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One of the themes explored in the Gallery’s new exhibition Leaving for Work is local industry, particularly in relation to pottery. The show includes an 1896 painting by Charles Kidson of well-known early Sydenham potter Luke Adams; three late nineteenth-century pots by Adams; and projections of a number of exceptional photographs by Steffano Webb. Keen to learn more, exhibition curator Ken Hall met up with local pottery historian Barry Hancox – perhaps best-known as former Smith’s Bookshop proprietor – and leading New Zealand photographer, Oxford-based Mark Adams. Mark’s links to this story include a distant family connection to Luke Adams; photographing many celebrated New Zealand potters of the 1970s and 1980s; and an abiding interest in land and memory.
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.
Barry Brickell began working with clay at the age of fifteen in 1950 and the following year built his first kiln at his parents’ home in Devonport, Auckland. He started exhibiting his pots in 1955. After a two-term stint in 1961 teaching high school art and science in the Coromandel, he resigned and set out to become a full-time potter. After purchasing a small block of land in the area, he also embarked on the creation of his renowned Driving Creek Railway and Potteries complex. In 1975 construction got under way on an elaborate 266mm gauge railway that was originally intended for transporting clay and firewood fuel to his studio and kilns but later became a visitor attraction. Loco boiler, which seems to encapsulate Brickell’s lifelong dual fascination with steam engines and the possibilities of clay, was purchased from the New Zealand Society of Potters exhibition in Christchurch in 1976.