Newspaper Article – Spreading fame of Bridge Pa potters

Spreading fame of Bridge Pa potters

Bruce and Estelle Martin, Bridge Pa, are known throughout New Zealand for their pottery, and for the lessons they give novices in the craft.

Their pottery, sold under the name “Kamaka” is sold in Dunedin, Auckland, Levin, Wellington and Christchurch.

At present the Martins are away for three weeks taking pottery classes in Nelson, Motueka and Blenheim. Bruce and Estelle Martin have been full-time potters for 14 years.

They used to operate in the toolshed at their home in Hastings, but nine years ago, because of lack of space, they built a home and workshop at Valentine Rd, Bridge Pa.

“Potters just can’t go anywhere,” Mrs Martin said. “We had to find a site on land that was unproductive to comply with Hawke’s Bay County Council regulations.”

The couple took up pottery 20 years ago.

Mrs Martin was learning floral arrangement from Lou Theakstone and was impressed by the “lovely pots” he put flowers in.

They visited the second exhibition given by the New Zealand Society of Potters at Napier.

“When we saw that, we were away,” Mr Martin said.

In those days pottery was a relatively new craft in New Zealand. There were no classes, so the Martins had to learn from books.

“We learnt by trial and many errors,” Mrs Martin said.

Their first “trial and error” was getting their home-made kiln to fire. It went the first time, but they couldn’t get it hot enough the second time they used it.

They discovered that the fault lay in the chimney being the wrong size for the kiln.

They got to a stage in teaching themselves where they could go no further, so Mrs Martin went to a week-long school on pottery-making at Massey University where she “got some problems ironed out.”

After six years of making pottery as a hobby, Mr Martin decided to give up his job as charge radiographer at the Hastings Memorial Hospital and take up the craft full-time. They were spending nearly all their time on it by then.

“There weren’t many full-time potters in New Zealand at that stage. There are a lot more now,” he said.

The Martins were the first to take up pottery full-time in Hastings.

They had already been selling their pottery before that.

They sold it one day a week in a room at the back of Boyle’s Shoe Store in Karamu Rd, plus they sold some to craft shops.

Their pottery began to sell in districts outside Hawke’s Bay when craftshop owners saw their work at exhibitions.

The Martins say they spend a lot more than 40 hours a week making pottery.

Although they earn their living from it, the Martins don’t see it as a business.

“If we looked on it as a business, we’d probably have machines. We like to do the pottery with our hands,” Mrs Martin said.

They like to get as much as they can of the material used in making pottery themselves. This includes collecting ashes from orchards and rocks to make glazes.

They only use stoneware clay and have to get it from Nelson because there is none in Hawke’s Bay.

Mr Martin specialises in making slab pottery – making dishes out of slab shaped pieces of clay.

The couple make mainly domestic ware – which is where the market lies.

Mrs Martin said they have to strike a balance between making what they want to, and making pottery that will sell.

They also do special orders for customers.

Groups such as school children and wives of men attending conferences often visit Kamaka Pottery.

The Martins are also visited by overseas potters who have been given their name by the New Zealand Society of Potters.

Mr Martin is a past-president of the New Zealand society and

No machines for them

Mrs Martin is a selector – she decides which potters’ work can be exhibited in the society’s exhibition.

The Martins formed the Hawke’s Bay Association of Potters in 1977.

Mrs Martin said potters in the area got together to organise a national exhibition in Hastings and the group worked so well they decided to form an association.

Mr Martin was the association’s first president.

The Martins are often asked to teach at workshops around New Zealand. This has taken them all over New Zealand except north of Auckland, Mrs Martin said.

They try to limit the schools to four to six a year because of the large amount of time involved.

“We’ve got five this year already,” Mr Martin said.

A highlight of the Martins’ interest in pottery was a three-month trip in 1978 to Japan where pottery has been a tradition for 450 years

“In one area we visited, one family was in the 11th or 12th generation of making pottery.

“We went to places where the whole village were potters,” Mrs Martin said.

Pottery is used widely in Japan and the Martins said breakfast was served on a tray with 14 pottery dishes with small servings of food in them.

The dishes were chosen for their shape and colour to go with the food.

The Martins met about 80 potters in the 90 days they were in Japan.

It is protocol in Japan to be introduced or to have a letter of introduction before visiting and, as most of the Martins’ visits to potters were pre-arranged, the potters were able to have interpreters there.

Mrs Martin said it was strange to hear Japanese talking in American accents.

One elderly potter they visited couldn’t speak English but the Martins still managed to spend two and a half hours with him.

It is a tradition in Japan to give gifts when you visit someone or are visited.

The Martins received quite a few small pottery dishes.

They were given one big pot but, because it was so early in their trip, had to refuse it because it would only get broken.

Mrs Martin said the Japanese potters told them the Japanese have got “roots” New Zealand potters haven’t got because the craft was relatively new in this country.

“Overall it is still growing. There is a lot of interest and so much being done.

“There are some very good younger potters coming on,” she said.

In Japan, because of the long tradition, an “apprentice” would spend his first two or three years doing menial tasks such as sweeping the floor, she said.

Photo caption – Bruce and Estelle Martin . . . hand-made pottery is their way of life.

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