Richard Stratton is away in Europe on an OE about attending the session at Guldagergarard in Skaelskor, Denmark that he won at The Portage competitions a couple of years ago. He has not yet travelled as far as Denmark but has been in London where he has been up to his knees in Thames River mud and on stony banks scrabbling around at low tide searching for the historic shards he was informed were there. Turned out the information was reliable and voila! See the image below. It’s a Westerwald 1650-75 so he says (and who would doubt?) Which means it’s salted and early – Westerwald was the area in Germany that was an early developer in salt-glazing.
Richard found the mudlarking world a curious place and many have been there before him so he had to purchase some that he coveted. He also discovered that, like much in Britain, it has its own class structures and hierarchy and will write more on this later – which I shall pass on.
He was also up in the Stoke–on-Trent area (formerly The Potteries before they shifted to Asia) where he met up with Neil Brownsword, the recent Supreme Winner (US$ 55,000) of the Korean Ceramics competition with his project on the demise of the pottery industry in England. Projects, rather than single or groups of objects are one of the most prominent of the new movements in art that includes ceramics.
Richard is currently in Germany on his way to Westerwald and its fine Museum of Ceramics at Hohr-Grenzhausen. A must visit for someone like Richard as the historical display is very extensive as shards from that area are as old as 1000 years BC and also shows ceramics as up-to-date as nose-cones for space ships and other scientific paraphernalia, as well as exhibitions of contemporary work, of every description, in the medium. It is one of Europe’s major ceramics venues and the town of Hohr-Grenzhausen has a tertiary education system devoted to ceramics, and around the museum, I remember a number of artist’s ateliers and studios for resident artists as well as thriving activities by locals, several of whom were regular exhibitors in the Fletcher exhibitions. We shall look forward to more news after his few days there.
Westerwald shard – Thames
The recent auction of a part of Ron Sang’s collection of art and ceramics, at Art and Object, realised almost 2m. Not a bad retirement deposit. Some record prices were recorded, mainly involving Len Castle’s later work. One of those large scale bowls with crackled, matt yellow interiors reached $13,505. It was the last of three on offer (images of Ron’s house interior, in the catalogue, show he owned at least seven!). There are apparently more than fifty of these spectacular bowls in existence …after that price more will surely emerge. The ‘Sulphurous’ bowls were shown and sold adjacent to one another but there were also two of those ‘Inverted Volcano’ pieces shown and sold separately. The first went for $8790 (estimate of $5-8,000) while the later one (same estimate) went for a record $10,800. Who knows how many of those press-moulded pieces are in existence. I have heard reports of the backs of station-wagons chocka with them – but maybe the second buyer felt that the second one on offer was the last. A round ‘Lava Lake’ bowl also with the red selenium glaze reached $9360 while an earlier, press-moulded large, stoneware, ‘Blossom Vase’ at almost 60cm h. with a barium blue semi-matte glaze reached a comparatively modest $6300. It’s curious that it was Castle’s earlier work (textured stoneware from the 60s and 70s – unglazed and washed with ferruginous earths or glazed with Japanese chuns and tenmokus) that is mainly collected in institutions and admired by a range of the knowledgeable, yet the high auction prices are gained by later earthenware, (albeit with spectacular glazing even if it’s bought ready-made,) but bearing effects that rehearse what came about earlier via far high temperatures. Possibly it’s the influence of the last book, produced by Len himself, which irretrievably tied his work to regional volcanic areas through juxtapositions of images, and his own writing and titles of course, despite earlier refuting such regionalist associations (See NZ Potter Vol. 18/1, p.23).
It was good to see several of Roy Cowan’s early work on offer, a couple of which, despite many visits to the Sang house, I had never noticed before. Two of these large, salt-glazed works, based upon growth/plant forms and offering subtle commentary upon our indigenous and native forestry management also reached high prices at $10,800 and $12,605. Roy Cowan was an interesting and gentle man, a very generous and inventive artist and overall intelligent commentator on the state of things in ceramics here and who never failed to give of his best no matter what he thought of things. A pity he is no longer alive to see how his work is received these days. He’d be pleased.
Other ceramic folk included in the Sang sale were, Graham Ambrose, Ray Rogers, Nicholas Brandon, John Parker, Peter Collis, Richard Parker, Chester Nealie, Campbell Hegan, Lawrence Ewing, Peter Stichbury and Graeme Storm. An all boy’s lineup. But I feel sure there will be more Ron Sang sales to come for this is far from the finite list of his holdings in ceramics.
There is an exhibition of the Fletcher Challenge Art Collection coming soon at Waikato Art Museum in Hamilton. The collection comprises paintings, works on paper and ceramics. However you won’t be too surprised to learn that the ceramics part of the collection, now comprising only the winning works from the 22 years of the competition’s long run (still the longest award ever in NZ), are not going to be a part of the show.
The Fletcher collection used to be more extensive and representative in its selection of ceramics with works chosen for inclusion, from what was entered, since its inception in 1977. However some were decommissioned in 1993 as they did not fit the new parameters for display at Fletcher House in Penrose while, after the cessation of the exhibition in 1998, all but actual winning works were sold off at bargain prices as it seemed they were too difficult to store and curate. The state of the remaining winning works was cause for concern when placed on show at Objectspace a few years ago. Could that be why we can no longer see them on display?
Merilyn Wiseman has been battling to have her winning work represented by the correct image on the FC Art Collection website, for some considerable time. Seems that finally an image of the correct work has now been made and will, in due course, be placed on view on the site. The image of some other of Merilyn’s work that was in the winner’s place, for no known reason, will be finally removed and consigned to some other situation.
Thinking about Stoke-on-Trent, the closed Spode Factory there is in process of being turned into a ‘creative village’ in the Old China Hall part of the huge complex. There will be 43 studios for resident artists and designers. Work starts in May and it will be complete by end of year. It is a collaboration between Britain’s Arts Council and local bodies funding.
MOMA (New York’s Museum of Modern Art) is hosting an editing marathon in conjunction with International Women’s Day. This Edit-a-thon is designed to improve the presence of women and their work in the visual arts (of all sorts) in on-line arenas such as Wikipedia. This is because women are in general (according to MOMA) severely under-represented as well as the fact that entries on female artists regularly mention issues like gender, relationship status and family in opposition to male entries that do not carry such information. The event begins with a half-hour tutorial and apart from in MOMA it is also being carried out in other major international institutions such as LACMA in LA, the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and the Tate in London.
The saga of the NZ Pottery Museum and its collected works – which mostly seems to be on a back burner – must be of concern to those who have consigned their precious collections to this cause. It seems that way as it pops up as topic for grizzles fairly regularly. Well, I hear that one at least decided to do something about it and instead of waiting for the Clark Homestead to be gifted for the purpose (which Trish Clark – daughter of…. assures me cannot happen) he has gone and bought a large empty building in Whanganui to do just that. (Make a museum for the glory of….)
This benefactor is rumoured to be none other than Rick Rudd. I know no more and await, with bated breath and many other interested parties, for Rick to fill us all in on detail…. watch this space…
Finally… George Woodman, husband of the redoubtable Betty – still making new work in her early 80s… – is quoted as saying….. ”To hear ceramists talk about their work is like listening to a discussion of fur, purr and pounce without any mention of the cat!”
Commentary on any of the above is welcome….