At the recent Art and Object auction of a large private collection of mainly British and some New Zealand studio pottery, most interest, and some vigorous bidding took place for the British mid-century pieces – Michael Cardew, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper, were front runners but there was also, here and there, lively interest in Leach (Bernard and David), Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Norah Braden, fortifying the continuing interest in the Anglo-oriental here. Connections with New Zealand were inconsistent where an unremarkable John Chappell dish reached $350. Chappell was about the first British Anglo-oriental style acolyte to teach in NZ, coming here from Japan – which added greatly to his lustre at the time. He travelled around NZ giving workshops and lecturing and was influential in reinforcing reverence for things Japanese. Against that, four dishes by Ken Clark, ex-pat NZer with a solid reputation in Britain for high quality and modernist designs and who came ‘home’ regularly where he proselytised modernist values and spoke passionately against the directions he saw NZ ceramics following, also reached only $350. His words had no effect at the time – had we followed his urgings our ceramic market today would be very different, as would our education, such as it is, in ceramics. Does this mean only those with strong influence upon our ceramics are of interest to the collector market?
But then, a Ladi Kwali (Nigerian student of Cardew’s) work gained $1600. It was a handsome, quite large jar, late, in stoneware and high-fire glazes with fully formed foot, so produced after Cardew had influenced the making of customary jars (which were lower fired with rounded bases so that they might be worked to stand in soft earth, not a table-top surface). It was covered however, in traditional patterns -albeit brightly coloured – thus indicating a hybridity of cultures, probably not originally intended.
The Lucie Rie works gained solid prices – $3500 for a small side-handled jug and simple sugar bowl, Teapot for $6250 and quite small conical bowl $1,600. A classic coffee set (side handled pouring vessels, cups and saucers – slight damage to 1x pot, gained $14,000. All derived from 1950s when she was making tableware and regularly sending consignments to various outlets in NZ (maybe about 6-7 of them?). No later, individual works, made early ’60s on and of which there are far fewer here, came forward. Joint production with Coper also received similar prices. One bowl of dubious parentage was interesting. It was large for a Rie (but not right outside what she could produce – see recent USA offerings) The surface looked pretty characteristic if a little closer in markings than usual. However no maker’s stamp and an excessively wide foot caused doubts. Plus, for those able to gauge it – a slight excessiveness of porcelain in the lower part of the cavetto. One might think it a ‘second’ if she was working here but it is inconceivable that Rie would send a ‘second’ so far despite the buoyancy of her market here during the 50s. It was passed in without bid.
Most interest was in the Coper vase form – about 1957/8 – made when first experimenting with individual pieces and displaying little of the later, characteristic surface treatment but interesting because of this. It was bought for $10,000 which about parallels prices received for Coper’s work at Cowan, Clark and Del Vecchio in the USA and Philips de Pury in London and New York. There, larger scale, later composite forms – ‘spades’, ‘dogbones’ and ‘Cycladic’ forms gained prices around US$6-9000, US$9-12,000 and US$15-20,000 in robust bidding for these more sought-after, and more sophisticated, works. Which makes the claim in Playing with Fire: ASP Society turns 50 where the value of the Coper (modestly formed cylindrical work with typical surface treatment) owned by the ASP Society and kept at Auckland Museum is “now worth [NZ] $80,ooo dollars or more”, appear to be more than a tad optimistic. This myth is something I have heard several times over the years but an easy search online should reveal differently. The sentence citing the price finishes with “…. and is the cause of much debate at the ASP” may mean this assumed worth is seen by some as more valuable in cash form than as exemplar. The price realised for this piece in London, now, would probably cover the air-fare and hotel costs and something for a round of drinks in the pub afterwards and not a lot to spare.
Mythologies such as this are not unique within ceramic culture in New Zealand. Another seen and heard regularly over years is the one about an ‘estimated 2000 full-time potters’ extant in this country in the 70s. As stated in Cone Ten Down: Studio Pottery in New Zealand 1945-1980, a careful count undertaken by members of the NZSP’s directorate at that time revealed about 400 with probably around the 2000 count at part-time plus full-time potters. When you consider the population numbers and retail outlets extant at the time – this latter number of 400 is far more realistic. That does not stop us repeating ‘facts’ we enjoy.
Apologies as only had notes and not the catalogue in front of me when writing a little about the recent auction for the Martin Hill collection. I attributed a vase to Ladi Kwali when the more scrupulous auctioneers only made the claim that it was made in Abuja, as I should have. I was more concerned with the differences between pre and post Cardew’s influences on indigenous work from there and considering how this large jar demonstrated this.