Responses to New Zealand Potter magazine

In collaboration with Lauren Winstone, for Alterations

A series of interviews, responding to articles from the first four issues of New Zealand Potter magazine.

Published online at AsReads.In/NZP.

…we have enough in hand to launch the Exhibition, but also to produce this magazine, which we hope to be the start of something worthwhile.

- Editorial, New Zealand Potter, volume 1, issue 1, 1958

A grassroots initiative, New Zealand Potter magazine started in Wellington in 1958 with funds leftover from the second annual potters society exhibition. From this relatively spontaneous start point it became somewhat of an institution, running for 40 years, until its last issue in 1998. One of the most dynamic periods of the journal’s history was this first phase between 1958 – 1963, when it was edited by Helen Mason, supported by an editorial committee that initially consisted Doreen Blumhardt, Terence Barrow and Lee Thompson, and later included Jocelyn Thornton, Juliet Peter and Roy Cowan. Driven and produced by potters, the magazine was very much generated within an ‘after-hours’ capacity, drawing upon the vision and input of an energised group of practitioners.

These first volumes brought together a range of news, practical information, technical resources and ideological stances. A vibrant Wellington scene was reflected in reviews of exhibitions at the Architectural Centre Gallery; there were reports from across the country of potters societies and craft centres being developed; and letters from those travelling through Asia, Africa, Europe and America regularly featured. One of its lasting legacies is the way in which the magazine functioned as a space for the philosophical debates in which production was taking place. Starting with the simple stance that ‘there is room for everyone in the pottery movement’* it encompassed debates around the forging of a national cultural identity, sorties for and against Anglo-Orientalist ideologies of making, and discussions about the place of ceramics within art and design.

* Editorial, New Zealand Potter, volume 1, issue 1, 1958

About the project

From its inception New Zealand Potter featured reviews, questioning the quality and rigour of the wider practice of New Zealand Pottery… (it) had a regular commitment to publishing critical dialogue.

- Lucy Hammonds, ‘Synchronised Swimming in the Sea of Indifference’, Upstarts: Knowledge and Change in Clay. Hawkes Bay Museum and Art Gallery, Napier, 2008.

Responses to New Zealand Potter magazine is a research project that has been focusing on the inception and early issues of the magazine. What we found compelling about these first volumes was the mix of voices, bringing together a range of perspectives from those deep inside the craft fraternity, alongside commentary from those based in other fields. It seemed that this diversity helped generate criticality within the discussion; a richness within the sometimes conflicting and contrasting opinions. We were interested in the way that a magazine founded, edited and published by practicing potters helped make visible the critical dialogue taking place at that time.

In the pages of the magazine we found a sense of urgency to the propositions being made, but we were also struck by the possibility that the ideas they were contending with may not be merely historical. A question for us has been how, and in what ways, do the ideas within these early issues relate to New Zealand pottery today? Does a wider contemporary ceramic discourse have to contend with this earlier counterpart, or to whom does this specific moment in history remain relevant? In what ways do the issues arising within these discussions of pottery relate to the spheres of art and design? How might the ideas that were debated still have a currency and a sense of possibility for us now?

To engage with some of these questions we have been inviting people from within the craft and art community to read and respond to articles from the first two volumes of New Zealand Potter. Our aim here is to generate discussion through the process of re-reading, to reflect on the relevance of both the material and the magazine itself.

Conversations are generated in the form of an interview, where we discuss with each participant the ways in which the text has resonance for them, or raises critical questions. We then hope to collate and present these interviews, in an attempt to map some kind of relationship between the talking points in those formative days, and the issues that are currently pressing.

One of the aspects that seemed to define the early issues of the magazine was the input from local and international potters, as well as from writers, historians, and members of related art and design communities. In an endeavour to retain the spirit of the original publication we’d like to ensure that these discussion bring together the viewpoints of a similar strata of people.