The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales and Australian Art Pottery

Lidded pot, thistle design by Muriel MacDiarmid, 1930

Lidded pot, thistle design by Muriel MacDiarmid, 1930

In 1906 a group of Mosman craftspeople met in ‘Duncraggan’, the Raglan Street home of Dorothy Wilson. At this historic meeting were Mrs Danvers Power, Mr and Miss Goldfinch, Mr and Miss Stennett, Dr Alsop and Miss Ada Newman, of Muston Street, who also had a studio on Military Road. Seeking a nurturing environment to stimulate creativity and improve the quality of their work, they formed the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales.

With a common interest in promoting the design qualities of native flora and fauna and in using Australian materials membership increased and meetings were held in members’ homes until city rooms could be obtained.

The Society’s aims to encourage and promote the work of members led to the establishment of a lecture program, a library, regular exhibitions and eventually a design school. In 1908 recognizing the need to engage the public the category of Associate Membership was created enabling non-artists opportunities to gain an appreciation of the arts and crafts.

Perhaps the Society’s most important role was to ensure that members’ works were available to a wider audience and to this end a one day exhibition was held in 1907. It was by invitation and 28 of the 34 members exhibited. The success of this event resulted in regular monthly exhibitions and an annual exhibition allowing members to display work and earn an income. The annual exhibitions were prestigious affairs attracting exhibiting members from Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and South Australia.

Those attracted to the Society were professional and gifted artists, craftspeople and designers with skills ranging from china decorating, pottery, sculpture, jewellery, repousse work, photography, leatherwork, pokerwork, pyrography, embroidery and textile design.

Long term members, including Ada Newman, Vi Eyre, Eirene Mort, Elizabeth Soderberg and Margaret Preston, were strong advocates and played significant roles in the promotion and recognition of the talents of members.

There is no doubt members’ works had significant artistic merit and in 1910 the National Gallery of Australia (now the Art Gallery of New South Wales), the first collecting institution to recognise this, purchased works by Ada Newman and Marian Munday.

Today, the Society continues its valuable service in promoting an Australian tradition of decorative arts and crafts with works on view in its showrooms Craft NSW, The Rocks, Sydney.

All Fired Up – A Survey Exhibition 1908-1950

View 360 degree panorama of the exhibition space

All Fired Up featured pottery by some of Australia’s most significant art potters who had exhibited with the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales between 1908 and 1950. This innovative exhibition celebrated the Society’s promotion of a unique tradition of Australian decorative arts of the early 20th century. Federation, and its new found spirit of Nationalism, combined with the design inspiration of Art Nouveau, the Arts & Crafts Movement, and later Art Deco, created a new art form based on Australian themes of native flora and fauna.

On view were rarely seen pieces by Merric Boyd, Grace Seccombe, William Ricketts, Philippa James, Ada Newman, Nell Holden, Olive Nock, Ernest Finlay, Delia Cadden, Muriel McDiarmid, Myrtle Innes, Edith Bell Brown, Eirene Mort, Marian Munday, Harry Lindeman, Violet Mace, Una Deerbon, Anna May Crouch, Katie Blomgren, Olive Moase, Jessie Newman, Nell McCredie, Vi Eyre, L. J. Harvey, Mary MacDonald, Clare Pitman and Ethel Warburton.

All Fired Up was documented with a coloured catalogue and a limited edition collector’s poster. The poster featuring the sensational Waratah Vase by Marian Munday is available for $20.

All Fired Up was a wonderful example of community generosity. Pottery was borrowed from The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales, four private collectors and Shapiro Auctioneers, Woollahra. Display cases were lent by various businesses. The catalogue photographs were taken by a professional photographer, gratis, and the cost of printing covered by the auction house, Bonhams & Goodman.

All Fired Up was on view in the Mosman Library Local Studies room. Tables and chairs were removed and all other furnishings, such as filing cabinets and bookshelves, were covered with cream hessian. Softening of the room’s lighting transformed it into a wonderful exhibition space. The stream of visitors was constant, many travelling from interstate, and the visitor’s book is a testimony to the enjoyment and immense appreciation of those who saw All Fired Up.

— Donna C. Braye, Curator

All Fired Up: The Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales: a survey exhibition 1908-1950 was on view from 6 – 10 May 2009 at Mosman Library, 605 Military Road, Mosman, Sydney.

Enquiries: d.braye@mosman.nsw.gov.au or phone (02) 9978 4101.

Grace Poovey Seccombe

Before emigrating in the early 20th century, Grace worked at Wilkinsons Pottery, England and it was not until the 1920s, after a trip to England, that she was inspired to take up pottery professionally.

The first year she exhibited with the Society, Grace showed vases and bowls with underglaze painting of native flora. In 1931 she changed her focus to creating hand-modelled, slip-cast and moulded native fauna. Perhaps best known for her galahs, cockatoos, blue wrens, kingfishers and an array of kookaburras, Grace’s sculptural pieces display a keen observation of those characteristics unique to Australia’s native fauna.

Grace exhibited with Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales from 1930 to 1955.

The Regent Bower Bird is a fine example of Grace Seccombe’s work. The piece is hand-finished, slip-cast earthenware with underglaze painting. The elegant sweeping wingspan is accentuated by the contrast of yellow on black creating the dramatic effect of a bird in flight.

Inscribed on base AUSTRALIA; c. 1940, 23 × 26 × 20cm

Ernest Finlay

After studying with artist, J. S. Watkins in Sydney, Ernest spent a year in Melbourne at his brother’s pottery. It is thought he toured Japan in 1914 when he may have developed his interest in Japanese pottery. In 1917 he took up design studies at Sydney Technical College.

Ernest was a skillful decorator experimenting with the application of glazes. His design motifs included native flora and fauna and aboriginal art. A love of Asian design no doubt inspired Ernest’s desire to see the Australian native lizard reach a similar design status to that achieved by the Dragon in Asian art.

In 1920 Ernest opened the Gika Gika Pottery in Rose Bay and exhibited with Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales from 1922 to 1926.

This wheelthrown, earthenware vase with its striking underglaze painting of an Australian dragon lizard, twisting around the body of the pot and suns dancing above its head, is a wonderful example of Ernest Finlay’s work.

Inscribed on base Ernest Finlay 1915; 37 × 14 cm

Marian Munday

After moving from Queensland in the 1890s, Marian studied relief carving at Sydney Technical College, ran classes in woodcarving and by 1910 had established a studio in King Street, Sydney where she gave classes in wood carving and pottery.

Marian exhibited a range of crafts, including carving, stencilling, repousse work and pottery, in the Society’s exhibition of 1909. This was the first year art pottery had been exhibited and the response to its inclusion led to the inaugural display of art pottery in 1910 to which Marian submitted a total of 50 pieces. She had the honour of being one of the first members to have a pot purchased by the National Art Gallery (now Art Gallery of New South Wales).

Marian exhibited with Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales in 1909 and 1910.

The Waratah Vase reflects Marian’s background in carving and interest in form. It is a bold hand-built, glazed earthenware pot with underglaze painting and four hand-modelled applied Waratahs. The mottled blue, green and yellow glaze provides a subtle background to the sculptural red Waratahs resulting in a significant Arts & Crafts pot. This piece had been filled with sand and used as a doorstop in a Mosman residence for many years. So, it seemed fitting that the first time it was on public view it was at Mosman Library.

Inscribed on base M.Munday 1912; 28 × 17xm

Slideshow

Sources

Nonie McFarlane and Judy Mackinolty (eds). A history of the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales 1906-1991. The Society of Arts & Crafts, NSW, 1991

Kevin Fahy, Keith Free, John Freeland and Andrew Simpson (eds). Australian Art Pottery 1900-1950. Casuarina Press, NSW, 2004