toured extensively, demonstrating and judging exhibitions. He exhibited world-wide, including Australia,Taiwan, Japan, the Netherlands,Sweden, USA and England (Victoria and Albert Museum).

Len Castle received an Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award in 2003, and a Distinguished Alumni Award from the University of Auckland in 2004. In 2004 he was also awarded a D.C.N.Z.M (Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit) for Services to Pottery. In 2010 Len was awarded a knighthood but would not accept the title 'Sir'.

An exhibition of around sixy works entitled Len Castle: Mountain to the Sea was organised and curated by Tanya Wilkinson with support from Hawke's Bay Museum & Art Gallery and Creative New Zealand, it toured to selected galleries around New Zealand thoughout 2009 and into 2010.

Len Castle also produced two pottery books Len Castle: Potter 2002 Ron Sang Publications which received a Montana Book Award for Best Illustrative Book and Len Castle: Making the Molecules Dance 2009 Lopdell House Publication which received the New Zealand Post Award for best illustrative non-fiction.


References: Sunday Star Times,, Playing With Fire publication.

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