Michael Trumic 1928-2012

Michael Trumic 1928-2012

Mirko (Michael) Trumic arrived in New Zealand from a war-torn Yugoslavia in 1950 – to Dunedin which was, in his words, ‘Not quite the tropical Gauginesque milieu I had imagined’. As a sophisticated, educated (two years of medical school before the war intervened) art-aware European, Trumic made friends with another European war escapee, painter, Rudy Gopas and the two made many trips together drawing and making sense of their new homeland. Both moved to Christchurch where they became central to a lively arts and intellectuals circle and Gopas was lecturer at Ilam. Trumic found his way to Yvonne Rust and realised that 3D was more to his liking. In 1960 Trumic founded Several Arts’ gallery where he ignored any art/craft divisions and simply showed work he admired. The gallery was successful and many got an exhibiting start there, including Warren Tippett. Trumic developed his personal pottery, at night and on weekends, during the years that he ran Several Arts. While he mainly stayed with what had the audience of the time, that of pieces for a domestic situation, his style, whether working at vessels or figuration was modernist, forms were strong and often simplified, uncluttered by anything that took away from form. Not for Trumic any bready textures, erupted inclusions in clay body or un-detailed edges and endings. There is a beautiful, tessha-glazed facetted bottle in Canterbury Museum’s collection that is also pictured in Cone Ten Down, p.89.

Trumic was enticed to return to Dunedin once Several Arts closed so as to teach at the School of Art’s ceramics course where he stayed from mid-70s until the 90s. As a personality and teacher he was vigorous, opinionated and engaging of discussion. He thrived on discourse and while he could reduce a student to tears, he also was early to lift them up again. He has been a most powerful influence on a large segment of NZ ceramics, particularly in the South Island where he has travelled many times teaching workshops in his early days and includes many in his list of successful former students including Chris Weaver and Christine Boswijk. In 1989 he was awarded an Honorary Diploma of Fine Arts by Otago Polytechnic SofA.

He lived with his partner, Wendy, in Loburn, Canterbury where their tree lined property and hand-hewn living accommodations and studio offered a warm secure refuge on cold days, there was always a spot to escape the wind and from which he still enjoyed to engage in discourse and debate. He was 84.

Michael trumic



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5 responses to “Michael Trumic 1928-2012

  1. Hello Michael!
    There are so many things I would like to tell you…
    You always said i was a middle class moo and that I was a banana easily peeled and squashed- that I would never be an artist as I was too soft; but here I am more than 30 years down the track and still passionate about clay, and still unravelling the wisdom you showered upon me, and still waiting to make my best work!
    It took years to get you off my back because I am a slow learner: because it took time to process the bullying you foisted upon me through the tears and frustrations- the understanding of form, for form and space were the basis of your teaching; yet you imbued this with a vast philosophical background, so that our work rested on something more than technique, taking our minds beyond the kiwi mentality to a wider view.
    You had a vision that all of us would become part of a subversive movement where we saw a coffee cup as a perfect sculptural form and that we could change peoples’ lives through its use.
    I will always be thankful I was lucky enough to be under your care, because you helped me to find the missing piece in my life through CLAY: through the understanding of this humble material, of which we are all part, and as a result of this I forged my own philosophy.
    Throughout the years of my practice I have referred to the radix of your teaching, knowing also that to question it and to take it further was the only way to find my own voice and make work that was my own.’
    You taught us never to pollute- to keep lifting the bar higher so that our integrity was in tact, that our work would sustain itself beyond fashion or trend: to rise above middle class mentality and look below the surface of things as being the key to work that would last.
    You were a master craftsman who could throw like an angel, making
    beautiful forms that were sensuous and resonated with your spirit , something which set them apart from all others and which will carry your soul beyond your span.
    No longer will the clay spin between your fingers, but I can still see them today- the way you finished a rim, or cut a foot, revealing the life force of the material as the form emerged.
    Thank you from the bottom of my heart – I will always remember your gift and keep it alive as long as I practice.
    God Speed,
    Christine Boswijk.

  2. Chris Weaver

    Sad news and a great loss.

    I first met Michael as a young teenage Art student in Dunedin in 1974. He was a visiting tutor in the Ceramics Department and made an immediate impression. He rekindled an early interest in clay in me and when I heard that he was coming back to teach full-time, I stayed on in Dunedin after graduating to do the one-year Ceramics course in 1976.

    He had an extremely charismatic and dominant personality and an almost cult-like following from his students. We spent many hours in the pub down the road once the classes had finished, discussing anything from craft theory to art and politics. I was lucky enough to be flatting just up the road from the Polytech and was able to go in at the weekends while he was making his own pots. His pieces were very refined and showed a quiet sensitivity and strength. I learned so much from Michael about the necessity for strong simple form and attention to detail.

    For the first few months he wouldn’t let us near a wheel, we had to build up the sensitivity in our fingers first. He encouraged us to be serious about our work but not about ourselves. He could be brutal at times with his constructive criticism but equally praising when we were on the right track. He kept one of my pieces saying that I didn’t realize how good it was and that, one day, I would.

    I, like many others, came away making Michael’s pots. The second-hand shops in Dunedin and Christchurch are full of “Trumic clones”. It took me five years to shake him off and start producing my own work but the underlying principles of what I learned from him are still in everything I make.

    Michael has had a huge influence on New Zealand ceramics especially in the South Island. His European background enabled him to offer a unique perspective to the Leach-Hameda view of ceramics prevalent in the 70s. I feel privileged to have been one of his students and greatly appreciated his interest and friendship over the years.

  3. Sue Newitt

    Steve Robertson and I were planning a trip down to see Michael as we had heard he was very unwell. Michael was keen for us to come and have a talk, and we were very much looking forward to sitting down with him and having that talk about art, life, and the future of… well everything. These were always wonderful times, full of stories of Michaels life, all the things he had been reading and the people he had been talking with.
    Michaels passion for art and knowledge dominated his life, and he loved to pass this on to his students and friends.
    Like Chris Weaver, as a student, I remember thoes nights at the pub, talking and listning to Michael as we sat over a drink and a cigerette discussing the important issues of the day.
    He was a wonderful teacher, he knew the meaning of Art, he loved form and hated clutter. He could reduce you to tears, but could also make you feel wonderful. He was a great critic, able to see the good and the bad in what you were doing. Always encouraging you to find more in your work.
    Michael came to my workshop one day, he said “Susan, I like that teapot, send it to me”. Well I put that teapot aside, thinking, perhaps he was just been kind. But about a year later, Wendy said to me “Michael is still waiting for that teapot”. I was amazed he had remembered, and so happy he really did like it. When I did give it to him he was full of praise, saying he would put it in his collection. That was the kind of person Michael was, generous, kind, charismati,
    Michaels influence remains strong in my head, he is always that voice in the back ground asking the questions, I know I don’t always succeed, but I recon I have a better chance with his wisdom as a guide.
    I was privilaged to have Michael in my life and will always remeber him as a wonderful teacher, artists and mentor.
    Sue Newitt

  4. margaret ryley

    My first encounter with Michael Trumic was at a pottery night class at Riccarton High School in the 1960’s. He had learnt the basics of his craft from Yvonne Rust – with whom he disagreed and argued fiercely – and had already established the highly regarded Several Arts Gallery. He was exacting in his quest for excellence and it was here that I first became familiar with the works of people like Mirek Smisek, James Grieg Rudi Gopas and Ralph Hotere, amongst others. As a teacher Michael was uncompromising in his insistence on our learning wheel throwing skills before deviating to “Artistic” endeavours . He despised mediocrity and whilst his criticisms could be blistering, he was unstinting in his praise if he felt it was deserved.
    In the mid-1970’s he encouraged a small group of us – Frederika Ernsten, Denise Meyrick [Welsford], Margaret Ryley [Higgs], Rex Valentine, Lawrence Ewing with himself to establish the “Studio 393” gallery/workshop in the top floor of a disused bakery formerly occupied by Fanny Buss, fabric printer. Fostered by Michael, we had high ideals, meeting over a weekend once a month to philosophize about art in general and make enough work to cover our rent. Michael had sold Several Arts by this time and from his considerable contacts we were able to set up high quality exhibitions from artists/craftspeople from throughout the country. Later, first Michael, then Lawrence, took up positions at the newly established Ceramic School in Dunedin. A significant number of successful younger potters received their early training and enthusiasms from Michael on this course, but very little of his own work appeared after this time.
    Michael retired from his position in Dunedin with an honorary Fine Arts Diploma and, with his wife, Artist Wendy Wadsworth, went to live on the property he had developed at Loburn in North Canterbury. He kept contact with old students, painters sculptors and printmakers. When he died, after a short illness his traditional Serbian funeral at the little St Stephens church on the Tuahiwi Marae was a sombre and fitting occasion.
    Margaret Ryley

  5. Ejub Kajan

    Mirko (Michael) was a great friend of mine. We met in 1997, since than we have made an excellent relationship.
    In memoriam:
    My dear Mirko,
    You are on my mind forever.

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