Plate, earthenware, hand-painted, made by the Martin Boyd Pottery, Ryde, New South Wales, Australia, 1950s.
Made by the Martin Boyd Pottery in the 1950s, this hand painted and incised earthenware plate is typical of the domestic wares produced in Australia at this time. Its stylised images of emus, emu tracks and an Aboriginal figure come from Aboriginal art, which emerged as a popular and highly exploited source of inspiration. Of the dozens of commercial potteries operating in Sydney after the Second World War, the Martin Boyd Pottery was one of the most significant.
In 1946, art student, Guy Boyd, joined Norma Flegg in establishing a small commercial pottery in her basement at Waters Road, Cremorne. Guy studied at East Sydney Technical College by day and threw pots on a kickwheel by night, while Norma, at home with her first child, managed the firing process in an electric kiln. She gradually assumed responsibility for much of the decoration. At this time their wares were signed 'Guy Boyd' although other art students occasionally helped with the decoration. Norma's husband, Leonard Flegg, joined the business in 1947 and one year later the company assumed the trade name, 'Martin Boyd Pottery', taking on Guy's middle name.
The company soon purchased a small pottery in Chiswick Lane, Woollahra, and Leslie (Les) Collins, an experienced thrower who had worked for Fowlers, operated its first electric wheel. The pottery expanded again in 1949 with the acquisition of an old bakery and two and a half acres in Princess Street, Ryde. The Woollahra and Ryde potteries were soon consolidated and extended twice in later years.
In 1950, Guy Boyd left the company to return to Victoria, enabling Len's brother, Ronald Flegg, to join the partnership in 1951. Six years later, the three had formed a private company, employing up to eighty practitioners who specialised in individual processes of making and decorating pottery; for example, throwing, fettling, firing and painting. Together, Norma and Ron managed the production (Ron also did the accounts) while Len looked after sales and book-keeping.
Their standard range of wares included coffee-sets, ramekins sets, coupis, plates, ashtrays, vases, mugs and soup bowls as well as a special range of Ikebana and Camellia vases and boomerang plates. Most of these pieces were thrown on the potter's wheel though plates were sometimes made from hand-moulding, hand-building, press moulding, assemblage, slip-casting and jolleying. The pottery developed its own clay bodies and engobes, which were of a particularly high quality, and commonly decorated its wares in underglaze, engobe, onglaze and enamel. These were characterised by bold plain colours, often mixed and matched, Aboriginal-style motifs, and images of costumed figures, ballerinas, flowers and 'peasant' scenes.
The pottery frequently supplied David Jones and produced special wares that would include seasonal themes and fashionable colours, such as 'cognac', and would commemorate special events, like the visit from Ikebana expert, Constance Spry. However, the pottery also supplied Georges, Myer and Kalmars in Rowe Street, and marketed its wares in most capital cities, in several regional centres and in New Zealand.
Economic recessions and changes to import regulations in the early 1960s led to a decline in business for the Martin Boyd Pottery as well as other commercial potteries around Australia. Soon, Ronald and Leonard left to follow careers in economy and psychology, leaving Norma in charge of a diminishing staff until 1964.
The Martin Boyd plate is hand-painted with Aboriginal-style motifs that represent emus, emu tracks and an Aboriginal figure. This type of imagery was popular in Australia after the Second World War when designers were searching for a national cultural identity as a source of inspiration. Looking towards Aboriginal art, they established a repertoire of stylised motifs that included cross-hatching, native plants and animals, animal footprints, spears, boomerangs and Aboriginal people themselves. These made their way onto the wealth of domestic wares produced at Australia's semi-commercial potteries.
This plate was made in the 1950s by the Martin Boyd Pottery, which was one of the most significant commercial potteries operating in Sydney after the Second World War. At its peak, it employed between 70 and 80 people and produced domestic and ornamental wares. Most of these pieces were thrown on the potter's wheel, though plates were also made using hand-moulding, hand-building, press moulding, assemblage, slip-casting and jolleying. The pottery developed its own clay bodies and engobes, which were of a particularly high quality, and commonly decorated its wares in underglaze, engobe, onglaze and enamel.