Temuka pottery display bringing back memories

Waitaki Museum & Archive curator Henry Buckenham views the distinctive Temuka Pottery stoneware...
Waitaki Museum & Archive curator Henry Buckenham views the distinctive Temuka Pottery stoneware collection made by Nelson potter Jack Laird in the 1970s and still popular today. PHOTO: JULES CHIN
Temuka Pottery is celebrating its 100th year and its products are more popular than ever.

Well Made New Zealand, the Temuka Pottery exhibition at the Waitaki Museum & Archive Te Whare Taoka o Waitaki, is one of the largest collections of Temuka Pottery in the country, and includes rare and unique pieces.

Waitaki Museum & Archive curator Henry Buckenham said visitors to the exhibition were "loving it".

"The humble crockery stamped with ‘Temuka ware’ was a household name and people have definitely had ... a range of reactions to it and depending on your age, what you react to in the chronology of it, is quite interesting." he said.

The Temuka Pottery was collected in the late 1980s by former North Otago Museum director Bruce McCulloch, who Mr Buckenham credited for helping with the new exhibition.

"He’s very passionate about it ... he saw that, unfortunately, no-one was collecting New Zealand domestic pottery from Temuka and that was partly because everyone was sort of crazed about Crown Lynn and Temuka hadn’t had the same cultural impact, but it was such a big part of people’s lives.

"He saw that was a really important thing for a museum to be collecting and recording that history, so he started that process."

The "semi-chronological" order of the exhibition charts the story of Temuka Pottery and the New Zealand manufacturing industry over the last century.

Mr Buckenham said a little-known fact was that originally Temuka Pottery was a "side gig" of New Zealand Insulators, who produced the ceramic insulators for poles holding electrical wires, that they still make today.

"Because they were making all this ceramic stuff, they eventually branched out into domestic pottery. It was only a small part of their business and it grew to be a much larger part," he said.

The about 400-500 pieces on display are from specific time periods from the 1920s to the early 2000s and chart the changes happening in the country and "our national identity".

"How in the post-war period we started to develop a consciousness of ourselves.

"Material culture like this was a really important part of that. How things that were made here influenced our view of ourselves," Mr Buckenham said.

"It’s very vintage chic. Even young people say it’s so cool.

"Interesting cultural things, like ashtrays for smoking. They came with the dinner set.

"The ’70s was the era for Temuka Pottery, when they became more widely popular.

"It was a big moment for them and where they get their distinctive stoneware styles," Mr Buckenham said.

They changed their style to meet the demands of the time in the 1980s.

In the late ’80s Temuka Pottery had a considerable number of shops, even though economic conditions were changing and imports were becoming more popular.

The pottery had a "boom time in the ’90s", Mr Buckenham said.

"What they really focus on is making custom pieces for cafes, so they were a really big part of the cafe culture in New Zealand.

"It’s very nostalgic for me, going to cafes and seeing them. They made all the stuff, for example, for the Lone Star, and a lot of stuff for industry because it’s very resilient and doesn’t break."

Mr Buckenham said the impetus for a new exhibit of the once permanent collection at the museum was due to "a lot" of public demand.

He said it was an amazing collection and he really wanted to give the pottery the recognition it deserves and challenge assumptions.

"It’s a bit of the cultural cringe we have about our own art and culture in New Zealand.

"Which I think is really unjust to one of the longest running, major New Zealand domestic pottery manufacturers, which produced a lot of the amazing work in its 100 years of existence."

Mr Buckenham said some people thought the pottery was "not really art", but "if we take it and put it on a plinth and we talk about the artists behind it, we can challenge those ideas".

"Because there were artists involved in this. There is a certain degree of individuality and expression in each of the pieces."

The exhibition began last month and runs until May 12.