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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 20. September 4, 1969

Dialogue On New Zealand Pottery

page 10

Dialogue On New Zealand Pottery

Pottery in New Zealand has shown immense development over the last twenty years. As one potter has observed, whole lines of processes which go into making a pot are now available in New Zealand; the clays, the glazes, the facilities, the market and the potters themselves. The potters run their own highly successful publication and disemminate among themselves, mainly by personal contact, information about improvements and discoveries within the national field.

But it is still questionable whether enough acquired knowledge is being passed on between individual potters and between established and developing potters. There is at present no school of pottery and neiher of the art schools specialise to any extent in the teaching of pottery. It is apparent too, that many museums, art galleries and cultural centres are reluctant to give pottery as much room as could be desired. Nowhere is there any significantly sized collection of New Zealand or contemporary overseas pottery. Such a collection would stimulate and encourage young potters and at the same time inform the public in general as to the trends and standards of the age-old industry.

The following is a series of questions I put to four potters, all working in different parts of New Zealand, in an attempt to elucidate in what direction working porters believe their art is heading.

There seems to be a difference in opinion among potters about the necessity to give their work functional significance. What is your view?

Harry and May Davis: We have long been convinced of the need for Functional significance in pots. A more interesting concluding question would be "Why is this so?" There are two main causes for this phenomenon. The first is the relative status of the two categories. Art and Craft, coupled with the general belief that for all practical purposes craft is a thing obsolete, an anachronism. This belief gives rise to the assumption that functional posts are best left to the machines, and mass production. The second cause is historical, and is due to the sharp dividing line which came to be drawn between artists and craftsmen underlined by the growth of the commercial basis of Western society. The result was, that tremendous prestige came to be attached to the title artist, while the prestige of the title craftsman, or artisan, dwindled, It is a fact that the expression of imaginative concepts which we associate with the idea of art cannot exist without craftsmanship. Craftsmanship is required to bring them into being, It is also a fact that one can have craftsmanship entirely devoid of imaginative expression. It is in the nature of these two—artistry and craftsmanship— that they exist along a line of infinite gradation.

Where it stops, in actual fact, depends on the man (and the circumstances) be he potter, easel painter, or maker of furniture, but stopped it has when craftsmanship operates in the field of the make of machine parts.

Given the right attitude, and suitable circumstances, imagination and craftsmanship can blend, and overlap in the making of functional pots. When tin's comes about a way of working and living is achieved which yields great rewards to those involved and something valuable is contributed to the environment of those who live with the pots so made.

Anything that can do that much for the qualitative aspects of Work and life—no matter how small a fragment of our social and economic life it affects—has a valid and important reason for existence.

One is not pleading lor the exclusion of Art Pots" but for the acceptance of the respective disciplines appropriate to the non-functional. They are not the same. It is most desirable in my opinion to be involved in both, and to accept the two distinct disciplines. They can be complimentary when commercial involvement leads to subdivision of tasks, so that the less creative aspects of the making of functional pots is permanently relegated to particular persons, the result is [unclear: back] potting and a separation of the Functional from aesthetics.

Doreen Blumhart: If pottery is of a domestic nature and is intended for use, then of course its functional significance is of prime importance.

While I firmly believe that there is a place for both functional and decorative pottery, on the whole I prefer making functional pottery. I am sure that by using pottery people come to appreciate and enjoy all forms of pottery to a much greater extent.

• Mirek Smisek with his kiln and some pots.

Mirek Smisek with his kiln and some pots.

Mirek Smisek: In my opinion it doesn't matter what kind of a pot it is; whether it an art pot or a functional pot. No part of the potter's work should be regarded as a bread-and-butter line. I feel that we must give greater appreciation to the merit of the domestic pot because it plays a most significant part in our daily living. We, the potters, should give the functional pot equally deep involvement, both art and domestic pots deserve the utmost care and feeling—in fact the domestic pot deserves more attention because it has to be truly functional in conjunction with its aesthetic value.

Barry Brickell: This depends on the potter's manner of approach to his craft. There is no need for an absolute point of view here. What counts is the integrity behind the attitude. Function is admirable. So is exuberance and joy of making. One seems usually at the expense of the other unless we see an exceptional artist, potter: whatever one calls him. Then we may see the best of both in a pot.

Do you think more could be done by co-operation among potters in New Zealand into studies of the chemical properties of different clays and different glazes?

Harry and May Davis: On the subject of co-operation and exchange of experience the N.Z potters have up to now .a very good record I think. The emphasis on the word "chemical" in this question suggests that the correction of practical shortcomings is visualised. I doubt whether greater cooperation would help much in this direction, as the bias of interest is very heavily loaded in favour of aesthetics, and this tends to create an indifference to practical and technical considerations.

Doreen Blumhart: Potters in N.Z. have always cooperated in many projects. They have worked together on techniques and on chemistry, as well as on the building of kilns and how to fire them There is always more to be learned, but few potters have time for research.

Mirek Smisek: Somebody, geologists say, could establish in certain areas of New Zealand places where clays could be made available to potters, some sort of system could be worked out to relieve potters of the struggle to discover sources of certain kinds of clay and glaze. Once we had to find these for ourselves but this is a wast of time now. We can still carry out experiments by trial and error but established sources should be available to us.

Barry Brickell: Only so far as technical aspects are concerned. Some potters go by experience, trial and error etc. and handing down of information rather than by abstract study.

The studio potter becomes an individual artist working in his own style. How far can he go in employing artists to produce works in his name?

Harry and May Davis: The studio potter becomes an individual artist working in his own style. How far can he go in employing artists to produce works in his name?

A potter is an individual working in his own style might be worthy of the title "artist" but he does not automatically become one because he calls the place where he works a "studio". The employment of others to produce work in his style, and in his name, can be valid in the case of an apprentice, and then only for a limited period. On a permanent basis this can only be done under conditions of some sort of [unclear: anenymity] for both, but in any case this situation will degenerate if the ideas of the one are continuously imposed on the other.

Doreen Blumhart: I do not think a potter can employ other artists to do work in his name, except in a very special sort of way. Bernard Leach at St Ives, Britain, employs artists and technicians who turn out work in his design, and is sold under the general name of Leach Potteries, whereas any individual pieces that are made entirely by Bernard Leach are sold under his own name at a much higher price. The Waimea Potteries in Nelson is working along the same principles.

Mirek Smisek: A meaure of how far they can go is when the apprentice or student in making a pot matches the work of the techer. Originally it was the master's design and made under his direction but once he reaches what the teacher considers the standard necessary and begins to work in his own way then he can put his name on it because the work is designed by him. It is important that whoever makes the pot should make all of it. Again if it is made in the master's workshop under the master's guidance then the article should have the trademark of the workshop or the teacher.

Barry Brickell: No artist can produce works in another's name. He can train people, craftsmen, to turn out pottery according to his own technique and methods. Let's be clear about 'artist' versus 'craftsman'—technique versus spirit.