Brown’s Pottery Development 1974 -1988
Mount Barker, South Australia
The 70’s was a time when all things began to feel possible. Women were encouraged to follow their dreams, to think beyond teaching and nursing as a profession. A Labor Government provided the means by introducing free university education. and I heard about a place called an Art School. Having spent my childhood in the country on Yorke Peninsula, I couldn't believe such a place existed and before long was lucky enough to gain entry by default when a prospective student pulled out.
In 1971, I attended the South Australian School of Art, Stanley St, North Adelaide with the intention of learning to paint but instead emerged 4 years later holding a Diploma in Ceramic Design and a strong desire to set up a pottery studio.
After completing Common Course (1st year) I noticed some happy students wearing clay covered shirts and becoming intrigued, I followed them into the Ceramics Department. I saw advanced students throwing on the potter’s wheel and felt a strong attraction. I knew this was the medium for me. At the time, the culture in the painting department was cool and appeared to be stifled by critics who lacked the ability to support fledgling artists. Coupled with the fact that I was 17yrs old and needed some life experience from which to translate and conceptualize ideas into paintings, I sought refuge in developing practical and aesthetic skills in clay. Painting had to wait for now. The vibe in the ceramics department was energetic and full of scope for the future. I decided to specialize in ceramics for the next 3 years and began the tactile path of a potter.
The principle teacher was a charismatic potter by the name of Milton Moon. Milton had a love of Japanese ceramics and his enthusiasm for things wabi strongly influenced his pupils’ aesthetic intelligence. Milton, a Zen Buddhist, had returned from a visit to Japan and began to produce forms, surfaces and glazes that related to the Australian landscape but were also based on Japanese aesthetics previously unknown to most Australians. He was a great teacher and placed importance on thoroughly knowing and mastering the material (clay), developing an eye for design and paying attention to detail.
For the first few months a beginning student was encouraged to throw pots (wheel work) day after day and ditch them back into the clay bin for recycling- a practice that taught students to master the process and not be too precious. “If you can do it once, you can do it again” was his philosophy.
Brown’s Pottery began in 1975 with the building of a small gas kiln in the garage at Child’s Road, Mt Barker, South Australia. The vision entailed the development of a studio that would produce both hand made functional ware and one offs. The lifestyle appealed but the road was bumpier than anticipated. One of the first problems lay with the gas bottles that held the LPG fuel. They regularly froze over which meant that the kiln temperature was uneven, losses were common and saleable production was kept to a minimum. It became clear that larger gas bottles were needed which meant our small production workshop had to upscale if it were to survive and grow.
We started a family and struggled to survive by having market stalls. Income was bolstered by part time teaching at the TAFE college and odd jobs.
Trevor, my husband, very quickly developed business skills, learnt to throw and eventually mastered large wheel thrown production lines. Making repetitive shapes wasn’t tedious but a pleasurble mode of production. This process created a rhythm and flow to the workshop practice.
A kiln with increased capacity soon became a priority. After much research and study of various kiln designs, a plan for a down draught trolley kiln became the basis of a grant application. In the early 1980’s an Australia Council Grant was awarded and enabled an 80 cubic ft gas trolley kiln to be built utilizing a railway bogey on rails.
A 4 ft deep pit was dug to house the bogey complete with railway tracks. The bogey had a thick, fire brick base and built-in exit flue. All this was attached to a winch and acted as a movable base that could then move in and out of the arched kiln. On this floor the pots were stacked up high using layers of kiln shelves. This design enabled better access when loading the heavy kiln shelves in place and also saved our backs and subsequent chiropractic fees.
Following the large kiln being built, an L shaped timber workshop was built to house the increased pottery production. A further gas fibre kiln and a separate wood fueled kiln were also built.
Functional stoneware designs were developed and became standard workshop production runs. Orders from galleries and craft outlets throughout Australia came in regularly creating a viable family business.
Workshop production involved the making of sets of identical pieces. To achieve this beam scales were used to weigh each lump of clay to ensure the pieces could be repeated the same shape and height. Long ware boards loaded with sets of mugs would be put outside in the sun to harden followed by a return to the wheel for the turning of the bases. Rows of pulled handles could be seen hanging from the edge of the bench to stiffen, later to be joined to the sides of leather hard mugs and jugs.
Together we developed functional stoneware production lines with a variety of glazes including the iron rich temoku, the classic 4,3,2,1 with additions of oxide to produce celadons and cobalt blues and a matte oatmeal glaze to name a few. Decoration including brushed and the spraying of oxides to produce blue and orange glaze effects. These lines were our “bread and butter” and included a range of shapes e.g. vases, platters, oven proof covered dishes, bread crocks, plates, bowls, jugs, cups and mugs.
I became practiced in Sumie brush painting and enjoyed painting stylised blue wrens, flowers and grasses on plates, bowls and vases. They sold well in the mid to late 1970’s and 1980’s.
The Chinese Ko Crackle glaze era was a sideline that leant on the Japanese and Chinese aesthetic inherited from the influence of Milton Moon. Many of these pieces developed dunts or cooling cracks due to the thick application of glaze intended to achieve the desired opacity. Some of the special pieces that did survive in tact had a wonderful luminosity, subtlety and presence that set them apart from the production ware.
It was then decided to develop a range of earthenware using a commercial white base glaze with brush painted oxide decoration in the late 1980’s. These designs were inspired by the colourful majolica ware common in southern Europe. Large platters, boxed rim to rim, were an efficient way to fill the kiln, yet more importantly the process revealed rich terracotta rims that contrasted with colourful painting on white glaze. It was a delight when unloading these pieces from the kiln to gently tap them apart to reveal the beautiful interiors.
Raku pottery was fun to produce and allowed freedom of form and spontaneous copper based glaze effects.
Derick Allen, friend, musician and emerging potter at the time, participated in the workshop practice. He became a valuable member of the team by throwing production lines and participated in kiln firing. Later he went on to develop his own independent workshop at Littlehampton and produced a range of well designed stoneware.
The ceramics presented on this website are not for sale, however collectors may want to identify pottery made by myself or Trevor Brown made under the Brown's Pottery label by the marks- JB, TB, Brown's Pottery.
Jan Brown 2015
Brown’s Pottery features in an art history book called
“South Australian Ceramics 1836 to 1986” by Noris Iannou.