Fired up: Potters find a new home at Whanganui's Quartz museum

by Graeme Wilson / 19 December, 2018
Rick Rudd at Quartz museum, where his own work is among a huge collection of ceramics on display. Photo / Nicola Edmonds

Rick Rudd at Quartz museum, where his own work is among a huge collection of ceramics on display. Photo / Nicola Edmonds

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More than a century of ceramics has found a home in Whanganui.

Rick Rudd has made a shrine to the craft he loves. After a lifetime spent twisting and shaping clay, the 68-year-old potter has paid the ultimate compliment to his fellow practitioners of the ceramic arts by establishing a permanent home for their work in Whanganui.

In 2014, the multiple award-winner sold his house, bought an inner-city commercial building (“I love the architecture, it’s a good example of brutalist modernistic design”) and set about creating a paean to pots by displaying examples of the best work from more than a century of New Zealand pottery, plus a smattering from international artists.

The idea for a museum had been brewing for a long time. “I’d seen other potters’ work auctioned off after they died,” he says. “And I didn’t want that to happen to my collection.” That collection not only includes his own creations but some 50 international pieces and a large number of works by other New Zealand studio potters.

There are three leading lights of English pottery, says Rudd: Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. Rie and Coper are “my personal gods”. But the name for his museum of studio ceramics, Quartz, was inspired by Leach, who wrote that “quartz, raised to a red heat, quenched in water and ground to a powder, is a most valuable material to potters both in clays and glazes”.
Left: "Doggomotive" by Barry Brickell. Right: "Water logic" by Helen Yau.

Left: "Doggomotive" by Barry Brickell. Right: "Water logic" by Helen Yau.

“There are museums in New Zealand that have collections of pots, but you rarely see them,” notes Rudd. “There was nowhere where you could see a chronological history of New Zealand studio pottery. And I wanted to set up a foundation that would encourage, foster and promote New Zealand ceramics. I run the place on peanuts. I’m director, curator and cleaner.”

There are well over 400 pieces (and growing) in the collection, representing more than 150 local and almost 50 international potters, focusing on “the movers and shakers of their time” and representing four distinct periods. The early days, 1900-1960, with artists such as Jova Rancich, Briar Gardner and Olive Jones, are followed by 1960-1980, “the era of high-fired stoneware and domestic ware”, as in the work of Len Castle and Doreen Blumhardt. The next 20 years were a time of “experimenting with bright colours, when we started breaking the rules. And then there is the work of the new practitioners, who have swept us aside.”

UK-born Rudd earned a Diploma of Art and Design from Wolverhampton College of Art before surrendering to wanderlust in his mid-20s and finding himself in Whangārei, where he met the “scary” but ferociously energetic potter Yvonne Rust. Together they set up a craft market, and Rudd began his love affair with fire and clay.
Then came a decade amidst the bright lights and invigorating ceramic scene of Auckland in the 70s and 80s, before a move in 1985 to Whanganui, which reminded Rudd of Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, where he was born.

“A small town with a river and miles of sandy beaches,” he says. “New Zealand became home and Britain became somewhere else.”

This article was originally published in the December issue of North & South.

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