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Clay and Fire: The Ceramics of Estelle and Bruce Martin


Thu 3 Oct 2013, 10:00am–5:00pm
Fri 4 Oct 2013, 10:00am–6:00pm
Sat 5 Oct 2013, 10:00am–3:00pm
Mon 7 Oct 2013, 10:00am–5:00pm
Tue 8 Oct 2013, 10:00am–5:00pm

Where: Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts, 33 George Street, Palmerston North

Restrictions: All Ages

Ticket Information:

  • Admission: Free

Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts is pleased to present two complementary exhibitions of handcrafted work which illustrates the rich craft heritage of our country. Clay & Fire features handmade ceramics fired in a Japanese style anagama kiln by an award winning husband and wife team, Estelle and Bruce Martin of Hastings. The exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Estelle Martin who passed away in 2001. Rowan Dicks: Fine Furniture will show a range of beautifully handcrafted furniture including floor lamps, chairs, tables, a cabinet and other fine joinery.

Bruce Martin, now a sprightly 87, has not potted since 1995 but his pots and those of his late wife have continued to attract attention within New Zealand and beyond including a retrospective at the Japanese Embassy, Wellington in 2006. The title of the exhibition says it all as anagama-fired ware is pottery that is neither bisque-fired nor glazed before being fired for 10 days and nights in a kiln stoked with pine and related woods. The temperatures reached bring out the minerals in the clay and the elements in the wood ash glaze the wares with unique splashes of colour highly prized by potters and ceramic collectors. Many of the forms are related to Japanese and Oriental pottery and look as if they could have come from Asian kilns of the last 400 years.

Bruce Martin was born in Levin in 1925; Estelle was born five years later in Edendale, Southland. They married in 1950 in Hastings and were hobbyist potters from about 1957. They became exhibiting members of the New Zealand Society of Potters in 1964 and a year later formed a partnership and became full-time potters, during the world-wide interest and support of handcrafted objects. They moved to a life-style block near Hastings in 1970 and set up their pottery which they called ‘Kamaka’, chosen from the Maori word for stone as the Maori culture had no pottery traditions and ‘mud’ or ‘clay’ had other connotations. They later found out that it was Japanese for ‘good kiln’ during their frequent travels to Japan in the late 1970s, where they learned the art of wood-fired anagama pottery. Their exquisite work, form following function, has won many national awards and has featured in major exhibitions in New Zealand and elsewhere. The ‘understated nature’ of their work reflecting and referencing Japanese tea ceremony wares was a unique approach to studio pottery in New Zealand and soon found favour among admirers of these classic forms.

Bruce and Estelle constructed their anagama kiln between 1979 and 1981 and fired the first kiln load in 1982 and the second a year later. The anagama Japanese style stepped kiln of about 500 cubic feet can hold 1000 pots and requires enough wood for nine to ten days continuous firing to achieve the temperatures to fire the ware to a vitreous state. Pine wood is used for fuel and two teams of two people working 12 hour shifts are required. Producing the wares, gathering the tonnes of wood needed, cutting the wood to size and loading the kiln to fit all the wares produced in the previous year meant that firing once a year would be the norm for this large kiln. They fired their big anagama kiln for the last time in 1990 but by 1992 they had constructed a more manageable small kiln due to their advancing years. By 1995 they decided to stop potting and sell off their tools and equipment, keeping the two kilns intact to show visitors and instruct those who wished to build their own anagama-style kiln. After Estelle’s death in 2001, Bruce has stayed active. He has taught slab-building techniques and participated in retrospective exhibitions of their pots at Hastings, Gisborne, Wellington, Auckland and Havelock North. Clay and Fire at Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts brings examples of the Martin’s award-winning ceramics to the Central Districts and perhaps will develop a new group of pottery collectors who appreciate the skill, effort, time and elegant forms that make the Kamaka pots so very special.

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