Vase, stoneware, Les Blakebrough, NSW, 1965-1972
The porcelain vase was made by Les Blakebrough (b.1930) at the Sturt Pottery Workshops, Mittagong, NSW during the 1960s. This was a significant period in the growing studio ceramics movement in Australia where the 'anglo-oriental' aesthetic in stoneware, as propagated by the British potter Bernard Leach, continued to be particularly influential. The Sturt pottery workshops, initially set up by Ivan McMeekin in 1953 at the request of founder Winifred West, became a well known training ground for the 'anglo-oriental' aesthetic, and also the development of a particular ideology towards local crafts education and studio production. Sturt Pottery used local clay, and was an innovator in Australia in the development of local clay bodies.
Les Blakebrough, who had come to Australia in 1948 from England, joined the Sturt workshops in 1957 as an apprentice to Ivan McMeekin. Blakebrough went on to become the manager of the pottery studios (1959-72); the director of the Sturt workshops (1964-1972); before leaving to head the Ceramics department at the Tasmanian School of Art, Hobart. He became an important figure on the Crafts Councils of NSW and Australia; and the Crafts Board of the Australia Council. His work is represented in the public collections of all State Galleries, as well as other galleries nationally and internationally.
During his period at the Sturt Workshops Les Blakebrough was instrumental in bringing many well respected international craftspersons to visit the pottery workshop, including from the UK, USA, New Zealand and Japan. Blakebrough's 1963 study visit to Japan, and the period of work in Kyoto with potters Kanjiro Kawai and nephew Takeichi Kawai, was to influence many of his ideas on form, technique, method, and glaze types.
In the early half of the 1960s at Sturt pottery there was an emphasis on creating production domestic ware, a necessity in those days to maintain a continuing output to cover the costs of running the workshop. Items included barrel mugs, wine decanters, cups, sauces, fluted jugs, teapots - and in the latter years extended to press-formed platters, boxes, and covered jars. Decorations on the production ware included lugs, slip trails, wax resist (often a chun glaze over wax resist iron glaze), sgraffito and carved relief. As glazes were developed and experimented with however, expressive brushwork often depicting organic motifs replaced the incised decorations.
The vase is historically and aesthetically significant with strong interpretive potential to demonstrate developments within the Australian studio ceramics and crafts movement of the 1960s. It links to other significant ceramic works in the collection of this period that also represent the 'anglo-oriental' aesthetic, including by Peter Rushforth, Ivan McMeekin, Harold Hughan and Bernard Leach.
Cochrane, Grace (1992). 'The Crafts Movement in Australia: a History' (Sydney: New South Wales Press)
O'Callaghan, Judith (1991). 'A New Direction: 1940-1980', in Bilney, Elizabeth (ed), 'Decorative Arts and Design from the Powerhouse Museum' (Sydney: Powerhouse Publishing)
Blakebrough, Les. 'About Les Blakebrough', at www.lesblakebrough.com.au
Holmes, Jonathan. 'Les Blakebrough: Potter'
Exhibition catalogue essay - Cochrane, Grace (1989) 'Les Blakebrough', in exhibition 'Two potters three decades: Les Blakebrough and Carl McConnell'; Hyde Park Barracks 14 June 1989.
Holmes, Jonathan (1988). 'Les Blakebrough: A retrospective', exhibition catalogue.
Emma Lees for Paul Donnelly, Curator, Design, History and Society, July 2008