Conference Papers & Reports
  Michael Cardew – His Influences in Australia
Penelope J. Collet, La Trobe University, Bendigo, Australia


This paper addresses the influences of Michael Cardew on pottery in Australia. It is structured around three major questions: 1) What was Cardew’s influence on the philosophy of artist potters in Australia and the lifestyles they chose to follow? 2) What was Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s 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 Bathurst Island?

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 Cardew’s 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 Leach’s A Potter’s 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 Cardew’s influence on their lives and work

This paper will, first, refer to the literature. Second, Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s broader influences on pottery in Australia.

The Literature
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 Cardew’s 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:

For some years many potters have felt the need of a book that could act as a sequel to Leach’s 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 Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s 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.

Number of Articles (1968-1993)
Cardew, his life and work 11
technical and practical information 7
potteries in aboriginal communities 5

Table 1. Journal articles which refer to Cardew (1968-1993).

Potteries in Aboriginal Communities
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:

It was 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 for aborigines.2

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 Cardew’s influence in Australia.

When Cardew 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 work’3 however McMeekin, in this article, expresses some concern for the long term survival of the pottery.

The traditional 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

While the 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

However, 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.

Important 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’.

Eddie 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

The 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 and overseas.

Another pottery, inspired by Cardew’s 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 later that:

I fear 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

Despite Grealy’s 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:

I 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…I 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

The Hermannsburg Potters
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 traditions.

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

The 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 didn’t train through the college or university system because I didn’t 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.

Stuchberry 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.

Technical Sources
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:

B. Leach – A Potter’s Book X X X X X X     5
M. Cardew – Pioneer Pottery   X X   X       3
D. Rhodes - Clay and Glazes, Pottery Form X     X   X
  X 1
Pottery in Australia X         X X   3
K. Clarke
Potter’s Manual
              X 1

Table 2. Textual Sources for Potters.

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 Cardew’s 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 Bendigo’s 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 Cardew’s approach ring true today, but people move on and have taken his approach further. Cardew’s people have looked farther afield. Svend Bayer for instance …also looked at the making of large pots in Korea. In Cardew’s 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 wasn’t 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 was drawn:

The beauty of working with Svend was that I feel that what Cardew’s 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. Cardew’s 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. Cardew’s 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. That’s why we are out here in the  bush. It is an lifestyle thing you don’t do it for the financial reward, You don’t 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 Moore’s 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.

Cardew’s 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 wasn’t strong enough. Today the idea of digging and preparing your own materials is unrealistic because to make a living a potter hasn’t got time to do all these things. It’s just not economically viable. (Chris Pepper)

Well its not important... but I do get my clay [locally]. It comes from nine miles away. I’ve  got my own filter press plant. I make my own clay but you don’t have to. You can buy all sorts of clay. Sometimes I think I’m 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. It’s only got a one in eleven shrinkage rate. (Graeme Masters)

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 couldn’t 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 you’ve 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, he’s doing pretty well. But I won’t compromise. I like the situation here. I actually do make pots for Bendigo Pottery and it sort of helps me out because I don’t 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 couldn’t 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. I’d 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. (David Stuchberry)

In the late 80s the market narrowed. People weren’t interested in the earthy glazes;  they looked for colour and decoration in pottery. People don’t 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 don’t 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 it’s 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. It’s still bloody hard but you can’t make any money out of it so why do it?  Of course there are still a few survivors. It’s 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 that now.

Cardew’s Work with the Indigenous Peoples of Africa and Australia
The potters with whom I spoke generally knew very little of this aspect of Cardew’s 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, Cardew’s and McMeekin’s influences in the Northern territory have continued on with a viable industry in the Tiwi Islands, today being promoted widely over the internet.

Cardew’s Main Influence on Australia
First, Cardew’s 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 Leach’s A Potter’s Book and books by Daniel Rhodes, Pioneer Pottery became one of the main references for the potters. Cardew’s inquiring mind and his concern for sourcing local materials have also influenced the older potters.

Third, Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s was no longer relevant because potters could no longer live by producing functional wares – or a ‘good gutsy pot’ (L.M.).

Fourth, Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s 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 Cardew’s 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 can’t escape it!

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 he’s making jugs. And they say they’re 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 Cardew’s knowledge of the traditional handcraft skills of the country potter.18

My 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 ash glazes.

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.

They developed solid skills in the handcraft tradition. In Cardew’s 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 Appendix
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. 61-65.

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), 1993, pp.13-18.

Warren, Joyce. ‘Australian Studio Ceramics – Historical Notes’, Pottery in Australia, 19 (1), May June 1980, pp. 33-40.

References to Pioneer Pottery or Cardew’s 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 1969, p.43.

… ‘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 Cardew’s 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.

… ‘The Introduction of Pottery to the Aborigines of the Northern Territory’, Pottery in Australia, 8 (2), Spring 1969, pp.17-24.

… ‘Tiwi Pottery, 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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1 Ivan McMeekin, ‘Book Review: Pioneer Pottery’, in Pottery in Australia, 8(2), Spring 1969, p. 43. back to article
2 Ivan 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
3McMeekin, ‘The Introduction’, p. 23. back to article
4 McMeekin, ‘The Introduction’, p.19. back to article
5 Grace 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
6 Madelaine Clear was a Perth, W.A. art teacher appointed in 1969 by Bishop O’Loughlin 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 to article
7 Cochrane, The Crafts, p. 141. back to article
8 The art work of the Tiwi Islands. On-line Accessed 18-05-01 []. back to article
Cochrane, The Crafts, p. 141. back to article
10 The art work of the Tiwi Islands. On-line Accessed 18-05-01 []. back to article
11 Kevin Grealy, ‘Barambah Pottery Cherbourg’ in Pottery in Australia, 16 (2), 1977, pp.3-7. back to article
12 Grealy, ‘Barambah’,  p.7. back to article
13 Grealy, ‘Barambah’,  p.7. back to article
14 Cochrane, The Crafts,  p. 140. back to article
15 Hermannsburg Potters, Exhibition catalogue, Northern Territory, Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory, 1996, p. 6. back to article
16 Hermannsburg Potters,  p.7. back to article
17 Hermannsburg Potters,  p.7t. back to article
18 McMeekin, Book Review, p. 43. back to article
19 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 to article
20 Cardew, ‘Industry’, p.95.

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Michael O’Brien interviewed by Jeffrey Jones

New material added January 2004

The Michael Cardew Centenary Symposium
University of Wales, Aberystwyth, UK

27 - 28 June 2001

Cardew in America
Garth Clark

Michael Cardew - His Influences in Australia
Penelope J.Collett

Leach and Cardew - The Early Years
Emmanuel Cooper

Recollections of Abuja 1961 - 1962
Peter Dick

Michael Cardew in Nigeria:
Can we Complete his Autobiography from his Diaries?

Liz Moloney

Some Reflections on Michael Cardew (1901-1983)
from the National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts (NEVAC)
Matthew Partington

Michael Cardew Remembered
Peter Stichbury

The Michael Cardew Centenary Symposium
University of Wales Aberystwyth

27 - 28 June 2001

Report by Jo Dahn



Michael Cardew • Issue 3