Newspaper Article 2010 – Desert blooms over decades

Desert blooms over decades

Potters built oasis with respect for environment

Garden Chat


I NOTICE as I enter the gate of Kamaka Pottery in Bridge Pa that the way forward is marked by lightly gravelled tyre tracks over the grass, worn by limited use. It peters out before I have really found my way to the house. A building, which turns out to be the pottery workshop and display studio, lies to my right, so I stop the car just as Bruce Martin emerges from it.

This first impression could suggest a number of things, but I realise that it fits the “hands off” approach to the landscape forged over decades by internationally respected potters Bruce and his late wife, Estelle.

While this is not a garden in the conventional sense, it is a carefully thought-out landscape, encompassing tree plantings, the placement of the house, workshop and the impressive anagama kiln, all of which are listed as a category 1 historic place. Long before the term “environmental footprint” came into common use, the Martins wished to create a minimal impact on this four-hectare site.

Their approach was largely guided by their architect, John Scott, when, in 1970 he spent over six months working with them on a building strategy for a home and workshop that would fit their needs and the environment.

“We gave him a completely free hand in the design and concept of the buildings,” says Bruce, “because we shared his view of how people could live with nature, but not dominate it.”

The land was rather like a desert when they bought it. There were three old and broken willows, but nothing else grew there. Geologically, it is a pumice-layered flood plain created from the ancient river course of the Ngarororo [Ngaruroro] which, during inundation, washed fine pumice and ash from the Taupo eruption off the hills, down the water course and over the land surface.

The soil is therefore dust-fine and unproductive and it has taken a long time to establish the trees  which are mainly deciduous – the attempts to grow native trees were unsuccessful, in spite of trickle irrigation and staking against the wind.

The flood-created contours around which the buildings and landscape have been placed are still evident. From the start, Bruce and Estelle loved the buildings Scott had created for them, and have changed nothing during their occupation. There are no carpets or wallpaper, which together with the minimum-care landscaping, allowed them to focus on their pottery. When looking at the Martins’ collection of pots, it is possible to understand the rapport that must have been established between architect and client. The large, deceptively simple anagama-fired pots and vessels sit so perfectly with the buildings, they seem to be made to go together, Timeless.

Bruce and Estelle’s development as potters grew from their partnership, within which they were able to expand in knowledge, skill and artistic expression. A visit to Japan in 1978 was formative. It was after this that they built an anagama kiln on the property; a Japanese master potter had provided them with the plans and dimensions. After their first firing he came to stay with them at Kamaka, sharing his knowledge and fine-tuning the kiln.

An anagama firing takes 8-10 days. The kiln is fed with wood continuously, consuming 28 tonnes of wood and reaching temperatures of more than 1340C, creating the distinctive wood ash glaze on the surface of the pots. For the once-a-year firings, pots would be made and stored in preparation, the wood collected, split and stacked ready for the start, Sadly, since Estelle’s death in 2001, Bruce has stopped making and firing pots. The anagama firing is so demanding of energy, time and resources that he has not wished to repeat it.

However, the Kamaka Pottery in Valentine Rd is on the Hawke’s Bay Art Trail and it is still possible to view the Martins’ beautiful pots in the studio that John Scott built for them.

Phone first to avoid disappointment, 879-9555, email anagama

Photo captions –

EASY CARE: The pond is a concession to gardening on this minimum care property.

HOT SPOT: Bruce Martin places the cover over the entrance to the anagama kiln, which when fired takes 8-10 days and 28 tonnes of wood to reach 1340C.

POT SHOT: The ornamental Japanese cherry, Geisha, flowers early in winter and is used by Bruce Martin for ikibana [ikebana] flower arrangements in his pots.

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Newspaper article

Date published

2 July 2010

Creator / Author

  • Kay Bazzard


Hawke's Bay Today


Published with permission of Hawke's Bay Today

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