In recent months, retired potter and former president of the Canterbury Potters’ Association, Rex Valentine – a man passionate about clay – and art consultant Grant Banbury have been working behind-the-scenes in the Gallery alongside registration, curatorial and conservation staff. They’ve been assisting with an audit of a part of the collection that we’re excited to be working with more – the Gallery’s ceramics holdings.
Here Banbury and Valentine discuss the latter’s own production and involvement in pottery circles in Canterbury from the late 1960s to the 1980s; his time spent in studying pottery in Japan, and his involvement with pottery acquisitions during Brian Muir’s directorship of the Robert McDougall Art Gallery. The edited extracts that follow are from an interview recorded at Valentine’s home in Christchurch on 10 April 2021.
Locomotive is a delightful piece of whimsy, prompted by Barry Brickell’s fascination with steam trains. At his property in the Coromandel Barry Brickell built the only narrow-gauge mountain railway in New Zealand. He built it so he could have access to the clay and wood he needed for his kiln, without doing damage to the environment. Although made entirely of clay, this locomotive and its funnels look like iron, with convincing rivets and joins. Leaving the surface unglazed, the iron oxides in the clay suggest a rusty steam engine. It shows Brickell’s complete understanding and mastery of the fired clay process. A pioneer among New Zealand potters, he developed a completely original style.
Born in Taranaki, Brickell first began to work with clay in 1950, after exploring the local gas and firebrick works in Devonport, Auckland. His first major exhibition was at the Auckland City Art Gallery in 1959. He exhibited throughout New Zealand and internationally and wrote extensively on New Zealand pottery. Barry Brickell died in 2016.