/ PAST Exhibitions
Studio Pottery Exhibition
19 June 2015 to 8 July 2015
Walkabout: Saturday 27 June 2015 at 11h00
Ronnie Watt, studio pottery collector and art historian, over a period of three decades, brought together one of South Africa’s most exquisite private collections of works by pioneer potters. Focus of the collection is studio potters working in the tradition of the Anglo-Oriental school and interpreted and imbued from a South African perspective. It includes works of acknowledged masters such as Esias Bosch, Hyme Rabinowitz, Andrew Walford, Ian Glenny, Tim Morris and others.
Ronnie, who is presently completing his MA in History of Art on the development of South African studio pottery of the later 20th century, is on the eve of a long-term departure for Canada. This occasioned an exhibition of several works from his unique collection and the opportunity for collectors to acquire true gems.
An exhibition of these collector’s pieces is opened by Ronnie Watt on Friday 19 June 2015 at 18h30 for 19h00. Opening address by Ronnie Watt: 19 June 2015
This exhibition of South African studio pottery in my personal collection, is presented on the eve of my departure for Canada. More than half of the collection which has been acknowledged as a premier showcase of the pioneer studio potters and their successors was recently gifted to the Clay Museum at the Rust-en-Vrede Gallery in Durbanville, and to the William Humphries Art Gallery in Kimberley. I selected some 300 pieces in the collection to take to Canada. The works presented in this exhibition are not of lesser quality or importance but are duplicated in what have already been gifted to institutions or what I have retained. My collection was primarily focussed on utilitarian, high temperature, reduction-fired stoneware… in the style which so many aficionados and critics blandly label “Anglo-Oriental”, often without a true understanding of what the Anglo-Oriental school of studio pottery represented and how it was absorbed and later transcended in the oeuvres of the earlier South African studio potters. The English studio pottery tradition that gained shape in the 1920s and would come to be known as Anglo-Oriental, laid the foundations for a specific approach to materials, processes, forms, ethics and aesthetics. In essence, it was about being a dedicated craftsman if not artist-craftsman, working in the spirit of tradition, with natural materials, producing modest forms and decorations, and mostly for utilitarian purposes.By the 1950s and 1960s when our pioneer studio potters - Esias Bosch, Hyme Rabinowitz and Bryan Haden – commenced their work, the original tenets of the Anglo-Oriental school were already being interpreted and expressed worldwide at an individual level. After serving their apprenticeships in England, our pioneer studio potters returned home to face the challenges of setting up studios, sourcing materials, establishing processes, developing designs, and finding markets for their ranges of wares. The second generation of South African studio potters added other influences. Tim Morris and Chris Patton brought from England and Ireland their exposure to post-modernist pottery and ceramics. Andrew Walford had extended exposure to the Scandinavian and German schools. Bill van Gilder, Toff Millway and Joe Finch represented a more recent generation of English studio pottery at Kolonyama studio in Lesotho, and that spilled over into South Africa. As teachers, mentors or inspirational figures, they influenced the next generation amongst who were Ian Glenny, Digby Hoets, Elza Sullivan, Chris Green, David Walters, Neville Burde, Steve Shapiro, John Wilhelm, Lindsay Scott, Yogi de Beer, David Schlapobersky and his partner Felicity Potter, and many more. What we must acknowledge is that the one studio potter fed off the thinking and doing of the other, distilling what came before, subtracting and adding, and then presenting their versions of “the pot”.
In the current critical thinking about the development of South Africa studio pottery, the question is being asked whether we can claim a distinctive South African self-identity and visual vocabulary. In reading the lives and works of the earlier South African studio potters, we do find enough evidence that our earlier studio potters followed as far as they could, the Anglo-Oriental ethics. However, their aesthetics - their forms and decorative styles - were individual interpretations of what constitutes studio pottery, and were influenced to a lesser or greater extent by unique South African circumstances inclusive of the social, cultural and natural environments. In effect, each pot they crafted, can be considered as an entangled narrative of the studio potter at a given time in a given social setting. So, when we collect studio pottery we do not only collect the pot as a pot… we collect a history.
Though South African studio pottery is alive and well, it sadly lacks in academic research with specific attention to its history, ethics and aesthetics. And that is my parting thought… that the studio pottery and ceramics community must with great earnest, promote and foster critical thinking. All the prize-winning pots stuck on pedestals in exhibitions and museums amount to nothing unless we know what, and not only who, they represent.