Thursday, May 21, 2015

The mysterious terracotta vases...

For years now I have been trying to work out who made the Crown Lynn terracotta vases.  They look like this (my one and only example.)
They are hand thrown and have a Crown Lynn star and tiki stamp on the base. My example is 16 cm high and most are a similar height or smaller.
These pots are quite classy - hand thrown terracotta which has often been textured with some kind of tool, then dipped in various glazes and slips (the muted green around the neck of my pot above is coloured slip - a mixture of runny clay and a mineral colour.)
The terracotta ware was first mentioned in Gail Henry's groundbreaking book New Zealand Pottery Commercial and Collectable. When I was interviewing Crown Lynn's founder Sir Tom Clark I showed him the photos from Gail's second edition (page 196) and he said no, Crown Lynn  would never have made anything out of terracotta, because coloured clay would have contaminated the machinery, discolouring the white clay body which they were working so hard to develop. 
Which leaves us with a problem!
There is no doubt that these pots are Crown Lynn, they are clearly stamped with the star and tiki mark, which was used from about 1948-1955.  And my pot is by no means a one-off - see the lovely collection below, belonging to mumof1 from the New Zealand Pottery website.
Unfortunately during the time when I was interviewing Tom I didn't own one of these pots, and I didn't take the time to pursue the mystery. Now I am not aware of anyone who worked at Crown Lynn during that early period who is still with us.  
The terracotta ware has been attributed to a couple, Arthur and Olive Rhodes - but I am struggling to find any meaningful reference to potters with this name.  So far as I can ascertain, the reference to the Rhodes' comes from the catalogue of the huge Jim Drummond sale at Art + Object in Auckland on 3 May 2009. Here is a link to that exceptional catalogue, a real gem and thanks so much to the auction house keeping it online.  The terracotta vases are items 232 - 234, page 15.
Anyway. Jim told me that the reference to the Rhodes' which he used in his catalogue came from an old exhibition catalogue, but he couldn't find a copy to show me (by the time I asked him, several years had passed since Jim had closed his wonderful antique shop, and his papers were stored or dispersed.)  I have asked the auction house, and everyone else I can think of if they know anything about Arthur and Olive  Rhodes but so far I have drawn a blank.  Which troubles me.
An online search reveals that Arthur Rhodes was a noted baseball player in the U.S. but not much else.
Te Papa has one of these pots in their collection - 'attributed to' Rhodes.
Ev from the New Zealand Pottery website has done a thorough search for Arthur and Olive without success.
There are other references on the NZ Pottery site - click here then do a search for Rhodes - but everyone seems to have drawn the same blank.
And nothing useful appears even if you do an international online search.
It seems very very odd that such accomplished craftspeople have disappeared without trace. 
So let's say that these pots were made by someone other than the elusive Rhodes? Umm... who?   The two main hand potters associated with Crown Lynn were Ernest Shufflebotham and Daniel Steenstra, although there were others.  Shufflebotham is known for his pure elegant forms, mainly white and pastels. These shapes don't really look like his.  And Steenstra joined Crown Lynn in 1953, at most only a couple of years before - to my knowledge -  the star and tiki stamp was discontinued.  The pots are more in his style than in Shufflebotham's, but I have never seen a reference to Steenstra making anything at Crown Lynn out of terracotta. And all his work I have seen so far is rounded rather than angular. He did use texture to decorate some of his work, but that's about the only connection, and a flimsy one at that.
So what do we know? 
This terracotta ware was made by Crown Lynn, probably between 1948 and the early to mid 1950s.
They are hand-thrown by someone who knows what they are doing, then textured with a tool, then decorated with coloured slip (slip is liquid clay) and with glaze.
They were most probably made by someone away from the Crown Lynn factory - I say this because Tom Clark had no memory of them, and because they are made from terracotta which would not have been allowed anywhere near the machinery which mixed the white clay body which Crown Lynn developed for its domestic ware.
The range appears to consist of all sorts of vases and a few ashtrays.   

So the jury is still out on this one.  My best, most 'educated' guess, is that there was a potter who worked outside the Crown Lynn factory somewhere, who made a job lot of these hand-thrown pots which were sold under the Crown Lynn brand. Who it was, I have no idea.  Sadly so many of Crown Lynn's paper records were destroyed over the years in factory fires, or dumped when the factory closed in 1989.

Our only hope is that something turns up in the records which are now held in Te Toi Uku, the new Crown Lynn museum in West Auckland. This museum, which is open by arrangement, houses a large collection of papers and objects collected by the late Richard Quinn. Researchers are currently sifting through this collection so who knows - something may turn up. Here's hoping!

EDITS TO ADD - Ev Williams from the New Zealand Pottery website has some interesting thoughts on this pottery. Well worth a read.

My apologies for the lengthy gap between posts. Hopefully I am back on track now.
More soon



Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What I did in the holidays!

It's been a long time since I last posted on this site - you will be forgiven if you have totally lost interest, but I do have an excuse of sorts.  The biggest event of the summer was our wedding! Yes, George and I got married after 13 years together. Here we are signing the register.  (Papers held down with dive weights.) Photos thanks to our friend Douglas Madgwick.

Our wedding was at home in Whangarei; it was a lovely day and all went well. Afterwards friends and family gathered under our home-made awnings (adapted from old advertising banners) in the garden. 
And guess what the tables were set with.  My favourite Crown Lynn patterns:  I don't have complete dinner sets in all these, but we did have enough plates for 50 plus guests. 

 Here's cheery Topaz.
Beautiful Egmont.
The ubiquitous Echo. I have a very large set but sadly George doesn't like this pattern. So in the shed it remains.
My lovely lovely Nirvana.
And - of course - Autumn Splendour, which will go to my daughter once her children get old enough not to drop plates on the floor.
My friend Lois made us a lovely floral arrangement in her Temuka vase, and of course my precious Kelvinator jug did duty as a water carafe.  Out came my hollow-stemmed champagne glasses. (And no the table wasn't at an angle... blame the photographer!)
We found some quirky opshop salt and peppers and used my collection of NZ commercial ceramic water jugs and that was the table decorations taken care of.  Simple!

More soon - I have some serious stuff to write about Crown Lynn now I have at last got my feet back under the desk.

Take care
Val Monk Irwin.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Early yellow Crown Lynn: rare and under-rated

Before I get going, a quick clarification. In the recent book about Mark Cleverley, author Jonty Valentine speculates that I might be writing yet another Crown Lynn book.  It's true that I wanted to record another interview with Mark, which I have since done, but that interview was never intended to be the basis of a book.

Anyway. Onto another bit of lovely Crown Lynn history.  This post is to introduce you to some of the early yellow ware made by Crown Lynn (then known as Ambrico) in the late1930s and through the 1940s.

In our recorded interviews when I was writing my first book, Tom Clark told me the story behind this yellow ware.  In the very early days, when he and his very small team were working out how to make household ware instead of bricks and pipes, they used a yellowish clay body which was all that was available at that time. They were not satisfied with this, and a huge amount of work went into developing a clay body that would fire to a pure clean white.  If you look at the later Crown Lynn dinnerware you see that they achieved that. Apollo for example is finished with a clear glaze over the plain white clay body.
Tom and his team eventually found the vast white clay deposit near  Matauri Bay in Northland, which became the mainstay of their production right through until the factory closed in 1989.  The Matauri Bay clay mine is now owned by overseas interests.

Pottery clay is complex - often many different ingredients are mixed together to form a white, solid, durable product once it is fired in a kiln. A mix that looks white while it is wet can turn yellow - or worse a muddy grey - when it is fired. Or impurities may show up. Many of the early products were marred by speckles of black iron pyrites. The first whitish clay body was developed around 1948.

This jug is a classic Crown Lynn shape - and it's a muddy colour rather than a clear yellow. The base is unmarked. Height 9 cm, width 9 cm.

Because it is not as sought after as the later dinnerware - and because some sellers don't realise what it is - you may still be lucky enough to pick up the odd piece of this yellow Ambrico ware. Much of this early product is unmarked. Other pieces have the simple 'Made in NZ' backstamp.  This cup is a nice shade of yellow, again that's from the clay body. It is finished in a clear glaze. Note the 'block' handle, which is joined to the cup from top to bottom.  This style of handle stuck to the cup better than the later 'ear' shape which was joined only at both ends.  Again the base is unmarked, with a grainy finish which is quite common with this early ware. This cup is 7.5 cm high and 8 cm across the top.
Below is the lovely early 'Paris' design dinnerware with its distinctive ridges. You could write a book about this ware alone, if only someone was still alive to tell us about it... So far as I can work out, Paris ware was made first with hand-jiggers, then during the 1939-45 war it was made with a complex machine built in-house, which was never completely successful. I believe the same style was made later using machines imported from England. You see Paris ware in the early yellow clay and also in the later whiter clay. The saucer  is 15 cm across, cup height 7 cm, width across the top 8 cm.
This cup and saucer have different variations on the Made in NZ backstamp, indicating they are not a matched pair, but they would have been made around the same time.

This is one of my prized pieces - a very old yellow kitchen mixing bowl.  Height 11 cm, width across the top 25.5.  It is in surprisingly good condition, considering the amount of use it was no doubt subjected to.
And in a similar style, here is a chamber pot, made for the days when we had outside toilets.  I once saw one of these advertised as 'a sort of a bowl with a handle'. Love it!   Height 11 cm, width across the top 23 cm.

The base of the chamber pot is completely unmarked, but the pot is a distinctive Ambrico shape.
Here's another old-fashioned item, a shaving mug.  This is a particularly early version. It is 8 cm high.

Later shaving mugs are in this shape. You can see that by this time they had developed a whiter clay body.  This example is 8 cm high. You often see this shape decorated with transfers or - occasionally - hand painted.  Those styles of decoration were not in use until the very late 1940s.
At a quick scan, this post may seem to lack colour, but please think about the huge amount of trial and error, and pure effort, that went into making Crown Lynn (then known as Ambrico) in those early days.  One of the reasons Crown Lynn is so respected today is because it kept getting better and better - Tom Clark never allowed his team to stand still.  Even after the Matauri Bay clay deposit was discovered, the search for good clay continued.  Tom's wife Patricia told me that on their honeymoon he would stop the car and jump out and dig a piece of clay out of the bank... and put it in his mouth.  Good clay is smooth - and tasting it is a quick and easy way of testing for grit.

More soon
Take care

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Two important Auckland events - Mark Cleverley designer

Mark Cleverley was a very influential designer who worked at Crown Lynn through the 1970s.  In Auckland there are two events showcasing him and his work:

The Going West Festival
The Going West Festival talk is a must see - it will feature Mark Cleverley talking about his work, especially his time at Crown Lynn. I will also be on stage, along with Jonty Valentine who did much of the research for the exhibition at Objectspace.  I am anticipating that most of the hour-long session will be Mark telling us about his time at Crown Lynn - what he designed, why he designed it, where his inspiration came from, etc etc. There is a $15 entry fee; $12 concession. The session is chaired by Objectspace director Philip Clarke.
Venue: Titirangi War Memorial Hall, 500 Titirangi Road, Titirangi, Auckland
Time: 9.00 am on Saturday 13 Sept 2014
Here is the full website for the Going West Festival - a wonderful weekend to be had! Friday 12 Sept-Sunday 14.

The exhibition
The Mark Cleverley: Objectspace Master of Craft exhibition covers Marks entire career - as well as Crown Lynn, he designed for many other media including packaging and stamps.  It is well worth a visit - and don't leave it too long, it closes on 11 October. To accompany the exhibition a book written by Jonty Valentine and  Sherry Blankenship has just been published by Bateman. Here is a nice review on Design Assembly which features gorgeous pics from the book!
Venue: Objectspace, 8 Ponsonby Rd, not far from the intersection with Great North Rd and Karangahape Rd.
Closes 11 October 2014

Mark Cleverley worked at Crown Lynn through the 1970s, after coming to their notice through consistent successful entries in the annual design competition.  Mark is a very accomplished designer who has received a number of prestigious awards. He taught at Wellington Polytechnic and Victoria University after leaving Crown Lynn.

Here are some pics from the exhibition, courtesy Ev Williams.  Below we see three experimental designs at the rear, with golden Sundowner, Purple Myrtle and Ellerslie hotel ware in the foreground.
Here is the classy ware made for Bellamy's restaurant at the Beehive. Truly elegant in rich browns with a slight purplish iridescence when the light is right.These examples came from Parliamentary Services.
Lastly, here are two popular patterns Mark is proud of - Palm Springs on the left and Ponui on the right.

And here, for a wee treat, are my pics of some of my favourite designs by Mark Cleverley.
This is Ponui:

Juliana (rare in New Zealand)

My precious Bellamy's plate.  To my knowledge this ware was never released on the open market so I am very glad I stumbled upon one years ago in an op shop.

Lovely cool elegant Apollo.  This shape used to be very easy to come by, but now its not often found in the shops - I guess people have realised what a pleasure it is to use.

More soon
See you at Going West at 9.00 am on Saturday 13 September!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Buyer beware!

I've had a few days home with the flu - which gave me time to wander my way through all the Crown Lynn listings on TradeMe... and I was pretty appalled by what I found. 

A novice collector in particular could very easily be caught out by some listings which are advertised as Crown Lynn when they patently are not. 

'Crown Lynn???' does not mean Crown Lynn.  Nor does 'In the style of Crown Lynn' or 'Might be Crown Lynn' or 'It is not marked but I have no doubt that it was made by Crown Lynn' or other such assertions.

Generally, I have to believe that the seller is acting with integrity, but there are a few cases where I wonder. There are a couple of traders who are notorious for advertising items as 'Crown Lynn' - usually  with a few question marks, and using that same heading for countless re-listings no matter how often they are told that they are wrong.   Unfortunately I can't name that trader but I would love to!

Crown Lynn is very complex, and as we all know it's not always easy to establish what is and what is not Crown Lynn.  Without blowing my own trumpet, (much!) my Crown Lynn Collector's Handbook is a very useful guide. 

First let's deal with what is Crown Lynn. Many CL items are unmarked, and many others bear marks which appear to have no relation to Crown Lynn.  I have given three common examples below.

This lovely duo is marked 'Symphony British'.

This gorgeous honey glaze beer stein carries the very common Crown Lynn four-digit shape number and 'Made in New Zealand' in capitals. (I love the way honey glaze comes up so beautifully in photos. How can I ever have been derisive about this ware - but indeed I was)

And this handkerchief dish from the 1940s has only a three-digit shape number, as was common practice at that time.

You will also come across dinnerware marked with 'Genuine Ironstone' or 'Contemporary Ceramics' - or a slew of other brands all used by Crown Lynn.

So where can we get into trouble and buy what is not Crown Lynn?  There are two very common pitfalls - Hobby Ceramics and the Crown Lynn replicas made by Studio Ceramics. 

A while ago there was a white 'Crown Lynn' shell on TradeMe which gave me buyer's envy - mine is rather garish and I would have much preferred the white.  Then, after it had sold, I realised that Studio Ceramics makes a white version and that's probably what was on TradeMe... but saying that, I can't guarantee that CL never made a white shell! 

Studio Ceramics has in no way attempted to mis-represent what they make, and you often see items listed 'Crown Lynn replica' and the like, which is perfectly acceptable.  For the record, here is the link to the Studio Ceramics Retro Lynn range currently in production.  I believe that the replicas are now backstamped Studio Ceramics but that may not always have been the case in the past.

Then we have Hobby Ceramics.  This was hugely popular in the 1980s/1990s - you went to a class and were given a bisque ware 'blank' which you painted with supplied glazes in your own design. Your work was then fired and you took it home.  Some Crown Lynn shapes found their way into Hobby Ceramics classes.  This dish for example is almost exactly the same as the lovely version decorated by Frank Carpay below... but it is Hobby Ceramics.
Besides the quality of the artwork, the clue is on the base. In the pic below you can see the familiar Crown Lynn shape number 2142, but there is also a scratched mark - the initials of the person who hand-painted it. In addition most Hobby Ceramics items look amateurish - ceramic decoration is a skilled occupation that you can't learn in a single class.  Hobby Ceramic glazes are also quite distinctive - the pale speckly effect above was quite popular. 
Experienced buyers are aware of the pitfalls of Hobby Ceramics, so if you see something that seems to be rather special but no-one else is bidding, perhaps you need to reconsider. You can pretty much guarantee that other collectors will have seen the listing and decided there's something odd about it.
Yet another common pitfall is to see other NZ manufacturers' works listed as Crown Lynn - for example 'Clay Craft/Crown Lynn.'   Clay Craft had nothing to do with Crown Lynn. It was a totally separate company, making completely different ware - lovely and collectable in its own right, but not Crown Lynn.  The same applies to many other NZ manufacturers, eg Orzel, Temuka etc.
However Titian and Luke Adams are both associated with Crown Lynn, and I will tackle their stories another time. Both were taken over by Crown Lynn, so some of their output can be attributed to Crown Lynn and some cannot. The honey glaze beer stein above is very typical of the type of ware made at the Titian factory after the takeover. 
In summary, it is buyer beware out there. Although recent legislation has given online buyers more protection, I don't like your chances of getting your money back if you buy something that proves not to be authentic. I can't emphasise enough, if an item seems too good to be true it probably is. If it's as rare and valuable as the seller implies, then others will be bidding. If not, it is either not authentic or overpriced. Or both.
There are not a lot of misleading entries, but enough to cause concern.
Lastly - life is full of surprises!  Recently the New Zealand Pottery site had some discussion about Crown Lynn made in Mexico.  Huh??? Mexico???? In all my years researching and collecting, I had never come across this connection, but now we have a backstamped item to prove it - it appears that Crown Lynn commissioned some work from the Lofisa factory in Mexico.  As you will see from the discussion on this link, there is still a lot to be discovered about this Mexican connection.
More soon

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Classic "English" - Wentworth Ware and Fancy Fayre

Just imagine their pride when Tom Clark and his team managed to make this gorgeous thing:
For years they strove to create a white clay body, and struggled with primitive largely self-taught decorating and firing techniques - in isolation because of the war.  Then, in 1948 it all came together, importantly with the help of experts recruited from England.  What whoops of joy there must have been when these little compotes first came out of the kiln looking like this.  And this:
My lovely bright yellow specimen is a recent acquisition - a lucky $10 find in a Kaihohe second-hand shop.  These dishes would both have been made in the 1950s. They are the same shape and size, height 4.5 cm, length 16, width 13.   The gold decoration was another development introduced by the newly recruited English decorators in the late 1940s.  The yellow and gold version is unmarked apart from a number impressed in the base.  The hand-coloured one carries the Wentworth Ware backstamp.
In the photo above you can also see the shape number, 125, which looks as though it was pressed into the soft clay after it came out of the mould. In almost every case, Crown Lynn gave each new shape a number, which makes it easier to identify Crown Lynn products even when they don't have a backstamp. 
And Wentworth Ware.. .where did that brand come from? In the 1950s many New Zealanders were a bit snobby... they preferred to buy china made in England, which was often referred to as 'home' even by people who were born in NZ.  My grandmother, for example, would never have had Crown Lynn in her home. Tom Clark once publicly described NZ housewives as snobs, which created a rather unpleasant backlash.
This pink grape leaf is another in the Wentworth Ware series. I am a bit disappointed in this photo, the pink is brighter in real life. 
The base is unmarked apart from a shape number, 147, which looks as though it has been scratched into the soft clay when it first came out of the mould.
Yet another in the Wentworth Ware series is this gorgeous bright yellow dish, about the size you might use to serve a few yummy little chocolates after dinner. I am having a love affair with this yellow glaze. It is so very very bright and cheery.
The dish is shape number 410.
Alongside Wentworth Ware, Crown Lynn made Fancy Fayre salad ware, a blatant copy of the lettuce leaf styled ware being made by Carlton and others in England. This jug featured in my first book. It is 14 cm tall.
This is the backstamp. You can also see the shape number, 409-1.  The number 1 denotes the size. The next size up would have been 409-2.
This is my treasured salad dressing jug. I found the jug years ago, and only recently bought its matching little plate on TradeMe. The jug is 9 cm high and 17 cm end-to-end. The saucer is 17 cm long.
The jug has the Fancy Fayre backstamp, the saucer has a shape number only. This set is hand-coloured in pastel shades, much softer than the bright milk jug above.  Here is the saucer shape number, and also a little red mark which must have been applied by the decorator for some reason. Quite often you find marks of this sort on the base of Crown Lynn ware, most probably because they were testing a new material or process - or simply because someone wanted to clearly identify their work for some reason.
That's all for now. Keep warm!
More soon