Magazine Article – Hawke’s Bay’s Own International Potters

Bruce and Estelle Martin


Quietly nestled amongst an arena of exotic and native trees in Bridge Pa is the home and working place of two of Hawke’s Bay’s potters. Bruce and Estelle Martin, have for over twenty five years, been working and sculpturing with clay. Kamaka Pottery down Valentine Road, is their home base where they craft pots of unique creativity. The Martin’s are using a firing system unfamiliar to Hawke’s Bay.

Anagama, meaning ‘‘hole kiln’’, is an ancient style of kiln which has changed little over the 1000 years it has been a part of Japanese culture. Originally the Anagama kiln was dug into a clay bank in the hillside and fired very slowly because the clay vitrified. However the Anagama kiln was not solely attributed to the Japanese. Anagama fired pots have been unearthed in archaelogical [archaeological] diggings as far away as France.

Unfortunately the art is slowly dying out in Japan, through the shortage of raw materials and tough anti-pollution laws.

Bruce and Estelle first learned the technique over four years ago when they went to Japan in search of some more stimulating styles of pottery. There in Japan the couple visited master potter Mr Sanyo Fujii at Himejii near Kobe. On their return to N.Z. the Martins built their special kiln which took about five thousand bricks and two and a half years to construct. Upon which they fired a collection of pots. Mr Shanyo [Sanyo] Fujii was so excited by their efforts that he suggested he return to Bridge Pa with the Martins to help them in the techniques of Anagama and to make another firing. Over many months, Bruce, Estelle and Mr Shanyo [Sanyo] Fujii made pots in several pottery pieces used in traditional rituals such as the Japanese tea ceremonies. Of the best pots selected, Mr Fujii returned to Japan wherenpon [whereupon], he and the Martin’s organised an exhibition of their ART.

Bruce and Estelle Martin received very positive responses from Japanese people with a good acceptance of their traditional Japanese ceremonial works. Orders were taken and they have now found a place in the Japanese pottery market. Mr Fujii advised the Martins that the Japanese people were now ready to view some of their own expressions in the art of pottery.

On the home front the western conservatism is slow to accept Anagama’s form of glazing. There is a great difference between New Zealand’s standard domestic ware. Anagama fired pottery has a much more refreshing feel, giving the pot more expression. Colours from orange to blue are splashed upon the pot’s surface by the licking of flames and the build-up of embers and ash. The situation of the pot in the large kiln regulates to an extent the colour and pattern on the pot. Heat, moisture, flames, embers and ash all play a large part in the glazing of the pottery.

Preparation of the Anagama kiln is a long process with fifteen hundred to two thousands pots to be stacked into the kiln. Over twenty tonnes of wood have to be split, to keep the kiln at the approximate 1300° Celsiu’s [Celsius] temperature for nine and a half days. This is needed to glaze Bruce and Estelle’s art. With the help of enthusiastic friends and interested parties feeding the kiln around the clock for the required days, the extra hands make this an easier task. After the firing has reached its specified time, the kiln is left to cool for almost a fortnight, before the pots can be exposed to the light of day.

Bruce and Estelle informed SPECTRUM that in Japan they fire for up to fifteen days. A couple of these days are needed to dry out the kiln as the climate in Japan is more humid, but they are still looking at more than ten days’ firing. The Martins have decided to go for the ultimate, and fire their Anagama kiln over the ten day period. They have never been able to do this in their previous three firings, through lack of wood. Bruce has calculated that they would need over twenty five tonnes of fuel to keep the kiln at the appropriate temperature for more than ten days.

When using the fire on clay, colours of the pot can never be standardised, guidelines can be followed to gain a certain result but the outcome is a completely natural occurrence. Anagama adds an excitement to each piece as it holds its own character and individuality. Wood ash helps to attain many of the tonings fused on the pots. Flames dancing over and around the pots add the colour of deep brown to vibrant orange. With the build-up of embers AGAINST THE POTS blues to turquoise decorate the pot’s surfaces of Estelle and Bruce’s work. Anagama releases a comfortable feeling of neutrality in its colouring, giving unmatchable combinations from any artificial form of glazing.

As New Zealand has an abundance of raw materials and our pollution laws are not too strenuous, the Martins will be able to continue this exciting form of art, further bringing a piece of Japanese culture to Hawke’s Bay. Their place is certainly worth a visit. You are welcome to view the Martins studio on any day to survey or purchase their works.

by Craig A. Mennie.

Photographs by Mike Lings.

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  • Mike Lings
  • Craig A Mennie




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