addresses the influences of Michael Cardew on pottery in Australia.
It is structured around three major questions: 1) What was Cardews
influence on the philosophy of artist potters in Australia and the lifestyles
they chose to follow? 2) What was Cardews influence on the technical
knowledge of pottery students and potters as a result of the publication
of Pioneer Pottery in Australia? 3) What was the impact of Cardews
teaching and entrepreneurial skills developed in West Africa upon establishing,
along with Ivan McMeekin, the Bagot Pottery in Darwin for the aborigines
in that settlement and eventually upon the subsequent Tiwi Pottery on
The methods employed
in this research involved a brief literature review of Australian pottery
and craft texts and journals, and in-depth interviews with two cohorts
of potters: those whose careers commenced in the 1960s and 1970s, and
those who have come more lately to ceramics. Through analysis of the
literature and the interview data, themes were identified and some conclusions
drawn with regard to the research questions. This paper seeks to represent
the voices of a small number of artist potters supported by authorities
in the field.
When I first considered the possibility of researching Michael Cardews
influences on Australian pottery for this symposium, I was aware of having
two dominating perceptions about Australian pottery. From my experiences
in the early 1970s of working for a studio-potter, I recalled the talk
that centred around Leach and Hamada, and Leachs A Potters
Book, as the major influences for Australians. Also, our geographical
proximity with Japan, made it a more likely destination for potters to
seek further training and inspiration than Britain. So my memory was that
the Anglo-Japanese influence seemed to be the dominant one, at that time.
In the short period that I
had for this research, I needed an approach that was manageable but also
reflected a broad view of the influences on Australian pottery. To achieve
this broad view I planned to read and outline the relevant literature,
journals, books and videos. Some current information was also sought through
the electronic source, the world-wide web. This data has provided a context
for a small number of in-depth interviews carried out with potters in
the Bendigo region. Let me emphasise that I make no claims to this sample
being representative of potters as a whole in Australia. In fact they
are a very biased sample, many having trained in Bendigo. Nor is there
any attempt to achieve a gender balance. However there are two recognisable
cohorts: recently trained potters and those who have been working since
the 1970s. The purpose of the interviews is to provide rich data about
the philosophies, practices and works of the potters in an attempt to
reveal the extent of Cardews influence on their lives and work
This paper will, first, refer
to the literature. Second, Cardews influence on the establishment
of potteries for aboriginal people in Australia will be examined. Third,
the interviews with Australian potters will be discussed. Finally, I will
draw some conclusions about Cardews broader influences on pottery
There are three major pottery journals available in Australia. Pottery
in Australia was first published by Janet Mansfield in 1961 and is
still in publication. In 1990, Mansfield introduced Ceramics: Art and
Perception as the former no longer fitted her more global editorial
vision. A third journal which is concerned with technical and scientific
aspects of the potters' craft was also introduced by Mansfield but it
has not been reviewed here.
Pottery in Australia
remains as it commenced an informative journal for practitioners. From
Volume 7 Michael Cardews name appears fairly regularly in the index.
In Volume 8 there is a review by Ivan McMeekin of Pioneer Pottery.
McMeekin describes the book thus:
years many potters have felt the need of a book that could act as a sequel
to Leachs book, both freeing them perhaps from too great a dependence
on Japanese technique and usage, and at the same time enabling them to
progress further in the development of pottery that lives and grows out
of its own environment.1
He saw the book as valuable
for the technical and practical information which it contained and also
for the ideas that would assist sceptics to accept pottery as an art.
There are three important points here that I will return to at a later
time: first, the notion of pottery that lives and grows out of its
own environment; second, the value of sound technical information
for the potter; and third, the practical information drawn from Cardews
knowledge of the traditional handcraft skills of the country potter.
References to Michael Cardew
in the journals fall into several categories for the twenty-five year
period 1968-1993 (based on the Index printed in 1993 for Pottery in
Australia and my scanning of Ceramics: Art and Perception).
Some articles and references are about Cardew, his life and work. Others
cite Pioneer Pottery or relate to technical and practical information
provided by Cardew. Another group refer to the establishment of potteries
in aboriginal communities based on Cardews experiences in West Africa.
These categories were useful in considering a conceptual framework for
the in-depth interviews with the potters. Rather than review the articles
which would be a lengthy process, I have chosen instead to append them
as a Bibliography, to assist further research.
of Articles (1968-1993)
his life and work
and practical information
in aboriginal communities
1. Journal articles which refer to Cardew (1968-1993).
Potteries in Aboriginal
The introduction of pottery to aboriginal communities was to be most successful
in the Tiwi Islands, also known as the Melville and Bathurst Islands,
which lie directly to the north of Darwin in the Arafura Sea. The pottery
here was established by Eddie Puruntatameri who had learned his craft
at the Bagot pottery started by Ivan McMeekin and Michael Cardew in Darwin.
McMeekin who was involved with the original planning and preparation
for the Bagot initiative writes:
decided to set up a Pottery Training Unit and a Materials Processing
Unit on Bagot Aboriginal Reserve, Darwin, and to establish teaching
facilities for the training of pottery teachers at Kormilda College
near Darwin, where much of the teacher training is carried on. Also
to establish facilities at Bagot for Adult Education pottery classes
The aim was to provide full
time training for aborigines who hoped to become artist-potters. McMeekin
had done the testing of local clay bodies and minerals at the University
of New South Wales and furthermore had invited Michael Cardew to take
part in the project. His past association as an assistant and colleague
of Cardew was to be an important link in the spread of Cardews influence
arrived in May 1968, he started training six aboriginal men, including
Eddie Puruntatameri from the Tiwi Islands. A further program commenced
training aboriginal teaching assistants drawn from Arnhem Land and the
Centre. Cardew was assisted by Alistair Hallum from New Zealand and spent
six months at Bagot. During this time it was evident that the students
learnt the practical potting skills quickly and brought sensitivity
and well developed feeling for pattern to their work3
however McMeekin, in this article, expresses some concern for the long
term survival of the pottery.
people had probably had some contact with the use and making of pottery
through the Macassan trepang fishermen who visited the northern coast,
however, as semi-nomadic hunters and gatherers they had no real use for
pottery. They valued and used clay for painting on bark, rock faces and
the body, so they knew its best sources. For a people in transition in
the 1960s, the pottery at Bagot was seen as a means to introduce new techniques
to the aboriginal craftsmen and was based on the philosophy of the artist-craftsman
rather than an industrial model. As McMeekin explains, not only would
quality hand made pottery be produced for the community, but also it would
provide the craftsmen with a medium of expression and fulfilment and a
means to find a satisfactory relationship with this wider community
of some few million people of varied extraction that now inhabit Australia.4
pottery at Bagot appeared to survive until 1975, when it was wiped out
by Cyclone Tracey and not rebuilt, its successes have not been recorded
in the literature. There is some indication of the limited success of
its original aim of training aboriginal potters who could return to their
own communities and set up pottery workshops.5
the important outcome from the Bagot experience was the return to Bathurst
Island of Eddie Puruntatameri, where, assisted by Madelaine Clear6
and with the support of the Catholic Bishop of Darwin and grants from
the Australian Council for the Arts and the Aboriginal Arts Board, he
was able to establish The Tiwi Pottery. A silkscreen printing workshop
was already in place and making its name throughout Australia. John Bosco
Tipiloura, who had also trained at Bagot, joined the pottery and with
the ongoing expertise and assistance from the University of New South
Wales staff the pottery became an artistic and commercial success.
exhibitions of the Tiwi Island pottery were held in Sydney at Alladin
Gallery in February 1977, and at the Potters Gallery in March 1980. According
to Cochrane The forms of the pots very much reflected the original
Cardew-McMeekin training, but Tiwi decoration replaced Japanese brushwork.7
She continues: The Tiwi potters painted selected parts of their
stories on the pots and, like those screen printing, added figurative
images of the land and the sea life around them.
Puruntatameri left the pottery in 1982 and moved to Melville Island
where he established Pirlangimpi Pottery in 1985. In July 1996, a Commemorative
Exhibition was held in Parliament House, Canberra to celebrate his life
and work. 8
Tiwi Pottery went through a quiet period during which the manager of Tiwi
Designs brought about some significant changes. He purchased clay rather
than having it dug locally and replaced the wood fired kiln with one fired
by gas. By putting emphasis on the decoration of the works rather than
the technical aspects of clay and pot production, a small team led by
Jock Puautijimi started work again in 1991.9 Again after
a brief closure in 1996, the pottery started up in 1999, and was the winner
of the 16th Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in Darwin
in that year. Well publicised through their web page, the pottery is now
available for sale around the world.10 Today works by
Tiwi potters are held in major public and private collections in Australia
Another pottery, inspired
by Cardews work in Africa, was started in 1969 in Cherbourg, Queensland.
However excessive control by government departments and their views about
what pottery was suitable for the tourist trade undermined the initial
attempts of introducing a small scale industry to utilise the local resources
and provide employment for local people. Kevin Grealy who started as instructor
at the Barambah Pottery in Cherbourg in 1974, reflected several years
that the schemes to introduce pottery to Aboriginal communities in Queensland
have failed because partially in that they have tried artificially to
make pottery a part of traditional culture, rather than allowing it
to exist as a possible medium for the transition from the traditional
to the contemporary. 11
Grealys resistance to government departments he despairs that How
sad it is that the whims of a largely foreign tourist market should determine
for a group of aboriginal potters what their work should look like.
However, he comments on how he is heartened by the Tiwi Pottery experience
on Bathurst Island.12
The role of paternalism in
limiting the control of the pottery by the aboriginal artist-potters at
Cherbourg must have been an influential factor on its eventual decline.
Paternalism was expressed to a greater degree, by governmental agencies
who promoted their own agenda, such as tourism in Queensland, and to a
lesser degree by the white Australian instructors who felt that they could
contribute to the improvement of the lives of those with whom they worked.
Grealy is sensitive to this latter effect:
went to Cherbourg with typical white Australian ethnocentricity, to
give of what knowledge and experiencemight be useful or wanted. I came
away much richer than did any of the people with whom I worked and lived
am heartened by
the developments at Bathurst Island. I hope that
one day, soon, enlightened people will allow the freedom necessary for
Barambah potters to find their place.13
Aboriginal pottery at Hermannsburg in the Central Desert, has a history
that precedes Bagot and other initiatives. Cochrane14
refers to attempts made by a German missionary to introduce pottery in
the late 1930s. Hermannsburg Mission was also the home of Albert Namatjira,
known for his watercolour painting so there was a tradition from before
World War II of aboriginal artists using introduced techniques and media.
In the early 1960s, an employee of the mission, V.A. Jaensch, conceived
of introducing figurine modelling to the aborigines at the mission. After
testing clays and building a kiln, the workshop was established but about
eighteen months later the project apparently ended.15
The current success of this pottery is partly because of this background
and the more recent decision to follow feminine rather than masculine
Pottery was reintroduced to
Hermannsburg in the late 1980s, and Naomi Sharp was employed as teacher
in 1990. Sharp rejected the predominantly British aesthetic and masculinist
approach to pottery that had been part of the Cardew-McMeekin influence
on Bagot and Tiwi. Drawing instead on the female traditions of North American
Indian Pueblo pottery, she introduced the women to simple rounded hand
built forms in terra cotta, which required a minimum of equipment,
and an approach to decoration sympathetic to the innovative graphic
traditions of the region, namely the Hermannsburg School of watercolour
landscape painting and Central Desert acrylics, both of which are familiar
to the potters.16
work is made even more distinctive with modelled and applied decoration,
continuing the tradition of earlier work in the 60s. While artistic freedom
is important to the Hermannsburg potters and they reject demands for work
of a souvenir nature, they have as a result received a
sometimes cool reception in the market place.17
The potteries of Hermannsberg
and the Tiwi Islands are examples of aboriginal groups who have adopted
non-traditional media and techniques and have made a successful transition
into contemporary art making. The work, I would suggest, demonstrates
creative self -expression and personal fulfilment in this engagement,
objectives originally set out for McMeekin's Bagot project.
Interviews with the Potters
Interviews were carried out with eight Victorian potters. When thematised
the data from the interviews fell under a number of headings: Training,
Technical Sources, Style and Tradition, Lifestyle, Changes Since the 1980s,
Cardew's Work with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa and Australia, and
Cardew's Main Influence on Australia. Where possible in the following
discussion I have allowed the potters to speak for themselves. I then
draw some conclusions from the study.
The snowball sampling
used in this oral history research leads inevitably to a biased sample.
However, the interviews revealed that the potters had a wide range of
experiences with regard to their training despite the majority being located
in Bendigo. Of the two established potters which were the exceptions,
Chris Pepper, in Geelong, gained his training at St Francis School in
Hooke near Beaumister in Dorset. Rob Barron, in Kardella, was associated
with Cardew mainly through a number of people who were ex-students starting
with Peter Stichbury in 1979 from New Zealand and Kent Benson who was
in Nigeria, now in Montreal.
I also spent time at
Cornwall Ridge Pottery in Connecticut with Todd Piker and Mark Hewat
who had worked with Cardew. While I was there Svend Bayer and Michael
Cardew visited. I didnt train through the college or university
system because I didnt like the direction they were going. So
I traveled and worked with potters whom I knew could give me a strong
foundation. (Rob Barron)
David Stuchberry trained initially
at Bendigo and then was apprenticed to David Eeles in Dorset and also
assisted Svend Bayer for a short time. Graeme Masters trained at Bendigo
and then worked with Neville Wilson who had also been apprenticed to David
Eeles. Les Macleman was apprenticed to Len Bell who had worked with John
Davidson in Cornwall.
recalls his early training:
Bendigo pottery at that
time worked very much in the same vein that I would imagine the old
English potteries did. And they were pretty generous because they would
allow us as students to go out there and watch these guys throwing the
production range of wares. Like Alec Gill making the big bottles, like
wine casks. Yes, they were that shape, sort of like acid jars. And they
made a whole range of stuff using the potters wheel. And it is very
interesting to look at films now of people like Michael Cardew and George
Curtis who is on a film called Big Ware and the techniques
that they used then and that they show on these films is exactly
what they were doing out at Bendigo Pottery.
The three early career potters
had trained at Bendigo with David Stuchberry. Richard Wade is now working
at Bendigo Pottery in Epsom. The two women Jan Maxwell and Gillian Rose
are completing a Graduate Diploma in Secondary Teaching.
The older potters all had
strong links with the British tradition, and the early career potters
were introduced to the British tradition by David Stuchberry in the second
year of their course.
The potters sought technical information from the potters with whom they
trained and were associated and in the courses they took. When asked which
pottery texts they purchased or used for reference they listed the range
of references as tabled below:
A Potters Book
|D. Rhodes - Clay
and Glazes, Pottery Form
|Pottery in Australia
Table 2. Textual Sources
Style and Tradition
The established potters aligned themselves with the British and European
traditions with some influences from Japan and China. Chris Pepper saw
his tradition as European and therefore avoided Asian traditions. He saw
Bernard Leach as his strongest influence although his early work was earthenware.
This reflected the influence of his teacher and mentor Brother William
from Dorset whose own work was earthenware with slip decoration. David
Stuchberry was influenced directly by the shape and structure of Cardews
pots, the placement of handles and the economy of form governed by working
on a kick wheel. However, David looks to China when developing glazes.
Les Macleman decorates with slip which he sees as British yet throws off
the hump which is a Japanese influence. Graeme Masters said he consciously
tried to avoid influences and has focussed on developing the sculptural
relief decoration which is a striking aspect of his work. However, he
admits the forms are predominantly British, except when his sculptural
work refers to Bendigos Chinese heritage.
The early career potters see
their work differently. The traditions to which they have an affinity
are Chinese and Japanese. Jan Maxwell is eclectic in her sources:
I really enjoy using
primitive firing techniques and basing a lot of my work on ancient musical
instrument forms. I suppose that sculptural ceramics is a form of
postmodernism. However, when I do throw and make functional ware, I
use glazes that I developed at ... university mainly celadons,
chuns, tenmokus and the glaze on glaze effect. Therefore, I suppose
most of the glazes I use would be derived from the Chinese tradition.
Although Richard Wade works
at Bendigo Pottery where traditional British and European forms are evidenced
in the colonial style pottery that is produced there, his personal work
is in raku or in wood fired stoneware following Japanese traditions.
Rob Barron sums up how he
has responded as an Australian potter exposed to a range of influences
and how potters influenced by Cardew move off in further directions:
The people I worked with
overseas - it was like a melting pot of the British tradition, through
Michael Cardew. But I also love pottery from all over the world. I love
a whole lot of pots from China, Korea and Japan. Also from Spain. I
spent some time in Spain. So it is a European approach to begin with.
A lot of things about Cardews approach ring true today, but people
move on and have taken his approach further. Cardews people have
looked farther afield. Svend Bayer for instance
also looked at
the making of large pots in Korea. In Cardews later writings he
questioned his initial rejection of using rib tools on the exterior
of the pot. The use of firm wooden or steel ribs wasnt part of
his early practice. Others who have looked more deeply into traditional
pottery techniques, in places where there has been a long and continuous
tradition, for example, in Korea, the kimchi pickle jars and in
Spain, the water jars, found that most of these large jars were made
with an inflexible rib on the outside. Those who love traditional work,
love those pots and have gone to see how this traditional work is done.
So Cardew students have taken up the use of ribs on the outside of pots.
David Stuchberry spoke at
length about his time with Svend Bayer and the traditions to which he
The beauty of working
with Svend was that I feel that what Cardews work offered was
very strong forms. If you look at the west country potters at the turn
of the century (19th to 20th) the beautiful old pitchers, jugs, from
Fremington, and the various storage vessels for grains and they just
have a lovely simplicity which you will find right across a whole range
of different cultures and the same thing stems across to la Borne in
France where Gwyn Hanssen Pigott ended up. Cardews pots, he refers
to heart and soul in his pots. And another thing that Michael Cardew
refers to with his pots is pots having a skeleton so that there is an
actual structure underneath changes of direction and the placement of
handles and the strength of the rim.
The current variety in Australian
ceramics is a result of a cross-fertilisation of ideas, techniques and
traditions. All the potters that I interviewed refer to a range of influences
upon their training and works, a blending of the traditions of East and
West. While the potters with established careers see Michael Cardew as
directly influencing ceramics in Australia over the last half of the twentieth
century, the younger or early career potters see his influence as less
direct, passed on through their teachers in tertiary institutions.
The Arts and Crafts Movement of the late nineteenth century was a reaction
against the mass production of goods such as tableware and pottery. Cardews
initial desire was to return the production of pottery to the rural pottery
workshop such as the Fremington Pottery of Edwin Beer Fishley in Devon,
that he visited as a child. This was his challenge at Winchcombe. However,
the changes to the day to day way of life of people in the early twentieth
century made such potteries anachronistic. As Garth Clark (1978: 31) wrote:
Armed with more enthusiasm
than capital, Cardew set about recreating the very type of pottery that
the full weight of a society in transition was busy erasing.
Something of that rural workshop
ideal has stayed with Australian potters. While romanticism and idealism
may have driven these potters in the early stages of their careers, they
all agree now that the current economic circumstances and changes in pottery
trends have almost wiped out a rural lifestyle in which potters can support
themselves by their craft.
Well I suppose as a potter
you are an artist and you use your skills to produce the pots that people
can use in a utilitarian sense. You also use them as a vessel to put
your art work on. And that all sort of goes hand in hand with the lifestyle.
Thats why we are out here in the bush. It is an lifestyle
thing you dont do it for the financial reward, You dont
do it for the money. There would be a lot of similarities (with my way
of life and the British rural potter). I know David Eeles, he lived
out in the bush and I know one of the guys thatDavid Stuchberry
worked for, Svend Bayer, he was out in the country
I would align
myself with the country type domestic potter. And a lot of it did come
from where I worked at the pottery over at Maldon where we had the pottery
up in the granite country and I liked the granite country a lot and
I liked the boulders. And I liked the boulders because they reminded
me of Henry Moores work, the sculpture. The landscape stuff [I
make] has always got boulders in it.( Graeme Masters)
But it also harked back
to country living. Not living in the city. Living out of town a little
bit and having chooks running around. Gardens. There were a lot of people,
Neville Wilson did when he ran the Maldon Pottery. Living out of town,
there were a lot of potters in a lot of regions who set up small potteries
and had small galleries, but getting towards the end of the twentieth
century it just became more and more difficult. A lot of those potteries
closed down in Australia. (David Stuchberry)
The early career potters are
entering the world of work through teaching or production pottery hoping
to continue their craft in their free time. Gill Rose rejects the notion
of supporting herself through her pottery and sees her future in teaching.
Jan Maxwell and her husband, however, aspire to a particular lifestyle:
one of simplicity.
I just wanted to live very simply and produce pottery and sculptural
pieces and make a modest living whilst doing this. We decided to build
our own mudbrick house and studio (studio first), and in the future
we will be building a gallery, and hope to make a living by our own
hands. All I want to do is work with clay. It has become a passion and
an obsession for me from the moment that I first touched it.
Cardews commitment to
using local materials has also been pursued by a number of the older potters,
through a lack of availability of a commercial product in the first instance
and later through a preference of being able to control the qualities
of the clays and glazes they use. However, they also emphasise in order
to make a living, the studio potter really does not have time to do this
physical and technical work today.
There were very limited
resources for potters in Australia at the time. I could only buy clay
from Bendigo Pottery which was gritty and unpleasant to throw. So we
used to dig our own earthenware clay at a pit in Ballarat, process it
ourselves and make our own glazes mainly because there was nothing available
commercially. It was a case of need to. I then changed to stoneware
because the earthenware wasnt strong enough. Today the idea of
digging and preparing your own materials is unrealistic because to make
a living a potter hasnt got time to do all these things. Its
just not economically viable. (Chris Pepper)
Well its not important...
but I do get my clay [locally]. It comes from nine miles away. Ive
got my own filter press plant. I make my own clay but you dont
have to. You can buy all sorts of clay. Sometimes I think Im mad
to have all that plant. Yes I know,
the quality of the clay although
it is not a white clay, it is a very forgiving material when I start
to do my sculpture. Its only got a one in eleven shrinkage rate.
Changes Since the 1980s
Following the recession that we had to have (to quote the
Prime Minister of the time, Paul Keating), major structural changes to
the Australian economy and the removal of tariffs from imports have totally
undermined the way of life of the artists and particularly the studio
potter in Australia. The ensuing reduction in size of the public service,
including the teaching and nursing sector, longer working hours, increases
in the price of petrol, less disposable income and time available for
tourism have all contributed to the demise of the rural pottery workshop
and the galleries in country towns that sold their wares. Rob Barron who
has managed to tap into tourism is still pessimistic about the future:
The arts and crafts have
been caught rather on the back foot. Many leading longstanding galleries
have shut down, and selling through galleries one couldnt really
make a living. It is necessary to sell from the pottery door, to tap
into the local tourist market. People like coming around and watching
you work, and to look at the kiln. The problem is many potters have
stopped work and it gets to the stage where it all loses its critical
mass and there is no stimulus and exchange of ideas.
Graeme Masters is not prepared
to give up his rural lifestyle:
My contention is for
a potter to do well they have to be on a really major highway and where
youve got a bit of a reputation or where you are situated actually
brings people to it. It's sort of happening out at Bendigo Pottery,
everybody knows the Bendigo Pottery, and they are getting something
like 100,000 people through each year. And I know Les Macleman who works
out there, hes doing pretty well. But I wont compromise.
I like the situation here. I actually do make pots for Bendigo Pottery
and it sort of helps me out because I dont have to go out there
and make them, I can make them here and finish them, and it helps my
cash flow too. About the end, the mid 80s I actually had a couple of
people working for me and in the first year or so you have to get your
wholesale outlets organised and we were just doing that when we had
the recession we had to have. And virtually, just over night,
craft shops just pulled the pin.
For Les Macleman compromise
was necessary to continue potting:
It happened almost overnight
with the recession in 1987 and it hung on till 88 because everyone was
buoyed up by the bicentennial. But in 89 it just died overnight. There
was no point in making bread crocks after that. No one wants to buy
bread crocks. Mugs, at one stage you couldnt make enough
It just died overnight. So I was fortunate in that I was already starting
to paint bright colours on the pots and they were Australian. So I just
moved across slowly as I got better at it. So I make souvenir pots now
but I can make a living at it.
Another major change since
the 1980s was a move away from functional pottery by the buying public.
The market has changed,
but I think people had returned to earthenware and were working with
more colorful glazes, so the buying public were overlooking the more
subtle stoneware. Peoples priorities have also changed. (Rob Barron)
I think that it is lost
on them. If you look at the eighties and unfortunately in Australia
as the rest in the rest of the world we have been hit by American influences.
People eat take away foods. This is accountable for the loss of income
for a lot of crafts people. Dare I say it McDonalds where everything
is packaged in polystyrene
[but] I am now seeing people who are
doing more entertaining in the home. Id like to think that they
are buying craft pieces for when they are entertaining. Unfortunately
a lot of the smaller cottage industries are gone and that is a worry.
In the late 80s the market
narrowed. People werent interested in the earthy glazes;
they looked for colour and decoration in pottery. People dont
seem to be as interested in pottery as a handmade object but as a fashion
statement and potters are having to compete with inexpensive imports
that meet peoples needs for interior design. The potters that
have survived are the best and the most efficient and who have been
able to change glazes and decoration to appeal to the current fashion
trends. I have moved from simple wax resist to decorating with slip/glaze
mixtures to meet this market. (Chris Pepper)
The changes in approaches
in tertiary colleges resulted from a number of factors probably more to
do with the breakdown of the art/craft dualism in the 1970s than a shrinking
market for functional pottery. However several of the potters referred
to ceramics courses:
I think it was more in
the 70s that there was a move in the colleges towards a more sculptural
approach and away from the functional aspect and craftsmanship of pottery.
There seemed to be a philosophical void in the colleges so that is why
I chose to take a different direction for my training.(Rob Barron)
Well its gone more towards
the art of course because at least if you are training to be an artist
you dont expect to earn a living at the end of it, unless you
are really talented or you are great at self-promotion. Why would you
be teaching people to throw stoneware mugs when its impossible
to earn a living? When it was possible to earn a living in the 80s,
it was bloody hard work to learn to repetition throw 100 mugs in a day.
It was bloody hard but at least you earned a living out of it. Its
still bloody hard but you cant make any money out of it so why
do it? Of course there are still a few survivors. Its a
compliment to the lecturers who keep the courses going (Les Macleman)
David Stuchberry who has taught
in a ceramics department for twenty-two years is optimistic about the
future of functional pottery:
Interestingly now there
are younger people coming through who absolutely recognise the significance
of the Leach tradition and that is where you are looking at a strong
skill base. And a good understanding of the processes and the raw materials,
of the firing of wares, and ending up with some of the philosophies
that Michael Cardew had. The heart and soul of ware. It runs much deeper
than something that is flashy and Las Vegas. And people are recognising
Cardews Work with
the Indigenous Peoples of Africa and Australia
The potters with whom I spoke generally knew very little of this aspect
of Cardews career. David Stuchberry had heard Cardew speak about
this work on one of his visits to Australia. There was a general belief
amongst the interviewees that it was a difficult task introducing the
Australian aborigines to ceramics because they had no prior pottery tradition.
However, as I have written elsewhere in this paper, Cardews and
McMeekins influences in the Northern territory have continued on
with a viable industry in the Tiwi Islands, today being promoted widely
over the internet.
Cardews Main Influence
First, Cardews impact on Australia came about through his role along
with Leach and others in reinventing studio pottery. The pottery
classes and courses that started in the 1970s in technical and tertiary
institutions were based upon this concept of studio pottery the
craftsman potter earning a living through making pots.
Second, Pioneer Pottery
was one of the first real technical book[s] which gave people
a very solid understanding ofmaterials. This came out at a
time when there were limited technical resources in Australia. Along with
Leachs A Potters Book and books by Daniel Rhodes,
Pioneer Pottery became one of the main references for the potters.
Cardews inquiring mind and his concern for sourcing local materials
have also influenced the older potters.
Third, Cardews philosophy
about the nature of pottery, its functionality, its form and structure
is important to the potters interviewed: The heart and soul of the
ware.(D.S.); the importance of a strong skill base; and the knowledge
about practical and technical aspects of the craft. However, one potter
who has had to modify his work substantially to appeal to the overseas
tourist trade, felt that this influence of Cardews was no longer
relevant because potters could no longer live by producing functional
wares or a good gutsy pot (L.M.).
Fourth, Cardews influence,
through the efforts of Ivan McMeekin and persistence and support of his
colleagues at the University of New South Wales, has initiated an important
aboriginal pottery industry in the Northern Territory.
Finally, it was widely supported
that the most important influence of Cardew in Australia, arose out of
his generosity in sharing his knowledge and skills with the apprentices
he trained, through his travels, his talks and the workshops that he carried
out. As a result his students have spread out across the world in the
northern and southern hemispheres continuing on his ideas and practices.
One student and colleague, Ivan McMeekin, has had a huge influence in
Australia through his teaching at the University of New South Wales, his
work in the Northern Territory, his own technical publication on ceramics,
and most of all the Sturt Pottery in Mittagong where he passed on his
many skills to his apprentices. Gwyn Hanssen Pigott went on to spend time
with Cardew, as well as time in France, upon the advice of McMeekin
at Sturt. Svend Bayer, regarded as his most gifted student by Cardew,
has visited Bendigo and run workshops for students, imbuing another generation
of potters with Cardews philosophies on the nature of pottery and
on working as a studio potter.
While the Australian economy
currently does not support studio pottery (or the visual arts in general),
there is strong evidence to indicate that Cardews influences persist
among the older potters I interviewed and his ideas are being passed on
to the new generations of potters. While university courses promote sculptural
and conceptual work in ceramics, students are still encouraged, in Bendigo
at least, to develop a strong skill base through making functional pottery.
As David Stuchberry says:
Svend Bayer was here
two or three years ago. And that is through my connection. And you actually
get to know people through these different connections and you invite
them into the university and students get knowledge from them first
hand. The course here at Bendigo was originally based on studio ceramics
so we looked at functional aspects
from my own training and in
what I learned in regard to shape, form, and additions such as handle,
and firing techniques. I mean we run our own wood firing kilns here
and the students learn in the projects that they do. They cant
With regard to the buying
public, Les Macleman says:
If the next generation
discovers pottery again and they want potters and they discover this
old bloke working at Bendigo Pottery painting gum trees plus hes
making jugs. And they say theyre bloody wonderful jugs. I say
yeah, because when I was learning it was bloody important to make wonderful
jugs. I learnt that from my teacher and he learnt it from a guy in Cornwall
and he learnt from Bernard Leach. Leach and Michael Cardew both had
this concept of just making a good pot and that was all that mattered.
In his review of Cardew's Pioneer Pottery, Ivan McMeekin outlined
the particular contributions of this book to ceramics: first, the notion
of pottery that lives and grows out of its own environment;
second, the value of sound technical information for the potter; and third,
the practical information drawn from Cardews knowledge of the traditional
handcraft skills of the country potter.18
research supports all three and introduces another. The potters that I
researched and interviewed made pottery in response to a number
of influences both local and overseas. They produced pots that reflected
a richness resulting from a process of hybridity which is characteristic
of many aspects of Australian cultural production. In food, fashion and
the arts in general these multicultural influences and local materials
are melded together in often surprising ways. Some pottery reflects the
landscape in which the potter works in a literal way, some pottery conveys
symbols and stories of a traditional nature. Other work honours traditions
as diverse as British earthenware, Chinese stoneware or Japanese raku,
or relies on the philosophy of a tension or dialectic
between the demands of pure utility and those of pure beauty.19
A number of the potters interviewed used local materials where possible;
in Bendigo they sourced local clays and local woods for wood firing and
They sought information from
books such as Pioneer Pottery, and from their teachers who conveyed
the ways of doing things and the means to do them as passed on from their
own apprenticeships with potters in the British and Anglo-Japanese traditions.
developed solid skills in the handcraft tradition. In Cardews words
they have learnt that the technical processes and materials are paramount:
finding out what the material wants to say is the only way to say
anything through the material.20 Then they have
moved further along, developing their own personal directions. In some
cases the potters have set up rural potteries where they are best able
to focus on an approach to life that reflects the simplicity and honest
labour of making a living by our own hands and surrounding
themselves with beautiful handmade objects.
Probably the most important
contribution by Michael Cardew to pottery in Australia is his role in
developing a global network of potters who share those values expressed
here. This is particularly important to Australians because their inclusion
in the network breaks down the feeling of being on the periphery at a
distance from the centre, as we are in so many other aspects of life.
I believe this network is his most important legacy.
Appendix 1. Bibliographic
Pottery in Australia was first published by Janet Mansfield in
1961 and is still in publication. Mansfield introduced Ceramics: Art
and Perception in 1990.
References to Michael Cardew,
his life and work.
Cardew, Seth. Quality of Newness, Ceramics: Art and Perception,
(11), 1993, pp.8-10.
Davis, Harry. Hand Craft
Pottery: Whence and Whither, Pottery in Australia, 24 (1),
February March 1985, pp. 18-24.
Englund, Ivan. Michael
Cardew Retrospective Exhibition at Camden Art Centre, London, June 1977,
Pottery in Australia, 16 (1), Autumn 1977.
McMeekin, Ivan. In His
Own Words, Ceramics: Art and Perception, (13), 1993, pp.
Michael Cardew Biography.
Pottery in Australia, 7 (1), Autumn 1968: 18. Plate p.32. Teapot
made by Michael Cardew and his team of potters in Abuja, Northern Nigeria.
Pigott, Gwyn Hanssen. Obituary
for Ivan McMeekin 1919-1993, Ceramics: Art and Perception,
(13), 1993, p.94.
Pile, Dennis. The Leach
Link, Pottery in Australia, 11 (2), Winter 1972: 42-47.
Pritchard, Leon. Seminar
in Perth, Pottery in Australia, 8 (2), Winter 1969, pp. 14-15.
Rushworth, Peter . Training of Potters in the West, Pottery
in Australia, 7 (1), Autumn 1968, pp.8-13.
Timms, Peter. Ceramics
of Gwyn Hanssen Pigott, Ceramics: Art and Perception, (9),
Warren, Joyce. Australian
Studio Ceramics Historical Notes, Pottery in Australia, 19
(1), May June 1980, pp. 33-40.
References to Pioneer Pottery
or Cardews technical and practical expertise.
Cardew, Seth. Quality of Newness, Ceramics: Art and
Perception, (11), 1993, 8-10.
Cardew, Michael. Chun
Glazes, Pottery in Australia, 7 (1), Autumn 1968, pp.20-22.
Kovesi, Janet, Many
a Slip, Pottery in Australia, 12 (2), Winter 1979, p.20.
Lewis, Ivor. Cardew
Outback, Pottery in Australia, 33 (3), Spring 1994, 20-23.
McMeekin, Ivan. Book
Review: Pioneer Pottery, Pottery in Australia, 8(2), Spring
Review of David
Lewis Warren MacKenzie An American Potter, Ceramics:
Art and Perception, (8), 1992, pp.87-88.
Whitfield, Denis. An
Approach to Teaching and Learning About Stoneware Base Glazes, Pottery
in Australia, 22 (1), Autumn 1982, p.30.
References to Cardews
experiences in Nigeria, and at Bagot in Darwin.
Grealy, Kevin. Barambah Pottery Cherbourg, Pottery
in Australia, 16 (2), 1977, pp.3-7.
McMeekin, Ivan. A Speech
Given by Ivan McMeekin for the Opening, 4 March 1980, Pottery
in Australia, 19 (1), 1980, pp.20-22.
of Pottery to the Aborigines of the Northern Territory, Pottery
in Australia, 8 (2), Spring 1969, pp.17-24.
Bathurst Island, Pottery in Australia, 16 (1), 1977, pp.45-47.
Stewart , Andrew. Geoff
Crispin: Potting in the Material World, Ceramics: Art and Perception,
(10), 1992, pp.46-48.
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Ivan McMeekin, Book
Review: Pioneer Pottery, in Pottery in Australia, 8(2), Spring
1969, p. 43. back to
McMeekin, The Introduction of Pottery to the Aborigines of the Northern
Territory, in Pottery in Australia, 8 (2), Spring 1969, pp.17-24.
back to article
The Introduction, p. 23. back
The Introduction, p.19. back
Cochrane, The Crafts Movement in Australia: A History, Sydney,
NSW University Press, 1992, pp. 140-141. Cochrane suggests that
the failure of the authorities to allow control and management by the
aboriginal potters limited their ability to carry on their craft after
returning to their homes following the destruction of the pottery at Bagot.
back to article
Clear was a Perth, W.A. art teacher appointed in 1969 by Bishop OLoughlin
to encourage the development of craftwork on Bathurst Island. She promoted
the wood carving of animals and birds which developed into designs used
for wood block and silkscreen printing on fabric. In John Pye, The
Tiwi islands, Darwin, J.R. Coleman. (n.d.). back
The Crafts, p. 141. back
art work of the Tiwi Islands. On-line Accessed 18-05-01 [http://www.tiwiart.com/Munupi/centre/history/mun_hist2.htm].
back to article
Cochrane, The Crafts,
p. 141. back to article
The art work of the Tiwi Islands. On-line Accessed 18-05-01
Kevin Grealy, Barambah Pottery Cherbourg in Pottery
in Australia, 16 (2), 1977, pp.3-7. back
Grealy, Barambah, p.7. back
Grealy, Barambah, p.7. back
Cochrane, The Crafts, p. 140. back
Hermannsburg Potters, Exhibition catalogue, Northern Territory,
Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, 1996, p. 6. back
Hermannsburg Potters, p.7. back
Hermannsburg Potters, p.7t. back
McMeekin, Book Review, p. 43. back
Michael Cardew, Industry and the Studio Potter: Stoneware
Pottery, (1942) in Garth Clark (Ed) Ceramic Art. Comment
and Review 1982-1977, New York, E.P.Dutton, 1978, p.89. back
Cardew, Industry, p.95.
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