Family and Kamaka Pottery History


For a long time I have thought about writing some notes on things gone by. My memories of early life are few and probably of little interest. My school days were pretty uneventful. The people I attended school with I hardly remember – just a few names as I have had no contact with many over the years. Les Round is one of those few from primary school. He was standing next to me when I fainted at school assembly while standing in the hot sun one February. He and his brother owned the Stortford Lodge garage where I dealt for many years and he married Faith Handiside, a nurse from the hospital where I worked for twenty years.

Work started with Robert Holt & Sons in their hardware department. My memories of that time are all pleasant. Les Wall, John Holt and Joe Langley were good people who helped me grow up, and, together with the guys in the sawmill, encouraged my interest in woodwork. In this I was not greatly creative but made practical things and learned the use of tools which helped a lot when, later, lack of money required the making of cupboards, furniture, sheds, a couple of garages and later a small house.

I missed writing of secondary school which I attended during the war years. Art was really the only subject I enjoyed although maths and science were ok. Miss Miller was the art mistress (a co-ed school in those days). She was the daughter of an architect and encouraged me in architectural drawing and design which has been a continuing interest all my life. Friendships developed at high school were with Cyril Whitaker and Guy Instone.

It was with Cyril and Guy that I joined the air training core and with five others were trained by Mort Van Der Pump [Vanderpump] to fly Tiger Moth aeroplanes at Bridge Pa Aerodrome.

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Among the group was Owen Adene [Adeane] who, together with his future wife became good friends with Estelle and I for a few years. I enjoyed flying and took Estelle and members of her family up for flights but had to give up before I got married as I could not afford both.

A little more about my working life. I could not see a great future working in the hardware trade and was interested in what one of my brother Lindon’s girlfriends was doing. She was Kath Urquart [Urquhart] who worked in radiography at Royston Hospital for Dr Desmond Costello. There was a position available at the Pukeora Sanitorium at Waipukurau. I applied and was appointed. I spent eighteen months there swatting hard to cover the three year diploma course in radiography with the Melbourne Technical College. Towards the end of this time my father died and Estelle, who had recently started as a radiography student at Memorial Hospital was sent down to review me for compassionate leave. Shortly after I was able to transfer to Hastings Hospital and Estelle to Royston Hospital and our friendship grew from there.

For the next eighteen years I worked at Memorial Hospital which I mostly enjoyed except for the last couple of years after Dr Costello retired and a new radiologist was appointed. During the first eighteen months Estelle and I courted – unbeknown to the rest of the staff at either Memorial or Royston. I was soon appointed Senior Radiographer after Liz Campbell left to get married. Another girl working in x-ray at Memorial was Margaret Blake who was a cousin of John Scott and it was at her birthday party that Estelle first met John.

In 1949 Estelle and I were engaged and started planning our little house in Pakowhai Road after buying a cheap section for £189. The house was built by John Mackersey and cost £2000 and it was during this time, with Estelle’s help, I built bed bases, furniture and the kitchen cupboards for our new house. We were married

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on December 9th 1950 and after a short honeymoon in Palmerston North on a borrowed £5 and the loan of a house by one of Estelle’s aunts, we moved into our new but unfinished house.

4.11.04   Estelle worked for Mr Alan Dick, an accountant in King Street, South, for 18 months until she became pregnant. From then on she was housewife and mother to our three boys. People often ask how we became interested in pottery. Estelle always enjoyed doing flowers so when Louis Theakstone, a florist in Napier, took some classes Estelle decided to go. Her mother would come and baby-sit and Estelle would catch the bus to Napier from by Gregory’s just across the road. I think the classes were held at the art gallery and museum where Louis always had some magnificent arrangements. One day Estelle came home very enthusiastic about the floral containers Louis had. He had been to Japan and had brought them back with him. At that time such containers were just not available in New Zealand. My foolish suggestion was that if Estelle wanted those sort of containers she would have to make her own. She did!! Eventually. Louis Theakstone was always very supportive of Estelle’s work with flowers and our pottery efforts.

No classes or clubs were operating at that time (about 1958) except a night class on clay modelling which Estelle went to. She modelled a lovely head of a young girl but sadly it was damaged during a holiday period. When Craig was about three she and Midge Owen (another class member) modelled him, keeping him quiet with hundreds and thousands in a saucer. I’m not sure how we got Estelle’s model fired but it is still in existence.

A little later I built Estelle a wheel and she would practise with a book with pictures propped up in front of her. The wheel design I got from seeing one owned by Mrs Nan Janet at Korokepo, [Korokipo] Fernhill. Marvellous help over the next couple of years came from Mr Roly Bell of Mission Bay in Auckland. We were introduced to him by my boss Dr Costello. Mr Bell used to

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maintain Dr Costello’s yacht in Auckland and was a tutor at one of the colages [colleges] teaching art and ceramics. He wrote copious notes detailing each step in the centering, opening up and pulling to make a pot. Also details on preparing clay and making glazes. His help was invaluable. Estelle started with earthernware as the clay was available from Fulfords at Havelock North but soon changed to stoneware.

I wrote about this time to Shell Oil Company in Wellington about diesel burners for a kiln and received a very good reply as well as a very early copy of “NZ Potter” magazine with burner designs by Roy Cowan. I built a small kiln with louver drip feed burners using an old vacuum cleaner as a blower. About this time we met two school art instructors – Lawson Frazer and Kerk Taylor who over the next year or two helped with information and old bricks. Having built a kiln I felt that I should make a pot or two to fire along with Estelles. As my time was limited I made some slab built pieces like those shown in Bernard Leach’s “Potters Book” and so developed my own methods of slab building.

Our first firing was only successful by the bag wall – the rest being not hot enough. Half a dozen successful pieces came out and Estelle put them on the bedside cabinet at night so she could see them first thing the next morning. At this time we had heard of Peter Stichbury at Ardmore so took a holiday trip to Auckland and visited Pete and Diane to show them our pots and ask whether they were any good. Since that time (?1960) we have been close friends and visit each other often. When we started as full time potters in 1965 I realised that slab building was too slow as a production method so with Estelle’s help learned to throw. We applied for a QEII grant to get some lessons from Peter but were turned down but I spent ten days with Pete and Diane at their Manurewa  home and Pete helped me with throwing and pulling handles. A very useful boost to a beginning potter.

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8/11/04   By 1965 my job at Memorial Hospital was becoming untenable. Dr Costello had retired and a Dr Beale had taken over. He and I just could not abide each other and although he shifted to Rotorua and a Dr Pierce Newsam took over I just could no longer enjoy radiography. So Estelle and I decided we enjoyed pottery and would try and make our living from making pots. We were, I believe, the third and fourth or, maybe, fourth and fifth full time professional studio potters in New Zealand. We had some outlets that we supplied and set up a small back room in Boyles Shoe Store in Karamu Road North as an outlet which we opened one day per week. Estelle also took some classes teaching pottery.

We found that we could not manage on the amount coming in so I took an office job at Tomoana Freezing Works. This only lasted six months when we had sufficient outlets and orders to not have any more worries. We supplied small amounts to outlets from Muriwai to Dunedin.

I enlarged our first small kiln but did not enlarge the flue which resulted in stuck firings which we did not understand until Lawson Frazer helped us. By building a new larger flue all was okay with some additional bisque space. Soon it became obvious that we needed a new kiln so I built the two chamber ‘Conan’ kiln from NZ Potter magazine. Estelle’s brother Rod welded up the iron bracing and made both our pot burners and jets. I was able to purchase an 8” forge fan which though noisy, was very efficient. After two to three years I rebuilt this kiln adding a fifth burner which fired very evenly.

About this time (1968) we realised that we had outgrown our place in Pakowhai Road and started looking for a larger property. Our neighbours never complained about noise or smoke but we really needed more workshop space. After looking at a one acre site at Fernhill which the Hawke’s Bay County Council told us was too rich a piece of land for potters we found the ten acre block in Valentine Road in a new subdivision. To

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have a pottery on rural land we had to apply to the Council for a specified departure. This was granted with a couple of restrictions – any notice at the gate not exceed two square feet in size and any chimney height not to exceed thirty five feet. The maximum chimney height we needed was never more than sixteen feet. The pottery application was completely new to the Council and they had no understanding of our needs. They were worried that we may put up bunting or flags at the gate and make the place like a second hand car yard.

[In margin – Photo oil kiln]

The other worry was that we may make so much smoke that we would obscure the aerodrome runway. When I pointed out that if the aeroclub was using the north south runway, because that was the wind direction, then our smoke, what little there would be, would be blowing parallel to the runway -not across it. The same would apply for the east west runway.

Having bought the land and obtained the specified departure we approached John Scott about designing us a house and workshop. We saw a lot of John over the next eighteen months as he got to know our needs and he stretched our understanding and appreciation of architecture. In June 1970 Ian Kepka began building to our great excitement and expectations. By the end of the year we were able to live in the workshop and start rebuilding our kiln. I just transferred the second two chamber kiln from Pakowhai Road. Our Humber 80 car and old trailer made many trips with bricks, potting materials and our furniture that year. The house was finished and the power connected on Christmas Eve 1970 and all our expectations were met and exceeded.

9/11/04   John brought many architects and architectural students out to see our home. Especially over the first few years. Although John said he was not influenced by his Churchill Fellowship trip to Japan when he was doing the design, it

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does seem that some things he did date from that time. He may already have had these ideas – it is hard to know. While in Japan he studied with great interest their ways of doing corners and edges. Ian Kepka’s men called this house “the house of many corners”. Japanese friends and visitors always notice the Japanese details when they come into the house.

When we started full time potting in 1965 we wanted a name for our pottery. We looked up English-Maori dictionaries for words that may be suitable. As Maori had no tradition of pottery and words like clay or mud had other conertations [connotations] that were not so nice we settled for ‘Kamaka’  which means ‘rock’ or ‘stone’. When we came to live at Valentine Road the store keeper at Bridge Pa, Mr Crawford, told us that it was a good word meaning “foundation stone”. However shortly before Estelle died two Maori ladies came in asking about the name and giggling. They told Estelle that it ment [meant] “throw away things”. Estelle told them she thought that meaning to be quite appropriate.

Strangely, when we went to Japan, the Japanese also asked us how we chose the name Kamaka. In Japanese it can be interpreted as “good kiln” or as a question – “Where is the kiln”. Kama or gama equals kiln in Japanese. How strange! We were told later by Dr Kamase, a grasslands scientist who studied at Lincoln College in New Zealand in the early 1930’s, that the Japanese and Maori languages were constructed the same way and that at least eighty words were identical in meaning and use. Somewhere in the Pacific Japanese and Maori peoples split apart, both taking the kumera [kumara] or sweet potato. The Japanese admiring rice culture and pottery from perhaps the Chinese, before or shortly after setteling [settling] in the Japanese Archipelago.

Between 1971 and 1982 we fired the diesel kiln approximately 23 times each year – about once each fortnight. We developed a rythm [rhythm] of potting, glazing and firing,

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sorting and packing six or seven tea chests or cartons each fortnight. Our outlets were always asking for more. Estelle developed some beautiful glaze combinations, and decorating techniques. Her domestic ware was first class – casseroles, cooking dishes, cups, saucers and plates, jugs & bowls of all sizes as well as vases and other floral containers. She maintained that she paid off most of our mortgage by making endless oil and vinegars bottles.

21/1/05   Estelle made a number of complete dinner sets for which we used commercial saggers for the plates to save shelf space. This entailed throwing with great precision as there was little leeway with the sagger dimentions [dimensions]. Estelle’s bowls, both large & small, were always delightful and much sought after. Estelle’s throwing was such that in 1984 at our joint exhibition in Osaka Japan her work, was on several occasions, confused with that of Mr Fujii, much to his annoyance.


Because of problems and unpleasant relations with our north side neighbours, the Lattons, who started a piggery soon after we had built at Valentine Road we decided to take an extended holiday down in the South Island. Our Renault station waggon had seats that folded down flat so that we could sleep and enough room for our camping gear. We explored around Nelson, Takaka and Golden Bay then to Westport and Karamea and down the length of the West Coast to Jackson’s Bay. We loved the Coast and were able to pull into roadside rest areas to camp the night. The weather was great – warm and dry but lots of mosquito’s and sandfly’s. We traveled through the Haste [Haast] Pass as far as ‘The Neck’ between Lakes Hawea and Wanaka arriving quite late. Next morning we looked out at barren land with only a few flax bushes and decided we didn’t really want to go to Dunedin and the East Coast so turned around and drove back through

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Haste [Haast] Pass and back towards Hokitika. On the way we talked about buying some ‘cheap’ land on the Coast. (We had heard several years earlier of land selling for around $1.50 per acre.) When we arrived back at Hokitika we called at Lands and Survey and asked them about small freehold acreages but they did not know but referred us to a man working next door in the Forestry Department. (I cannot remember his name for certain – I think it was Williams). He chatted with us for about ten minutes asking why we liked The Coast so much and what we intended to do. We told him about our problems with the piggery in Hawke’s Bay and that we would like to set up a pottery on The Coast, that we only had limited funds etc. At first he was guarded but seemed to like us and called on one of his staff and asked him to bring in a map. He pointed out a freehold piece of land about 15k south of Hokitika on what was then the main highway and gave us a survey number.

We retraced our path and found the land which was covered in regenerating bush – thousands of totara, rimu, kaiakatea [kahikatea] and other trees. Just the opposite of Hastings – wet and lots of naturally growing trees while we were struggling to grow a few natives in H.B. with the dry weather, cold winds, hares & rabbits. Without seeing more than the smallest fraction of the property off the edge of the road we decided to try and purchase it. Back in Hokitika we went to the County Council office and asked about that piece of land. We were able to get the owner’s names, the rates payable ($1.00 per year) the purchase price paid to the previous owner (£40). The land was 10 acres freeholded by Mrs Butler from the […] of a large area of land known as the “Butler Block”. The Butlers were sawmillers in the area and owned a lot of the forest around the West Coast. The Butler Block is now owned by the Dept. of Conservation and is being left to regenerate to help protect Lake Mahinapua from eutrophocation [eutrophication] (?) The current owners were also sawmillers and had taken a number

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of large trees off the block. They were currently living in Nelson and Stoke. Their names were Griffiths and Stoop.

On returning to Nelson we called on Mr Stoop at Stoke and asked whether he might be willing to sell the land and for how much. He replied that he would have to consult his partner, Mr Griffiths and suggested we make an offer. All the way back to Hastings we talked about the land and what we should offer. £40 equals $80 and they had had all the big trees taken off. Rumours of land at $1.50 per acre – $15 for ten acres!! We settled for $200 and wrote with that offer. Six, maybe seven weeks later we hadn’t heard back and Craig said we should have made a much better offer and we might have been successful. Finally we received a letter of acceptance provided we paid all legal costs. Our solicitor Mr von Dadleszen [Dadelszen] Senior wanted to know what we were buying ‘a postage stamp’ were his words and had we seen it. Finally all was settled for $289 total. We couldn’t believe our luck.

All the above would have been in 1973 and we took several trips down to Hokitika to look more closely and made a start clearing gorse. A loading ramp and track had been consolidated with shingle and gorse was brought in at the same time. Two slashers and one chainsaw together with much sweat and many splinters later we had cleared a patch for a crib and a driveway. We asked John Scott to design a small cottage that we could build ourselves and about two weeks later he presented us with plans & details for a two story [storey] corrugated iron dwelling after the style of the West Coast barns. In Oct 1974 we made another trip and ordered materials and got permits etc. the County Chairman was Mr Walker (father of architect Malcolm Walker) with whom we became quite friendly. Also Mr Renton senior of Rentons Hardware. The local electrician was Mr Braddley  [Bradley]who’s [whose] son and Brett were friends. Everyone was interested in the project – something unheard of on the

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Coast at the time. An architect designed batch [bach], built by amateurs hidden out of sight in regenerating bush commonly known as “scrub” by the locals.

We arranged for a shingle pad for the house and a shingle driveway to be laid and for a stump to be removed and a septic tank and water tank to be provided before we came down again in December to start building. It cost more for the shingle than for the section had cost but we never regretted having such a thick layer put down as the house has stayed dry ever since. The County Council cleared part of an old road running beside our property to give us access. This helped clear more gorse but it has been a continuing fight to keep the driveway and nearby bush clear of seeding gorse.

From John’s plans I built a scale model of the frame of the house so there would be no surprises and Craig built a model of the completed structure. We were excited at the prospect of building. To carry all our gear for building we purchased an old 1936 Bedford truck from friends of Brett. A drive around the block seemed okay but on the trip it backfired frequently as it got hot. A call at Levin Auto electricians helped but did not completely cure the problem. Lots of frightened sheep and birds on the way. We crossed over on the ferry declaring the load of tools, Pink Batts etc as camping gear. Estelle and Craig were in the station waggon and I was driving the truck. I was directed onto one ferry and they were directed onto another. Estelle thought I must be going to Christchurch or somewhere other than Picton but all was well and we met up again in Picton. We drove until dark & slept on the side of the road then continued on to Hokitika dodging wekas on the road in the early morning.

Next day we went to the mill and got lots of offcuts from their scrap heap to build a wooden floor for the tent and to collect the timber ordered. We immediately started

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measuring up and laying out the foundations. Estelle was most concerned that the concrete pad for the house may sink or tilt in the wet and muddy conditions that are usual in Hokitika. We found a fencing contractor along the road with a post driver so we engaged him to put a series of posts around the edge of the house down onto the hard pan about 4 feet down for safety sake. That done & the tops cut to the right height, the reinforcing steel in place we were ready for the big pour of concrete. Christmas Eve and the pad was poured. We also had electricity connected ready to go and Estelle was an expert with one pot cooking as well as using the pull saw to cut wood to very accurate measurements.

We had to collect water from the Mahinapua Hotel in a 20gal jerry can for washing, drinking & cooking. Christmas Day was very hot & thirsty and on Boxing Day when I went to fill our tank & said “I wish you had been open yesterday I could have done with some beer” the pub owner just looked at me in surprise saying “we were open all day”. I had forgotten we were on the Coast where they have their own rules.

To keep some money coming in we had taken a lot of pots with us to sell. We put notices on the side of the road and displayed the pots in the bush. Many people stopped and bought pieces. Some would arrive about 9.30 in the evening as it stays light very late down south. Sometimes we had gone to bed after a hard day’s work and had to get up to serve these people. Those ones didn’t get the same amount of sympathy when the sandfly’s bit them as others who came during the day.

We spent nine weeks at the site and got the place closed in during that time. It seems unbelievable that we only had two light showers of rain during that time – one at night and the other when we were just finishing the

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last few sheets of iron on the roof. Who said it always rains in Hokitika. Lots of people helped us with the building. The neighbour, Maurice Hay, who later bought the old truck from us. Peter Stichbury who showed us a quick way to put in dwangs and drove in many nails. Len Castle who drove in a ceremonial nail but the most appreciated was an unknown Australian builder who, with his family stopped to look at the pots. He was interested in our project and arrived just as we were struggling to lift a two story storey part of the framing by the stairwell. Without his help we could not have managed. His family all said “Awe Dad” as they thought they were on holiday but it only took perhaps quarter of an hour and we were most grateful.

Other than some strong wind which blew out the plastic covers we had put over the window openings before the glaziers arrived all was well. The joiners who made the window and door frames, stairs and cupboards were amazed at John’s detailed plans. They had never seen such good and complete drawings and instructions. At the time matai, totara and rimu were all still available so the house has some lovely wooden features and is lined with rimu ply all of which has been polyurathaned [polyurethaned]. Floor and ceiling are hearty matai.

At the end of our nine weeks with the house enclosed but unlined, Dean and his first wife Robyn decided to live there & work in Hokitika. The electrician made temporary connections for stove & some lights and power for them. Next trip in mid winter we took our friends the Lileys (registered plumbers who finished off the internal plumbing much to the chagrin of the locals.) The lining was gradually completed over several more trips and the polyurathaning finished. John came and stayed a couple of days down there and thought we had done pretty well.

23.1.05   Melbourne: On June 15th 1980 a meeting of eight potters in Auckland discussed the possibilities of exporting to Australia and possibly setting up a co-operative shop in Melbourne with each living and working there for a month or more each year taking turns at running

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the shop and making additional work while there. Peter and Diane Stichbury had already taken a look and made some preliminary enquiries. In March 1981 Estelle and I went to Melbourne for twelve days. We enjoyed our time there after having a taste of overseas travel to Japan in 1978. We found an old but adequate two story shop in Prahan [Prahran]. Downstairs for shop and workshop: upstairs for living. A brick building with lovely leadlights above shop windows. Woodwork all a bit rotten otherwise quite sound. (For further details see Melbourne diary 1981). The outcome was that potters like Pete and Diane and Estelle and myself with family off our hands could manage alright but younger potters with young family [families] could not cope with the time away from home or the overall costs. The scheme was wound up and no further action was taken. Just as well as building and firing the anagama would not have fitted well with being in a co-operative and working in Melbourne one to two months a year. The people involved initiating were: Peter and Diane Stichbury; Carrick and Margaret Oliver; Frank and Alison Bates; John and Diane Anderson; Estelle and Bruce Martin with the possibility that Ian and Lorraine Firth may also join.

24.1.05   Japan 1978. Estelle and I both kept diarys so I will give little more than a summary here. We had both had a keen interest in things Japanese for a long time. Lou Theakstoke probably started it. Then books like those of Bernard Leach and the large book “Two Thousand Years of Oriental Pottery” produced by Thames and Hudson. We were forever talking about Japan and perhaps travelling to Japan when one day Craig remarked – “You will never go to Japan, all you do is talk about it!” That was just too much. We set about seriously saving and planning. Many people gave us information and advice including Helen Mason, who had made a trip to Japan in 1962, Len Castle who had been more recently. Brian Kemp who had lived and worked there for a while. I think it was Len who

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gave us the address of Neil McLeod of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Wellington. Neil had been in Japan as second secretary at the NZ Embassy in Tokyo. His wife, Amy had an interest in pottery and had collected a number of English language newspaper cuttings on many famous potteries in Japan. These were later published in book form as “Earth and Fire” by Amaury Saint Gilles. We were able to borrow and photocopy the cuttings and made many notes of whom we would like to visit.

We wrote to Caltex Oil and were given maps of Japan in English. We fully intended to hire of buy a car to get about but soon realised that nearly all signs and town names were in Kanji, that the traffic was not really like a small town in NZ and even if they drove on the same side as us that was just not enough. We found trains quite easy to master and not too expensive. We also joined the Youth Hostels Association but most YH were far out of the citys and only stayed in one at Okinawa.

From library books and other reading we gradually built up an itinerary of places we wished to visit and learned some Japanese politenesses to be able to use and eventually set out on our great adventure on 25th July 1978 flying via Sydney. We were met by Penny Riley and Margot Mansergh and shown the “Craftsman’s Gallery” etc and to meet Dennis Pile, President Australian Potters before returning to the airport for overnight flight on JAL to Japan.

To quote from Helen’s letter to Estelle (24 July 1977) “What seems to happen in Japan is that you get in to a certain wavelength (develop your 6th sense?) and then things start to happen and you meet the people whose work is exciting to you and one thing leads to another.” How very true – right from our first day in Japan, Estelle’s 6th sense was first class and we did much more than we ever expected and still have friends in Japan whom we met in the first two days in Tokyo.

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2.2.05   On meeting Mr Fujii. Fujiisan’s given name was Yukio. His artists name was ‘Sanyo’. He was born 1931 and died 4.9.2003. We were told that he was in or near Hiroshima when the first atomic bomb was dropped. He had quite severe scarring on his arm and by one eye from radiation burns. He was divorced from his first wife and had no children. His initial training was as a chef and on two occasions while staying with us he put on a “party” and produced wonderful meals.

His pottery training began at Bizen for three years then the next seven years were spent with Tanimoto Kosei at IGA. Tanimoto Sensei was later made a ‘Living National Treasure of Japan’. Our desire to meet Fujii Sensei was through the newspaper cuttings given us by Neil and Amy McLeod before we left for Japan.

From Himeji City we caught a train going to Wadayama getting off at Koro (Kodera-Machi). We somehow found a taxi at a funeral parlour (they seemed to run both businesses together) and made it understood where we wished to go. At the end of the ride we were left by a rice paddy and a group of quite new houses. There was no sign of a pottery nor many people about. Eventually we found someone and asked in our best Japanese “Fujii San, O’Negai Shimas”. (Mr Fujii – do you know him”). We were shown back to the rice field and pointed in the right direction. There was a narrow path through the rice around a small hill and as we moved around a kiln chimney and an old farm building with a thached [thatched] roof appeared.

We were made very welcome by Fujii San and three workers. Cold drinks were provided as the day was fine and clear and one of the hottest we had had.  We did not see anyone telephone but shortly afterwards Fujioka, Shoko San arrived who spoke excellent English which made our visit so much easier. We corresponded with Shoko San many times to get kiln plans and information on firing anagama after our return to New Zealand.

We were shown Fujii San’s kiln and took some photos. Lights were set up so that I could photograph inside. Fujii’s

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pots were lovely Iga style with soft glaze effects and lovely fire marks. Shoko San gave us a ride back to Himeji City.

11.2.05   On our return home we corresponded with Shoko San and through

[Margin note] Building anagama

her obtained plans of Fujii Sensei’s kiln and later some guidance on how to load and fire an anagama. Shoko’s boyfriend Ken worked at the pottery and obtained the plans but I’m not at all sure he got them with Fujii’s approval. I’m also quite sure they never expected us to build or fire such a large anagama. Estelle was insistant that we build a full size kiln while I was quite reluctant as the project seemed quite daunting. Estelle won out and we started acquiring bricks and a couple of truckloads of Havelock clay to cover the arch. We also knew we would need lots of silicon carbide selves and also started acquiring these.

During 1980 to 1982 we dug a large hole and laid bricks and built the arches. The plans were very clear but two aspects became problems in our first firing. One I was concerned about was the six meter flue. The Japanese used a 300mm earthenware pipe. We obtained this size pipe from Tawa in Wellington and found it very quick and easy to lay. However N.Z. earthenware must be much lower firing than Japanese as the pipe cracked, collapsed and melted during our first firing. The second problem was that our pumice soil, although easy to dig out, was not sufficiently supportive for the kiln. After the first firing I had to dig out the sides and pack extra bricks and clay along the sides. Some of the red bricks for the outside layer also melted and had to be replaced with fire bricks. The floor also required three layers of fire brick rather than two. As the organic matter burnt out the pumice soil became fine dust – like face powder, except in places where it actually fused. As a result the arch flattened and needed additional work to make sure it was stable.

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I really had no idea just how much heat would be generated and would dissipate over a long firing. The diesel kiln, fired for 12-14 hours, would only be warm on the outside. Quite easy to place ones hand on. Our first firing only last six days before the flue collapsed. Peter Stichbury kept throwing more (pumice) soil over it to help keep the flame in but this just melted and oosed [oozed] down and eventually blocked the flue and shifted the sute-no-ma which opened up to allow flame and smoke out by the perforated wall. Estelle and I had gone to bed when Craig came and woke us up to tell us of the problems so we got up and closed the kiln off and stopped the firing. Despite these problems some of the pots were very colourful. There was generally a yellow look indicative of a neutral to oxydising atmosphere . Everyone who was helping with the firing came to help open the kiln. All the pots were out in double quick time. Lids were being knocked off with bits of wood and pots laid out on the grass. Estelle went off and had a cry as she wanted to learn from where pots were placed in the kiln and the results obtained and was just overwhelmed by the frantic activity of Ian Shaill, Richard Parker, Peter Stichbury and all.

The results of the first firing in 1982, were such that we made several resolutions. One was that we were determined to repair the kiln. The second was to have as few helpers as possible although not until our fourth firing did we get to the ideal of just Estelle and I with help from Dean and Craig for the latter part of the firing. The third resolution was to return to Japan to participate in a firing with Fujii Sensei if at all possible.

On writing to Shoko San telling her of the results and asking about returning to participate in a firing we didn’t hear back from her – this is why I wonder about getting

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the kiln plans in the first instance. Also when we met Fujii Sensei again he seemed to have no recollection of having sent us his kiln designs. Anyhow we made direct contact with Fujii and in September 1982 went back to Japan to see Fujii Sensei. Met at Himeji by Fujii Sensei and Mr Nagao who spoke good English. Stayed with Fujii’s friends the Arais. Met many of Fujii’s friends and visited many other potters. They liked our pots and suggested an exhibition in Japan – also talk of Fujii coming to New Zealand. His kiln had been flooded because of roadworks around bottom of hillside and he was very dejected about prospects of rebuilding his kiln and pottery. His friends were assessing us and making decisions to assist Fujii Sensei to come to N.Z. and perhaps use our kiln (and us) to get him restarted into potting. During our time in Himeji we were given several warnings regarding Fujii’s management or mismanagement of money. This helped us to protect our own interests during later events.

Fujii Sensei’s visit.   We arrived home from Japan on the 7th November and Fujii arrived on November 26th. We met him in Auckland and drove home. I’m sure he thought we were taking him to somewhere beyond oblivion as we came over the Rangitaiki Plains from Taupo. In Japan there always seemed to be a village every kilometre or so where in N.Z. there are many many kilometres without a sign of habitation. However he soon settled in and we were grateful for Hirome [Hiromi] Stewart’s help in translation. Fujii could not speak English and our knowledge of Japanese was more than just limited. We would sit at the table each with an English – Japanese or Japanese – English dictionary and have one word conversations. Estelle had a hard time trying to cook Japanese food, keep the household running and to be in the workshop to learn and make pots as well. At first Fujii and I worked on repairing the kiln & building a new brick flue. Estelle helped re plaster the kiln arch and we had proper sidestoking & front doors made.

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At Christmas Fujii Sensei wanted to celebrate a New Zealand festival. In other words – go to a church service. We took him to the Presbyterian Church at Mahora and were most embarrassed. Compared with any festival we had seen in Japan it was pathetic and was the last time Estelle or I went to church. After Christmas we started making pots. The weather was hot, dry and windy which made even drying difficult. Fujii Sensei made very large platters but the uneven drying distorted it so much he abandoned it and did not try another. Most days we worked with him in the workshop. We had purchased another Shimpo wheel (and some bricks) with a $2000 grant from QEII Arts Council.

On January 28th Eiji Watanabe San arrived. He was ‘Deshi’ to Fujii Sensei. Eiji San stayed until February 14th. He tried to help split wood but was not big or strong enough to manage. We made some pots & he helped stack some of the wood. An extra person – in fact two as Richard Parker also came for a week – made Estelle’s job all the more difficult. However we did have a break and took Fujii & Eiji down south for a week. Fujii Sensei thought the bush was jungle. He, Eiji & I went for a flight over the glaciers when we took them down to Franz. While Eiji was here Fujii put on a couple of parties for our friends and some other Japanese people. Wonderful meals as Fujii had trained as a chef before becoming a potter.

In April Fujii returned to Japan for a month and on his return we made setters[?] and started loading the kiln. This job was completed on May 22nd and we lit up on May 24th and fired through to 2nd June. Hirome Stewart was a great help during this time and through her interpretation we learned much that we put to good use later. The firing was successful and Fujii Sensei selected 300 of our pots and together with his pots we packed and shipped to Japan for our 1984 joint exhibition in the Mitsukoshi Gallery of Fine Art in Osaka.

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14.3.05   Notes on Fujii Sensei  Mr Fujii’s given name was Yukio. His artist’s name was Sanyo. Born 1931 died 4th September 2003. The address we first visited was Takanogama, Tako-Kodelacho – Kansakigun, Hyogo, Japan. After his kiln flooded he abandoned this pottery and returned to his family home at: 199-1 Motoyamasaki, Yamasaki-Cho, Shisogun, Hyogo, Japan.

Mr Fujii trained as a chef but later changed to become a potter. His ten years apprenticeship began with three years in Imbe (?) learning Bizen style. The next seven years he spent with Tanimoto, Kosei at Mie-Ken, Iga-Ueno-Shi, Mita 1113, learning Iga style fired in an Anagama style kiln. Tanimoto Sensei was later made one of Japan’s Living Treasures. Fujii Sensei took us to Iga to meet his teacher and to view some of his wonderful pots. (see 66 Iga and 34 Koro in Amuri St Gilles book “Earth & Fire” a survey to contemporary Japanese ceramics.)

Notes on Mr Roly Bell, = Roland Herbert Bell, 42 Atkin Ave, Mission Bay. Died 1977-78. Exhibited once in NZ Potter Annual Exhibition sometime before 1963.

Subject: Roly Bell
From: Howard Williams<[email protected]>
Date: Fri, 11 Mar 2005 11:51:11 +1300
To: “Martin, Bruce” <[email protected]>

Bruce – I have asked for info about Roly Bell from seven Auckland potters of the right vintage. Only one, Jim Palmer, recalls the name, but couldn’t add anything more. I have found an entry in the NZ Potter magazine: Vol 6, No 1, p49. August 1963. It just lists him amongst names of those who have exhibited once up to and including 1962. Perhaps an exhibition catalogue from that time might still be in the NZSP archives – I don’t have any . Had some time to spare yesterday in Auckland so I visited the central library. I found Roland Herbert Bell (Retired) 42 Atkin Ave, Mission Bay in the electoral rolls up to, but will try again when I have more time. There is no current entry of a Bell at that address in the phone book, so that trail has gone dead (so to speak). I’ll keep trying….


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Joint exhibition with Fujii Sensei, Estelle and myself.
Mitsukoshi Gallery of Fine Arts, Osaka, Japan from 29th May to June 3rd 1984.

Our exhibition was altogether wonderful, confusing, exciting, frightening, stimulating, tiring, disorientating, worrying, somewhat terrifying and very daunting. For two New Zealand potters to have a joint exhibition with a master potter of Japanese tea ceremony wares at what we were told was the second to top gallery in Japan was quite remarkable. The top gallery to show pottery in Japan was the Mitsukoshi Gallery in Tokyo, the second being the gallery we were invited to show our work in in Osaka. It took Fujii Sensei some time to arrange and I don’t think it was very easy but Fujii and his friends did manage to make the arrangements.

To go back to 1982 when we showed Fujii and his friends our photos and pots they said that “they could see qualities in our work that would appeal to the tea masters”. We were flattered but did not take it to heart. After our 1983 firing with Fujii Sensei we could see some of our work having possibilities. Fujii Sensei chose three hundred pieces of work by Estelle and myself and together with his pieces from the firing we packed them all carefully into large cartons. We arranged for a shipping container to be delivered to the front of the workshop into which we placed the cartons. It was only about one third full. It was sealed and collected and after arranging insurance was shipped to Japan. Fujii Sensei priced the pieces and we made lists of the contents and values. Several weeks later we had word that the container have been delivered and everything had arrived in perfect condition and was being stored at Mr Nagao’s in Himeji.

The total insured amount was $28,166.00 and insurance was $146.83. The cost of shipping was $3828.26 plus cost of cartons and packing materials, in all about $4500.00.

Container shipped from Napier on Antar V47 17/8/83 arriving in Kobe, Japan 13/9/83

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17.03.05   Fujii Sensei wanted us to come back to Japan at least two weeks before the exhibition opening. We had no idea why. Exhibitions in Japan are very different to those in N.Z. and we soon learnt why the time was needed. Fujii met us at the NZ Embassy on the morning we arrived. He must have guessed we would go there first off as we had asked the NZ Ambassador – Mr Ansell to open our exhibition. Unfortunately there was a change of ambassador just at that time and we were unable to meet the new man. He was being fitted with new clothes ready to meet the emperor. He was unable or unwilling to officiate at the opening.

The next day we travelled with Fujii Sensei to Osaka and taken to the Onoya Ryokan – very high class and to be home on and off for the next three weeks.  Next day we were taken to see the exhibition gallery and meet the directors. From then on we were taken to meet many people and deliver invitations to the exhibition. Also we were taken to workshops in Kyoto to collect ivory lids for cuaire (tea caddys). To Tottori on the Japan Sea Coast to collect very beautiful brocade bags for cuaire. Much travelling and meeting many people.

On Sunday 27th May (1984) in the later afternoon we went back to the gallery. Many people unpacking pots, doing flowers and setting up the exhibition. The department store was closed all Monday so Estelle and I had time to get hair cut and washed and to iron clothes etc ready for next morning. Fujii and his friend Mr Gotoh arrived 5pm to take us out for dinner and afterwards to a type of night club followed by very late supper at another night spot. Did not get to bed until 2am.

23.3.05   On Tuesday 29-5-84 Estelle and I were up very early and with Fujii Sensei off to the Mitzukoshi arriving at 7.45 am dressed in our best clothes. Mr Fujii looked magnificent in his traditional hakama and divided skirt. We had to wait 20 minutes for the caretaker to open up. By 10am everything was ready thanks to the help of many friends. Dr Kanase (our ‘sponsor’) and Shimizu Kosho (Fujii’s sponsor) had arrived. Some speeches and a joint tape cutting to open the exhibition followed

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by a sumptuous sushi meal with German beer and wine. I don’t know why, for this occasion, they did not supply NZ beer and wine. Many people and good comments but no Europeans.

In the evening a ‘thank you’ dinner party was held at the Ryokan for the helpers and the gallery director & staff – about 15 – 20 people. It was meant to be for men only but Estelle insisted that as she was one third of the joint exhibition she had the right to attend. The Japanese women tried to dissuade Estelle but she was adamant. When we arrived there was no place set for her but that seemed to be easily rectified and the men seemed to enjoy her company. She was the only woman there other than the woman serving the wonderful Japanese meal.

11.4.05   Following the exhibition we were again taken to visit those that had purchased major pieces from the exhibition. This was to say ‘thank you’ and to present them with a gift of another small piece of our work. What a different scene from that in New Zealand! In all we must have visited six or seven different people. We even went to Nara to visit Shimizu Kosno, Head Abbot of Todaiji Temple who was Mr Fujii’s sponsor for the exhibition. Unfortunately he was not there but Fujii San left a set of Estelle’s glazed bowls as a gift for him. We also purchased a set of eight of his ink paintings about the history of Todaiji.

13.4.05   Our forth [fourth] trip to Japan in 1996 was for our own pleasure. We did not visit any of the people associated with our previous visits as we knew that we would be immediately organised into various visits and activities. We wished to be independent. We stayed in Tokyo for three days then with our rail pass went sightseeing. By using seven trains in one day we went to Obama on the Japan Sea Coast. From there to Kanazawa for shopping and sightseeing. From Kanazawa we wished to travel to Nagano but the line was closed. The girl doing our ticketing asked for our final destination which was

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Matsumoto. This was at 9am exactly. She said we could go via Echizen and Nagoya both of which we had passed through the previous two days and from Nagoya to Matsumoto which we would do in reverse the next day. This girl then with her computer issued all the necessary tickets; gave us exact times and the platforms to be on in time for us to catch the train 9.09am. Compared with our first visit, when we usually allowed an hour to be able to get tickets sorted, this was incredible and extremely efficient.

Up early next morning and photographed Castre then caught local train to Narai, a very lovely old town preserved in its original state. From there by train to Nakatsugawa and bus to Magome. All very ‘touristy’ and lots of people. We set out to walk the Nakasendo Road – part of the inland route between Kyoto and Edo. It was hot and steep until we got into the forest area where it is mostly downhill. The walk is 8.3 km long. With some help we got back to Nakatsugawa and caught the train back to Nagoya.

Next day we caught Shinkansen to Okayama and then to Kurashiki where we saw some good exhibitions of pots. Stayed overnight then back to Okayama for a good look around. Lovely pots in gallerys and exhibitions. Caught Shinkansen back to Kyoto. Our rail pass was very well used. Our last week was in Kyoto with a day trip to Uji and Inari. The Asahi Pottery was very closed up so did not go in but enjoyed the historic places of the area. Kyoto much changed since our visit in 1978 but still lovely in the older areas. Visited the Uresenke Research Centre for Tea Ceremony Exhibition but first looked in at the old temple which was very beautiful. Altogether a very beautiful trip.

21.4.05   In 2002 I was invited to participate in the Aomori International Wood Fire Festival held at Goshogawara in Aomori Prefecture in Northern Honshu, Japan. The invitation came about through the Kamaka web-site where they had seen and liked our work. Fifty international and twenty Japanese potters were invited and some financial help was given towards fares and costs. A couple of pieces of work had to be sent for an exhibition and

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to be added to their museum collection. There were potters from China, Korea, Philappines, USA, Canada, Greece, and Germany. We were all expected to make pots which were to be fired later at the Kanayama Pottery kilns. I wondered whether my slab built pots would create much interest but was surprised whenever I was working there was always a few of the other potters or some of the public watching me. The skills displayed were quite incredible, what a wonderful experience seeing other potters working, talking with them and exchanging ideas. Accommodation and food as well as excellent entertainment was all provided free.

Before the festival I visited Eiji Watanabe and met with My Fujii again. Lovely to get together for a while. Also I was able to visit Shikoku where I had not been before. After the festival I returned to Tokyo and met with our friends Kanji and Harumi Murakami. Then on to Kyoto  for some sightseeing. Estelle and I were planning another trip about 2000 but did not make it. Some of the things we had planned to do I was able to see. One was the Ryoanji Temple with the famous Zen Garden, another was Kinkakuji – The Golden Temple which we had not seen on our previous trips. My trip from Tokyo to Kyoto with a train pass allowed me to visit Ise Shima to see the Naiku Shrines. Lovely very old trees and special atmosphere around these ancient Shinto temples.

From Ise Shima I was able to travel to Iga-Ueno where Iga pottery comes from. Rather frustrating not to be able to find a proper museum but with some help from City Hall who provided an English person they employed as a translator. Finally we found a shop selling the work of Tanimoto Yoh who was the son of Tanimoto Kosei who was Fujii San’s teacher. Some lovely pots at very high prices.

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24.4.05   Our interest in things Japanese was probably first aroused by the lovely floral containers used by Louis Theakstone in Napier. My grandparents had visited Japan sometime about the turn of the 20th century. I recall two lovely lacquer panels inset with very elegant Japanese figures in Mother of Pearl. These panels were about six foot tall and 15 inches wide hanging in the stairway of their Wellington home. I did not like them much as a seven or eight year old as I found them spooky when going upstairs to bed with only a dim light. Estelle’s interest in flowers and our involvement with pottery soon lead us to appreciate the simple elegant beauty of Japanese things, not only pottery (that is Japanese pottery, not made for export) but weaving and dyeing, paper, lacquer ware furniture and screens and more recently of their modern architecture.

The writings of Bernard Leach enlarged our knowledge of things Japanese especially their paintings as well as pottery. Also Japanese literature lead to more understanding of their culture. We were very surprised when our friends, the Murakami’s had taken us to visit a museum in Hagi and when we recognised two Sesshu Scrolls Mr Murakami said “you know too much”. He meant that we knew a lot about Japanese culture which I guess was true. We had made a study of things Japanese for about twenty years by that stage.

Valentine Road   The land we purchased in 1968 from Des Joll in Valentine Road was just bare land with four old willow trees on the southern boundary, two of which fell over before the sale was completed. Another fell over shortly after but the last one was only blown over in February 2004. All the plantings Estelle and I made starting before the house was built. Most had to have trickle irrigation to keep them going. We would have liked to plant all natives but it was too cold and frosty. We soon learned we needed shelter from the southerlies

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and northwesterlies. We also had to protect the small plants from hares who just snipped them off for no apparent reason. For a number of years our customers would tell us our ‘shrubs’ were growing, but eventually they grew into more substantial trees. All our gardening had to be done between or after making pots. Just as well we had plenty of energy in those days. Because of the winds we planted more tender things in the shelter of the house and workshop. John Scott was not impressed and wanted to know why we had put “all that crap” around the house. He would liked us to have kept the area around the house just grass so that it would stick up like rocks out of the bank.

25.4.05   Two incidents on our first trip to Japan that really set the tone for our whole trip. The first was on our arrival in Tokyo dressed in our winter clothes. The temperature at 7am was in the high twenties and we couldn’t get into our hotel room to change until after 3pm. Just near the hotel was a very cool looking gallery owned by Mr Y Takagaki. We were greeted by wonderful people who spoke quite good English. We were shown pots and books and entertained with iced tea and cakes. We were asked to return a couple of days later to be taken to visit some pottery galleries. Shuichi – Mr Takagaki’s son was loaned his father’s car to take us to the Hatakeyama and the Idemitsu Art Galleries which were both excellent. They were not galleries we would have found on our own. Shuichi asked his friend and another girl Margie Kato to come with us to act as an interpreter . On the back bumper of her car was a sticker saying “Follow the best women drivers in the world – International Women’s Golf” Margie was interpreter for the golf tournament.

At the Idemitsu Gallery we were invited to return to meet the director Mr Eto the following Monday which we did accompanied by

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Mr Takagaki. Margie Kato also took us to another small gallery owned by Mrs Murakami who was niece of Mr Kamao Ota at Koishibara in Kyushu. Harumi Murakami invited us to accompany her and her husband, Kanji during their ten day vacation in Kyushu. What a wonderful meeting; what a wonderful couple; what a wonderful experience those ten days proved to be.

The second incident was our short visit to Mashiko. Shoji Hamada had died but we met with his son Atsuya. He was busy when we arrived but appeared about twenty minutes later clean and dressed to take us out for lunch. Firstly he showed us around the Hamada compound. Worskhops, kilns etc – we had already been into the museum connection of Hamada’s work. Atsuya’s English was excellent and lunch was wonderful. He then took us to visit an American potter (an ex cowboy) and his Japanese wife who trained as a potter in Kyoto. They had just finished firing their kiln which was very hot. From there Atsuya took us to visit Tatsuo Shimonora. Unfortunately he was not well but we were shown around his compound by two American potters who were working for Shimonora San.

What wonderful kindness and friendship by these people – the Takagakis, the Murakamis and Atsuya. These first days in Japan set the tone for the three months we spent in Japan and our change in direction towards woodfire anagama pottery.

3.5.05   When Dean and his first wife Robyn were living at the Bush House in Hokitika they bought a dog. She was a black Labrador, the runt of a litter, that they called Abbey. Being the runty one she always remained small and for many years quite puppy like. When Abbey was about three years old she was given to Estelle and I to look after while Dean and Robyn went overseas. When they returned they lived in a small Wellington flat with no space for a dog so Abbey remained with us and became our dog until she died at the age of seventeen.

Abbey loved playing with a tennis ball and would endlessly

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go fetch the ball or a stick or stone whenever anyone was around to throw it for her. When we visited the Bush House she would remember the place and usually found a stone which she would hunt for when we threw it into the bush. How she found the same stone I do not know but she always did. Often we would have groups of people visit the pottery and Abbey would always come and greet them with her ball in her mouth. She would size everyone up while we spoke with them outside then drop her ball at the feet of the most soft hearted person and sit expectantly waiting for that person to bend down, pick up the slobber covered ball and throw it for her. I don’t think she ever missed out.

Fujii San and Abbey got on well but Fujii used a stick as a baseball bat which made the ball go much farther. Abbey would never give up and Fujii sometimes didn’t seem to notice how tired Abbey was getting. Once or twice he did take pity on Abbey and would sit massaging her legs and joints for ages afterwards until she recovered.

One incident with the ball during our third firing of the anagama gave us a fright. Abbey wanted to play in the afternoon of the first day by which time the fire mouth was quite hot. She stood at the top of the steps down into the fire-pit and dropped her ball. Bounce, bounce, bounce right through the lower store hole, over the fire and up against a pot on the floor of the kiln within sight but out of reach. We puzzled about what to do as we thought it may explode as it got hotter and damage some pots. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later when Craig arrived and suggested that we could get it out with the vacuum cleaner. Fortunately it had a metal suction pipe long enough to reach over the fire and hold the ball tightly so we could bring it out. The ball by this stage was rather singed and did not bounce nearly as well as it had before. Thank you Craig for a little lateral thinking.

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Small anagama   We had nine firings in the large anagama, the last being in 1990. Several things contributed to our deciding that this would be our last firing. Mostly we were finding we were getting over-tired doing so much wood and concentrating so hard  over the actual firing time. Our clay suppliers had changed ownership and the clay had deteriorated. The very high firing quality that we needed was not needed by the amateurs that they mostly supplied so they added lower firing materials to bulk it out. Our pots started to slump and the quality deteriorated. Also we still had many pots from previous firings that were not selling very well.

However, it was only eighteen months before we had withdrawal symptoms so I designed and built a small anagama with several features like a foot pedal operated stoking door which made it possible for one person to fire. We thought of it as rather a toy but with much less wood to prepare and only about eighty pots to load it was easy. With a four day firing we got some good colour results but never with the depth as from the large anagama. The clay problem still remained even with the shorter firing time. However we used the little kiln to good advantage by re-firing some of the dull pots from the big kiln for about thirty hours. The changes were spectacular with the extra time and heat – the ash coating was there from the first firing and only needed to be fluxed to really come to life.

Estelle   Estelle was a very kind and gentle person. A wonderful business partner, wife and mother. Although never a “woman’s lib” sort of person. She was never the less quite sure of her rights and place. When we first went to our solicitor about making our place in Pakowhai Road into a joint family home in the early 1950s, he was of the old school who thought all property belonged to the husband. It did not take Estelle long to advise him that that was not what she was willing

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to accept. We actually became good friends with him and his wife and family after that. He and his wife called at our new home in Valentine Road in 1971 while we were out and left a plant for us on the deck with a note about a “prickly visitor” but no name. It took some time to find out who had left the Psydopanax [Pseudopanax] Ferox (a Lancewood with very prickly leaves when young).

Our accountant wasn’t much better as he thought our partnership was for tax minimisation purposes. That meant that my share of assets and profits gradually increased over Estellle’s. When Estelle realised what was going on she soon made sure that he understood that she was an equal working partner and definitely not just a tax minimiser. He soon equalised our share of assets and profits. This same accountant knew little or nothing about pottery. He asked once when we were firing the oil kiln what we used all the diesel oil for – “was it to mix with the clay?”

Estelle was the first self employed woman to take out a new health insurance with AA Mutual (later to become AMI). After her brush with cancer in 1987 (?) the insurance company would not re-insure her but she wrote to head office and told them that she had had all treatment necessary to cure her and they had no reason to not renew her insurance. It worked and she was re-insured.

4.5.05   Craft Shows.   Between 1985 and 1991 we participated in Dunkerley’s (?) [Dunkley’s] N.Z. Craft Shows. The first was in Palmerston North where we used white newsprint spread over large cardboard cartons that we used to pack and carry our pots. It looked clean and neat but only the flowers Estelle used in the containers gave any colour. Over the years we became more and more sophisticated with quickly assembled tables, coloured curtains and extra lights all of which we could carry in our

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station waggon together with our stock of pots and Abbey. We always had to leave enough space for her – sometimes minimal. Abbey was a good traveller and crossed Cook Strait many times.

We found that Dunedin and Invercargill were the best venues for us but over time the style of the stands changed with less sophisticated crafts and more “gipsy jewellery” type of goods. Our stands always drew favourable comment and with Estelle’s flower arranging were often something special. Our pots and stand would nearly always make Japanese people stop and look. We always pinned up a brochure which they would read. When they saw that Mr Fujii had helped us they would walk away with the appearance that they now understood the Mr Fujii had actually made and fired the pots. Quite sad!

Our domestic wares were sold through many craft shops throughout New Zealand. I cannot remember for sure how it all started but I think Tony and Muriel Fisher from Levin and later Palmerston North were the first. Mrs Hoss of New Vision in Auckland was another in the early days followed by Several Arts in Christchurch and the Connoisseur in Dunedin run by Sally and Michael Throp. Later came the Discovery Shop in Victoria Street in Auckland run by Daphne Montague. An urgent telegram from her asking for three large ash trays gave us a laugh as she wanted them for “The King of Siam”. It was true – his Equerry had seen one of my ash trays in her shop and decided that four of them would be just right for the King’s Palace. Sadly we did not have any made and the month or so to make and fire them was too long.

Other outlets were Mark Twain in Paraparaumu Beach owned by an ex London policeman. Also Carl’s in Auckland run by Mary Dryden and Cave Rock Gallery of Noeleen Brokenshire. Most, if not all, these craft shops have long since closed due to changing times – the craft boom of the sixtys and seventys were great times for us.

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6.5.05   Name on kiln.   When we built the large anagama I obtained a large metal door from a bakers oven to cover the main stoking port. The hinges for this poor were set into the brickwork and it worked very well except that at full temperature it glowed bright cherry red. This meant that when it was opened the person stoking had heat radiation from the open fire mouth and also on their right shoulder and arm from the glowing door. Even with a well insulated kiln at 1300 degree Celsius or above, heat distress is a factor. With this door it was excessive. For the second firing with Mr Fujii we had a half inch thick metal plate made up which we counter–weighted. This worked better but still became cherry red and radiated a lot of heat. For the third firing I made up a galvanised metal frame containing 50mm (2 inches) of ceramic fibre. This door was also counterweighted and we could handle it wearing only thin cotton gloves. Space age material made this ancient type kiln much more manageable. Within the kiln the temperature could be 1350 degree Celsius or more but two inches outside would be touchable wearing only light gloves.

Talking of gloves we purchased an expensive pair of silver padded gauntlets to allow us to handle hot surfaces for our first firing. The first time they were put to the test the nylon thread with which they were sewn melted and the gloves started to fall to pieces. We showed them to the fire brigade and then returned them and received a refund. They were completely useless for the purpose for which they had been made.

The side stoking ports for the first firing were just covered with sillamanite [sillimanite] shelves with a wire frame and handle. These cracked, broke and fell apart very quickly. It was just as well it was only a short firing of six days. For the second firing we had angle iron doors made up. The frame was set into

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the kiln with high temperature cement. The door itself was filled with the same material and a thin sheet of ceramic fibre glued to the inner surface. With a long wire handle attached these proved to be very good. They sealed well and caused very little heat distress.

We always advised the fire brigade when we were about to fire as the plume of flame from the flue at the height of reduction was often spectacular. They usually laughed and said that if they were called they would have to come anyway. We said we would give them a cup of tea when they arrived. They were never called out. Once, when firing the little kiln a volunteer fireman saw the flame and smoke when going to work about 7am one morning. He came in and tried to rouse someone, first at the workshop, then at the house. Finally he made his way down to the kiln and found Estelle and I having breakfast and the supposed fire all neatly contained by the kiln. He was doing a good job but we felt a bit guilty at wasting his time. It was the only occasion when we hadn’t notified the brigade. Whether he would have been told or would have come in anyway we do not know.

St Aubyn’s Potters.   In September 1980 Estelle and I joined with seven other Hawke’s Bay potters to form a co-operative selling from a small room at Vidals Winery in St Aubyn Street in Hastings. At first this was a lot of fun but always a great waste of time being the sales person on duty. We would rather be at home working then trying to sell other peoples pots. However, other than the time involved, sales were quite reasonable and overall costs quite low. Some personality differences and the building and firing of our new anagama ment [meant] that we no longer wished to participate so we withdrew about May 1982. We remained good friends with all but two of the original members and St Aubyn’s Potters continued to operate for a number of years.

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9.5.05   Beginning   Any artistic abilities I may have shown probably had an early beginning. My father was a practical sort of person and my mother and her two brothers all had artistic abilities. Uncle Herbert had a fine tenor voice and Uncle Bill made art deco lamps and glass lamp shades as well as other art works. My mother made artificial flowers and also arranged fresh flowers very well.

At primary school I sat next to a very talented boy who always came first in art with me a poor second. Other boys would say that Harry had helped me or I had cheated in some way. However, when Harry left I was then placed first which didn’t help the other boys much. At secondary school I only played one game of rugby and hated every second of it. I opted out of sport and my punishment, along with two or three other boys, was to do either extra math classes or art classes. There was only one option. The art mistress was the daughter of a local architect and she encouraged me in my interest in architectural drawing. Looking back it is a wonder that I did not take up architecture, my interest continues to this day.

Leaving school I worked for a couple of years in the hardware department of Robt [Robert] Holt & Sons. I enjoyed the work and the company but decided there was no a great future in retail sales. Through a friend of my brother Linden I applied for and was appointed radiographer at Pukeora Sanatorium at Waipukurau. After eighteen months I transferred to Memorial Hospital in Hastings where I worked for the next eighteen years.

I met Estelle through radiography. First she was sent to relieve me at Pukeora for compassionate leave when my father died. Estelle worked from Dr Desmond Costello at his private rooms at Royston Hospital. He was also my boss as consultant radiologist at Memorial Hospital.

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Estelle’s artistic background is harder to discern. Her parents were practical hardworking orchidists [orchardists]. Estelle always picked fresh flowers for the house and her sisters took an interest in various craft activities. Estelle’s interest in music comes from early piano lessons, where, with two different teachers, her pleasure was listening to them play rather than learning. They both obliged and Estelle became very appreciative of good quality music.

Estelle and I were engaged in 1949.

11.5.05   “It will do until you find a proper job.”

This was the comment made by our bank manager when I informed him that I no longer worked at the hospital and was starting a pottery with my wife Estelle. I’m still looking for this “proper” job. In 1965 crafts people were considered as being odd. This attitude was passed on to their children as our boys all had a hard time at school with taunts and teasing.

Another incident during our first trip to Japan in 1978 showing the remarkable help Japanese people were to us. While in Kyushu Kanji Murakami asked us about our plans for travel. We told him we wished to travel by train meeting with potters where ever possible. We did not know about rail passes at that time, which needed to be purchased before leaving New Zealand. He was, however, able to obtain a seventeen day rail pass for us which enabled us to travel right to the north of Honshu to Aomori and back down the other side of the island as far as Okayama and Kurashiki.

To ensure that we met potters at each stop Kanji rang to arrange for us to be met by the leading potter of the area. Although Kanji was probably quite wealthy – the owner of two businesses as well as some patrol boats that he leased to the navy – he did not spend any money on toll calls.

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He explained that by telephoning the exchange in the town, the first stop being Yunotsu, he could speak to the exchange operator for free. In such small places everyone knows everyone, especially telephone operators. Kanji asked about the potter and asked the exchange operator to make arrangements for our visit. To be met, accommodation arranged and most importantly for the potter to arrange things with the potter at the next village of Izumo. From there to Matsue where we met several potters. At the end of the day we were put on a bus to go to the next pottery. As it was after 5pm, the normal shutting time, and we were heading miles and miles into the countryside in the opposite direction to our luggage and accommodation we decided enough was enough. We stopped and got off at the next stop and waited for a return bus to take us back to civilisation. I could not help but feel sorry for whoever may have been waiting for us. It was one occasion that I felt the lack of language skills really mattered.

However, we had regained our freedom. There were probably many good potters we may have met had we carried on but to be in control of our own decisions meant more. We still met many potters, seventy three in total, and were able to visit galleries and museums as well which was difficult before, Japanese organisation and hospitality can be overwhelming.

While at high school Estelle and I, as well as all the other pupils, were exposed to classical music at morning assembly. Short extracts were played on, for that time, a very good sound system that had been given to the school by the Carnegie Foundation. We both felt that this early exposure was the beginning of our love of classical music, especially chamber music. The principal at that time was Mr. W.A.G. Pennington, obviously with the nickname “Wag”. He was a very good and fair-minded headmaster with strong artistic feelings. On retirement he developed his skills as a watercolourist,

doing some very lovely flower studies. Estelle and I would meet him at exhibition openings and other occasions and he even seemed to remember us from our school days. One day he came to the pottery and gave us two books on pottery that he said would probably be more use to us than himself. One was “English Porcelain” by William Burton, P.C.S. and the other was “Lusterwares” by Lady Evans. Neither covered the type of pottery we were making but we were overwhelmed by his generosity. When Alan Caiger-Smith stayed with us in 1975 he was amazed to see the book on tin glazed luster wares and wondered how we obtained it. He told us he used it as a reference work for his writing and his own pottery and had to visit the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to access and read it. We gladly passed it on to Alan for his work as we were not intending to work in luster wares. In exchange he gave us a copy of his book “Tin Glazed Pottery in Europe and the Islamic World.”

Notes on Korea?
Notes on Okanawa [Okinawa] ?
First trip asked to select potter to come to NZ to teach.
Mitsui Foundation : Mr Kobiyashi
QEII Arts Council   Phillip Ashenden
Japan Foundation
Tokoname   Where wood is rafted thru sea – salt content gives slightly salted look to pottery
Fighting Festival in Shishimie
Going to Ikenobo School
Camera Club
Japanese names   surname -> first name

22.5.05   Korea & Okinawa   At the end of our 1978 trip to Japan Estelle and I spent four days in Korea and three days in Okinawa. Knowing no Korean language and having no introductions made it difficult to make contact with any potters. On arrival at Pusan [Busan] we went to the bus depot to arrange to travel on bus to Kyongju. We managed okay but were very surprised when the woman behind the computer said to me in English “I love you”. That was the extent of her language skills taught to her by an American serviceman no doubt. Wonderful craft shops and national museum where we saw many early Korean wares. Were befriended by a very plausible Korean man with reasonable English who wished to guide us about the city. Could not get rid of him and in the end he wanted us to go to his house and virtually manhandled Estelle off the bus. She had great presence of mind and faked a “sicky” on the spot in front of as many people as possible. It worked and we got back on the bus to travel the rest of the way to our hotel. We put a “bar” on any incoming telephone calls – just in case.

We purchased a lovely Korean chest while in Kyongju then caught the bus back to Pusan and the flight to Seoul. Travelling by bus was good in Korea but air travel was most unpleasant. Long delays, much baggage searching and even body frisking. The National Museum of Seoul was wonderful with pottery collections from 3000 BCE to 18th century. In spite of our problems in Kyongju the people in Korea were generally very friendly and helpful. Seeing the two national museum connections and good craft shops made up for not meeting potters.

Our short stay in Naha in Okinawa was good. Again the museum collection opened our eyes to the beauty of the old Okinawan pots. We were able to meet some potters and enjoy their company and see some very good work. We felt that the Okinawan pots shown in the Osaka Museum were very poor compared to the quality and liveliness of the modern potters in Naha.

Estelle and I were asked by the QEII Arts Council and the Mitsui Foundation to select a potter to come to New Zealand to teach for a short period. Mr Kobiyashi of the Mitsui Company in Wellington was very helpful and Phillip Ashenden was somehow connected with the QEII Arts Council and living in Japan. Through these people we made contact with the Japan Foundation in Tokyo. The help and letters of introduction given us all contributed to the success of our visit. Doors were opened and we met many more people than we probably would have otherwise. Although it was not made obvious, many potters would have liked to have been selected. In the end it came down to who could communicate in English and show New Zealand potters something different. Professor? Kondo fitted well and, along with a couple of others, his name went forward and he was chosen to come. Kondo San was teaching at the Kyoto College of Fine Art together with Professor Zenji Miyashita who came with him to New Zealand in early 1979. Unfortunately their talents were not fully utilised and their comment to us was “where are all the teachers. Our classes are filled with housewives and amateurs”. They thought they would be taking master classes for teachers of pottery, not the usual “weekend school” people.

At our exhibition in 1984 a Japanese man came and asked to see me – I did not recognise him at first – it was Professor Miyashita without his beard. I was also rather embarrassed as I had heard shortly before that Kondo San had committed suicide. I was very sorry not to have been better prepared. It was so good of Zenji to have come from Kyoto to visit our exhibition.

9.6.05   The first firing of Kamaka anagama May 8th to 14th 1982. Total time 158 hours

Having built the kiln from a Japanese design and although we had good information from Japan on how to load the anagama there were many things we did not know. One which caused a few laughs was the setting pads we used to support the pots and stop them sticking to the shelves. We knew that alumina was needed for the high firing but what to bind it with? We settled on using flour but learned later to use fire clay. The flour and alumina proved irresistible to the many field mice around these parts, they ate out the pads and left alumina filled droppings all through the kiln. We cleaned up what we could and kept going.

Next concern was how much wood? We had no idea but prepared as much as we could lay hands on but by the third day began to wonder whether it would be enough. Our friend Chloe King provided us with a pick-up truck load of apple wood from their orchard. In the event we did not need it but who knows what effects would have occurred had we added apple ash to the pine ash already deposited on the pots.

During the construction of the kiln we were told to use earthenware pipes for the flue. We obtained these from Tawa, Wellington. They were nearly two metres long and 300mm diameter and a quick and easy way to make a long flue. It would seem, however, that Japanese earthenware is very much more refractory than New Zealand earthenware or some mistake had taken place in translation. As the kiln heated up it became obvious that the earthenware was starting to crack and split up. We added some bricks over part of the flue to help insulate it. On the sixth day the broken pipes started to collapse, Peter Stichbury started shovelling soil, that is our light pumice soil, over the broken areas as further insulation. That was not a good idea as the heat was sufficient by this stage to melt the pumice which

oozed down into the sute no ma (pronounced ‘stemma’, the smoke gathering chamber between the kiln proper and the flue). This further blocked the flow of smoke and flame causing excessive reduction. The first part of the firing was mainly neutral ie. neither oxydising or reducing. It is these unusual conditions that must have given rise to the very unusual results for this firing.

After our evening meal on the seventh day Estelle and I went off to bed for some much needed sleep. An hour later Craig came and woke us up to tell us that the sute-no-ma had started to collapse and the flue was completely blocked. We got dressed again and went down and closed down the fire and sealed what we could of the kiln. We were disappointed that the kiln had not stood up to the firing but pleased that we had reached a reasonable temperature. We also realised our very limited knowledge of wood firing in general and anagama firing in particular.

After we closed down we all came to the house and lit the fire and sat about to talk about the firing. A little later two friends arrived, supposedly to help with the night shift, to find our chimney on fire. More excitement but easily delt with by putting lots of salt on the fire. An exciting end to an exciting time firing the kiln.

It was with lots of excitement and perhaps a little apprehension that we started on this first anagama firing. An amusing letter from Chester Healie with a “sure to fail kiln kit” consisting of a silhouette of a bending pyrometric cone.  A double ended match and a large finger stall for cremated fingers. He was unable to join us for our first firing but Peter and Diane Stichbury from Auckland and Richard Parker from Kaeo came to help. Local helpers were plentyful but none of us knew anything about firing anagamas.

After the kiln had cooled most of the helpers returned to see

the results. There was much excitement and everyone went into the still very warm kiln to take out a pot – either their own as we had invited them to contribute a piece in exchange for their help, or any pot they could reach. They were like a lot of hungry dogs after a bone and all the pots were out and spread around on the grass within 3/4 hour. Estelle was very upset and went away to have a weep as she really wished to study the results and the positions of the pots in which certain effects had occurred. Only by studying these things would we ever be able to learn.

Some of the results were spectacular and never to be repeated. The atmosphere within the kiln during the firing, the way we stoked the wood and the wood itself must have all contributed – especially our lack of knowledge and the gradual breakdown of the flue. We resolved to return to Japan to see Mr Fujii and to somehow learn as much as possible about firing an anagama. In September 1982 we took a few samples and some slides of our results to show Fujii San. He and his friends were most impressed and he said “I can see something in your pots that I feel the tea masters would enjoy!” I think this remark was made not just because of the colours we achieved but more for a spiritual quality he perceived in our work. We certainly tried hard but it was not until Fujii San came to live and work with us that we really began to understand the aesthetics of Japanese tea ceremony wares.

When Fujii San was selecting our pots to go to Japan for our joint exhibition, Estelle and I could choose the ones he would select before he actually picked them up. Our sensitivity to the subtleties or ‘spirit’ of a piece were such a part of our nature that we did not even question his choices. It is all part of making many pots and always assessing the results for quality not just looking at pretty colours or good shapes. The attitudes and moods of the potter are reflected in the finished work and for those sensitive enough to see

these subtleties it is a real thrill when it shows in a really good piece.

When in Japan Estelle and I viewed many pottery exhibitions. We would wander slowly viewing all the work but in the end would return to the two or three that really appealed. It had nothing to do with size or price as we were unable to understand the kanji used on price tickets – these are western criterion by which pottery is valued. Many many times while looking at these pots that we thought the best the potter or the gallery director would come up and speak with us and often invite us to partake in green tea or even simplified tea ceremony. They could see that we understood and admired these special pieces and that the language of wabi and sabi came through without worrying about English/Japanese translations.

16.6.05   Leach, Hamada, Mingei influences.

Although many of our early influences were from the writings of Bernard Leach by no means all were. Our interests were wide and we ‘devoured’ any book on pottery available at the time. We were thus exposed to Chinese, Sawankhalok, Lombok early Japanese and Islamic pottery. Early European and English earthenware was also seen and digested.

The greatest pleasure was always with Japanese pieces from the Kamakura through to the Momoyama periods (1185 -> 1603). Long before we visited Japan, or even knew about such a kiln as an anagama, we loved the photos of works from these eras. The book ‘Two Thousand Years of Original Ceramics’ published in 1961 by Thames and Hudson was studied carefully. Early IGA, Shigaraki and Bizen work became our favourites without having any real understanding of their aesthetics.

Leach, Hamada and the Mingei folkcraft movement were dominant at the time we were learning and so we were influenced by Leach’s writings and work of a similar kind that we

saw being made at the time. Pictures of Kenzan pieces, often being slab built or that could be slab built, were a strong influence on my early work. These illustrations were in Leach’s books and also in Hugo Munsterberg’s “The Ceramic Art of Japan” published in 1964 by Charles E Tuttle Company. By the early contact with Lou Theakstone’s Japanese containers and flower arrangements, Estelle took a great interest in books on Ikebana from which our early flower containers were derived.

When, in 1978 we travelled to Japan, we intended to vaguely follow Leach’s journey but also wished to establish contact with some modern potters and Fujii Sanyo was on our list to try and contact. We also wished to visit all the six ancient kiln sites of Shigaraki, Bizen, Echizen, Tamba, Tokoname and Seto, only some of which were really involved with the Mingei movement. We achieved our goal and visited all these sites as well. As visit or meet with 73 potters whom we had noted from Amaury Saint Gilles’s notes in “Earth & Fire”.

The influences that led to our change of direction in 1983 were from seeing wonderful examples of Momoyama era works in the national museums of Tokyo and Kyoto wondering just how they had been achieved. Our visit to Seto and Be? show an early 15th century Anagama which had been designated an important cultural property, and our trip to Kodera to visit Fujii San. It was here and during our trip of 1982 that we were re-introduced to Iga wares that were our first love in the book “Two Thousand Years of Oriental Ceramics”.

Although our change of firing method in 1983 and the end of oil fired domestic wares, this was not the sudden change of direction that many people thought it was. Our interest in and respect for ‘true’ Japanese ceramics (i.e. not export wares) had begun very early in our career as potters.

What we really did in 1983 was to follow more closely our interest in Japanese traditional ceramics of Ikebana containers and tea ceremony wares. Produced in the most direct way possible – clay and fire – giving the wonderful, warm natural colours of long firings with wood in an anagama type kiln. In other words – tradition.

Two quotes from Korean sources:-
“In culture as in fine arts…”
“The transmission of a tradition…”

22.6.05 Estelles’ glaze and decorative techniques.

By double dipping in two different glazes often with wax resist between. Flowers, fruit and other designs were outlined with iron pigment then in filled with cobalt or chrome oxides. For variety Estelle would use some of the unsuccessful test quantities of glazes (which had not been successful as an overall glaze on pots) but was colourful enough to work as decoration on other glazes. One such glaze was called “Haystack Orange” which produced a broken orange, yellow and green (plates). Some early work was glazed with a saturated iron glaze (12% iron oxide in the formula) with a tin glaze over which gave a lovely contrast. The iron formula we used in concentrations of 0% iron, 1.5% iron, 3%. Each giving a different effect when used over another glaze. Willow ash glaze was another over glaze used giving soft green/grey colours when used over papa rock glaze. With double glazing it often depends which glaze goes over or under – sometimes one will react with the other to either stabilise the combination or the opposite so that it all sheds off the pot during firing. Estelle always seemed to have an uncanny knowledge as to what would work successfully.

Pottery School 1971. May.

Mrs M. Borwick   21 Pufflett Rd H/N
Miss P. Bull   76 Beach Rd Paraparaumu
Mrs M. Farquharson   109 Charlotte Cres HBN.
Mr D.A. Fulford   RD2 HBN.
Miss Jean Hastedt   74 Majoribanks St. Wgtn.
Mrs R. Hollings   7 Edinburgh St. Levin
Mrs Pearl Hughes   134 Te Mata Rd H/N
Mrs Ann Jensen   R.D. Otane
Mrs Ingabord [Ingeborg] Jenssen   5 Charles St. Westshore
Mrs M. Judge   Box 9043 Hamilton.
Mrs EM. Kean   7 Kawiu Rd. Levin
Mrs R. Land   807 Tawa St. HBN.
Mr Doug Martin   609 Tomoana Rd HBN
Mrs M.D. Merson   25 Peddie St Taradale.
Mrs G.R. Morley   36A Elbourne St Taradale.
Mrs A.W. Smith   118 Liverpool St Wanganui
Mrs M. Stephens   30 Te Puke St. Titahi Bay
Miss S. Thornton   65 Puketapu Rd Taradale
Mrs N. Van Asch   Craggy Range H/N
Mrs W. Lindsay   606 Frederick St Hastings.

Mr & Mrs L.J. Seaton   97 Nelson Cres Napier.

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Bruce Martin’s memoirs of his early years and the history of Kamaka Pottery

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