Potteries in Mosman
by Donna Braye, Local Studies Librarian, Mosman Library
After the Second World War there was an increase in the production of pottery in Australia. Commercial, studio and backyard potteries were being established in the suburbs and by 1955 there were over 12,000 people working in the clay-related industries.
The success and popularity of these potteries and their products during the 1950s coincided with a number of events. Firstly, there were many new immigrants who had skills and training in ceramics and sculpture. Secondly, Australia was becoming a popular tourist destination and Australians were also travelling around the country more than ever, resulting in a demand for souvenirs and travel mementos. Finally, the restrictions on imports enabled the local industry to grow and prosper until the 1960s when these restrictions were lifted and cheaper products flooded the Australian market.
Over the years Mosman has been home to art and studio potteries such as those of Ada and Jessie Newman and Ethel Atkinson. Mosman was also home to the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales, established in 1906. So it seems appropriate that Mosman should have become home to the commercial potteries that appeared in the 1950s such as Rose Noble and Vande.
In September 2006 Mosman Library held a very popular exhibition Pottering Around: Mosman’s commercial potteries of the 1950s and 1960s. Pottering Around was the first time that Vande and Rose Noble pottery were exhibited together.
In 1947 Samuel William Noble established a small commercial pottery studio in Mosman. This pottery was located in the rear of a shop in Clifford Street and it is from here that he commenced to produce small slipware souvenir cream jugs decorated with Australian flora and fauna. Each jug had the name of an Australian city or town just below or beside the design. Interestingly the same design could be found on a jug labelled Alice Springs or Bobbin Head. These items were similar to English Goss and distributed to souvenir shops throughout Australia.
Another range produced by Noble was a series of miniature jugs in the style of classical Greek and Roman urns often bearing a classical figure. He also produced a series of miniature toby jugs. In 1964 Rose Noble ceased production and the business closed.
The origins of the name Rose Noble has at least two published explanations. One is that Samuel’s wife was called Rose1. However, as his wife’s name was Thora Loreto (Tod) this explanation is unlikely. The other is that the earlier pieces were marked with a blue rose and a green leaf2. A third possibility is that the name may have been a play on words. A noble is a medieval English gold coin. A Rose Noble (ryal) is a noble stamped with a rose which was first struck during the reign of Edward III3.
Pieces of this pottery are identified with the mark Rose Noble, Rose Noble Australia or Noble Australia on the base. The first two versions can be either impressed or a black underglaze printed version. The latter seems to be only a black underglaze print. Early pots were accompanied by a certificate of authenticity which stated there were 24 different motifs available.
Research has yet to prove this but it is quite possible that Noble’s commercial enterprise was one of the first to produce this type of Australiana souvenir ware. There had always been souvenir ware available in Australia much of it using transfer prints on Shelley porcelain or china from Czechoslovakia. Other pieces were occasionally produced by some of the older established Australian commercial potteries such as Newtone.
1 William and Dorothy Hall, Australian art-ware pottery. Crown Castleton Publishers, Victoria, 1996
2 Geoff Ford, Australian Pottery: the first 100 years. Wodonga, Victoria, Salt Glaze Press, 1995
3 After publishing this theory in an exhibition catalogue we were contacted by a family friend who mentioned that Samuel Noble collected coins.
Dorothy Johnston, the people’s potteries: stories of the art potteries of Sydney – Post WW11. Dorothy Johnston, Cooranbong, NSW, 2002
Angela Luessi interviewed by Donna Braye for the Mosman Library Oral History Program, 17 September 2002.
In 1948 Samuel Vandesluis arrived in Australia for a second time having worked in Melbourne during the 1920s. He purchased an established pottery and was also able to find a house in Esther Street, Balmoral within months of his arrival. Sam renamed the pottery Vande and it operated at 566 Military Road until 1958. In 1958 he closed Vande Pottery and opened an antique shop called Samuel Vandesluis Gifts at 762 Military Road in Mosman.
Sam was apparently a talented florist with an eye for design and had worked as a set decorator for Director, Alexander Korda3. He knew very little about pottery but could do the casting and firing. After advertising for decorators at East Sydney Technical College he received a number of responses from some very talented young designers. Toni Coles (Jungvirt), who was to establish Studio Anna with her husband, Karel, worked there for a while after leaving Diana Pottery in Marrickville.
Initially Sam produced such popular ornaments as flying ducks, Mexican inspired donkeys and wall vases under his Vande label. However, by the early 1950s Australians had developed a strong interest in Australian motifs and Sam realized there was a large market for this type of Australiana. Allowing his designers to create their own designs he began producing vases, wall plaques, ashtrays and dishes. Initially the designs were underglaze, later he introduced the use of scraffito decoration, using designs inspired by Aboriginal art, native flora, Australian country towns and icons such as the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Apparently the first ‘foot’ souvenir was created at Vande according to Marleen Adams4.
Angela Luessi5, who worked as a designer at Vande, describes how Sam obtained his clay from Mashmans at Willoughby, how he developed his design ideas and how he sold his wares through various souvenir shops in Sydney and country towns. Sam was an affable man and Angela also describes how he would generously treat his staff to a lunch of fresh prawns on Fridays.
Vande pottery is relatively scarce and as with many of the small commercial potteries of the 1950s its style is recognizable. Marks include an underglaze handpainted Vande, Australia or Vande both of which can include the designer’s signature such as MEA for Marlene Adams or SZ for Suzie Little6. Sam was generous in his appreciation of his designers allowing them to sign the pieces they had designed and decorated.
3 Johnston, Dorothy, The people’s potteries: Stories of the art potteries of Sydney – Post WW11. Dorothy Johnston, Cooranbong, NSW 2002.
4 Johnston, Dorothy, The people’s potteries: Stories of the art potteries of Sydney – Post WW11. Dorothy Johnston, Cooranbong, NSW 2002.
5 Angela Luessi interviewed by Donna Braye for the Mosman Library Oral History program, 17 September 2002.
6 Ford, Geoff, Encyclopaedia of Australian Potter’s marks (2nd ed), Salt Glaze Press, Sydney, 2002.
Interview with Angela Luessi (nee McMahon)
Angela worked at Vande, Rose Noble, Studio Ceramics, Martin Boyd Potteries and Studio Anna.
After speaking about the National Art School and Studio Ceramics at Crows Nest, the interview then focuses on local Mosman potteries.
Interviewee: Then I went to England to Stoke-on-Trent because she told me all the places I should go. So then I came back and that must have been when I worked for Vande who was a local pottery here in Military Road, (Mosman).
Interviewer: That was roughly about 1960?
Interviewee: No, I was only away for – I went in 1956. I was back in 1957. I worked for him. He was terribly kind to us – to the staff. He (Sam Vandesluis, owner) had little indulgences for us. On Friday at lunchtime he would always arrive with a big bundle of fresh prawns, which was really nice. Or some days it was a whole box of petits fours cakes. He was terribly kind, but we were terrible to him. We were like naughty school children. There was one girl who rolled up all the shells from the prawns back in the original newspaper, hid it behind the back seat in his car and he’d go and park his car in the sun and there was this revolting smell, and he couldn’t see where it was coming from. And then another little trick that used to be done was to get really small pellets of clay, as big as the top joint of your little finger. Roll them up, throw them up on the ceiling – it was a fairly low ceiling over the entrance to the kiln, and he used to come in at night to open the kiln, as he opened the door the heat would go up, dry these little pellets of clay on the ceiling and they’d start dropping on his bald head. He’d laugh. At the time there was a lot of joking.
Interviewer: How many people worked there?
Interviewee: There was the girl that actually, physically poured the moulds and then I think there were four of us decorating. He didn’t decorate. He ran around in circles.
Interviewer: You were allowed to do your own designs, or he had specific designs?
Interviewee: A lot of it was souvenirs. We did ashtrays in the shape of a footprint. We had designs coming in and perhaps they would be sprayed with paint and then we were scratching these white footprints with five little toes. His pottery was very thick and heavy, always white, never any terracotta. We made a lot of plates that would be decorated all over. Perhaps wild flowers or Aboriginal designs on them. They were the sorts of plates that would make fruit bowls – not dinner plates. And then –a big savoury tray. So there were three indentations or perhaps five or maybe more indentations. Everything was decorated.
Interviewer: Did you do things like towns or bridges or the Harbour Bridge?
Interviewee: Oh yes. And also for particular places. I know we used to do things for some place that was on the Murray River. I remember doing some sort of design – it was a bridge. And then you’d scratch in the name of place. And sometimes it would be wild flowers. Done for any town or anywhere, but it would have the name written on it.
Interviewer: So he made to order?
Interviewee: Well not specifically. He’d probably get an order that was for flower plates with wild flowers on them and two platters with original designs or something like that. I think he sold mostly to souvenir shops in NSW.
Interviewer: Did you get the images from photographs?
Interviewee: Oh yes. They probably sent us their promotional local brochures. Yes – that was probably – because the colours would be bright.
Interviewer: Oh yes. I hadn’t thought of that.
Interviewee: And they were very easy to handle.
Interviewer: Do you know where he got his clay from?
Interviewee: Might have been Mashman’s and Fowlers – yes – Mashman was just up at Willoughby.
Interviewer: When did he set the business up?
Interviewee: I don’t know. It had been going for a while before I was there.
Interviewer: Apparently he had a shop as well?
Interviewee: Not while I was there, but he might have had one next door. I’m not sure.
Interviewer: So the pottery was on Military Road?
Interviewee: Oh yes on the corner of – where Cardinal Street is. I’m not sure whether it’s still called Cardinal Street on the other side of Military Road, opposite the Catholic Church. When we were decorating, we could look out onto the street.
Interviewer: His name was Vandesluis and he lived at Balmoral Beach. Apparently in 1955 he actually had a shop called S.J. Vandesluis Gifts at 762 Military Road.
Interviewee: That would be right, because 611 (605) is where the Mosman Library is. So he may have had the shop earlier and then closed it down. He definitely didn’t have a shop when I was there. But I can remember talk about a shop.
Interviewer: Do you know low long he had the shop for?
Interviewer: How long did you work there?
Interviewee: Not very long, probably only about a year.
Angela speaks of working at Notanda Gallery, Rowe Street, in the gallery at Prouds and the David Jones Art Gallery.
Interviewer: Sometime before that you worked for Rose Noble?
Interviewee: Oh yes. That was only for a very short time. Maybe six months or something. That would have been after 1960. It was in a very small place tucked away in a little lane that runs from Military Road to Clifford Street.
Interviewee: Horsnell’s was the shoe shop there.
Interviewer: So was it a little factory?
Interviewee: It was a room in the underground level – at the back of one of those shops – that front on to Clifford Street probably.
Interviewer: How many people worked there?
Interviewee: There was the man who was – I can’t remember his first name but Mr Noble anyway. He made the pottery and I decorated it.
Interviewer: Did he supply to shops?
Interviewee: Yes, he supplied to shops. Most of it was sent to country places.
Interviewer: So was it souvenir ware or ornaments?
Interviewee: Mostly souvenirs I think. And then I went on a holiday on a bus trip. Through Queensland and Darwin, Alice Springs, back along the Murray. And he asked me to get names and find shops on the way. There was always a shop somewhere or other where you could sell pottery. He would then follow that up.
Interviewer: Do you know how long he was there? (In Mosman)
Interviewee: I think he’d been there for quite a long time by himself. There wasn’t room in the place to have more than one person working for him. He wasn’t young. But he worked there full time. He made enough to support himself presumably. Well, he didn’t have time to do anything else anyway.
Interviewer: You also said you worked for Martin Boyd (Pottery).
Interviewee: Only for a very short time. I think it was one December. It was after Vande’s.
Interviewer: And that was when the pottery was at Ryde?
Interviewee: That was when they were at Ryde. I was decorating mostly. And the same sort of thing that Vande made, platters and bowls and ashtrays. Ashtrays were a big thing and very good at the kitsch shops, because they were small, and for souvenirs people would…..
Interviewer: the ideal thing to buy. When you worked at potteries, did you ever come across other people that you’d worked with elsewhere?
Interviewee: Yes. Tony Jungvirt. Tony Coles probably at the time. It was at Vande’s. And then she was at Martin Boyd (Pottery). And Bernard Sound’s first wife was at Martin Boyd. Her name might have been Martha, I can’t remember. I’d met her at Tech. She wasn’t in my year but I knew her vaguely from Tech.
Interviewer: So everyone travelled from pottery to pottery?
Here Angela speaks of people she had studied with at East Sydney Tech. She also mentions that while working at Martin Boyd Pottery she decorated blanks that were stamped Studio Anna. In a separate interview Angela mentions that she did work at Studio Anna. The blanks she refers to in this interview were not done at Martin Boyd Pottery.
Interviewee: There was somebody else who worked at Vande whose surname – I can’t remember the first name but her surname was Szabo and her husband was Joseph Szabo and I have an idea he might have been a friend of – definitely European, they both were, and I have an idea he might have worked at Studio Anna. He didn’t work at Vande’s, he might have been working there when she was working at Vande’s.
Interviewer: Do you remember many gift shops in Sydney at that time?
Interviewee: There were a lot of gift and souvenir shops. Here at Mosman there was a Mrs Bert’s, which was a wonderful big store. When you’re coming from the ferry to Spit Junction it was on the left-hand side. Where Generosity is. It had very up-market things. They wouldn’t have had Vande pottery in there. She had a lot of fine china cups and saucers and things. Very fine flower things that people used to wear as brooches and they were quite magnificent. They were really, really fine china, and a rose or some daffodils or something. Very, very good quality. Definitely English. These were the days when English china was the main thing around. Japanese was only just starting to come in.
Interviewer: It’s amazing though that English pottery was so popular, but there was still an incredible market for Australian pottery.
Interviewee: It would have been a lot cheaper than the English.
Interviewer: And also there were a lot of Japanese imported pottery at the time.
Interviewee: They must have started coming in around about 1956. I remember them so vividly. Also that Australia pottery was being sold as souvenirs. Australians wanted something Australian (as a souvenir).
Interviewer: So the inspiration for most of these souvenir items did come from tourist brochures, leaflets and magazines.
Interviewee: I remember those lying around on the table. The tables were always pretty grotty so you couldn’t have a good book lying around.
Interviewer: Did either of the potteries you worked for have colours they preferred to use?
Interviewee: Vande was certainly bright and garish. Martin Boyd used to make quite a lot of pink and blue and yellow and grey. It used to sell very much, in Rowe Street, in Maggie Jay, which was a very famous gift shop in Rowe Street. A lot of them (people) were saying Martin Boyd in the same breath as they said Maggie Jay.
Interviewer: So did Rose Noble have a particular colour?
Interviewee: (Mr Noble used a mould) One I’ve got is a prawn, and so you just simply painted pink over the prawn, which was embossed. It was really easy because you didn’t have to actually draw it or paint in eyes or anything. It was embossed. From memory he didn’t have very bright colours. One of the things probably worth mentioning is that the white in anything, the white lines or any kind of white decoration was scratched through the – you’d paint on the paint, which was the consistency of gouache. It was a powder paint and you mixed it with water. Egg containers were a very hard thing because you had all these little bowls of colour and so you’d mix that up and paint it on and then if you wanted something like white rays on the sea you scratched them on with your finger. And that was fired at once, and then glazed and fired again. So it was all under glaze colour. I seem to remember that Studio Anna had what I considered more interesting colours than the other people did. Quite a lot of black, but fine black. They had lilacs and really interesting colours. Really good colours in the Aboriginal designs.
This is an extract of an interview with Angela Luessi (nee Mc Mahon) by Donna Braye, Local Studies Librarian, Mosman Library on 17 September 2002.
Vande pieces on exhibition
Currently a number of Vande pieces from Mosman Library’s pottery collection are on loan to the Australian National Maritime Museum at Darling Harbour for their iconic exhibition Trash or Treasure? Souvenirs of Travel that examines collecting travel memorabilia.
This exhibition will be on view until May 2009.