70 Years at Sturt (1941-2011) - Pottery
A short history by Grace Cochrane
Sturt Pottery was among the first studio potteries in New South Wales to produce stoneware from local materials. In 1952 Miss West persuaded Ivan McMeekin to return from England, where he had been working with potter Michael Cardew. McMeekin spent 1953 in Sydney planning the pottery and its equipment, and started work at Sturt in 1954. As well as constructing the buildings and equipment, McMeekin also researched local clays and glazes, producing 24 test bodies and four glazes by the end of the year.6 A significant development was that of a porcelain clay from the Nattai River area. In 1954 McMeekin built a small, round, down-draft woodfiring kiln modelled on one designed by Michael Cardew, and at one point the Wood workshop made potters wheels to McMeekin's design.
McMeekin's first student-assistant was Gwyn John (later Hanssen Pigott) and when she left in 1957, her place was taken by Les Blakebrough in the Pottery, and by Col Levy, who took over her teaching commitments. Blakebrough followed McMeekin as workshop manager from 1959 and was appointed Director of Sturt from 1964 to 1972. Seventeen apprentices were trained in pottery during these years. Blakebrough initiated a number of visits by international potters such as John Chappell and Fred Olsen, which resulted in Blakebrough spending a year in Japan in 1963. The first Japanese visitor was Takeichi Kawai, who worked at Sturt in 1964, while Shigeo Shiga, who was at Sturt in 1966-67, returned to live in Australia. In 1964, following his experience in Kyoto, and under the guidance of Kawai, Blakebrough oversaw construction of a three-chamber climbing kiln, believed to be the first to be built in Australia.
Subsequent workshop managers were Tony Burgess (1973-74), John Edye (1974-78), Paul Wynn (1978-80), Ian McKay (1982-86), Don Court (1986-88), Campbell Hegan (1988-98) and Libby Pickard (1999-2000) and many others worked or trained with them. They made pots, taught and ran workshops, and some built new kilns and equipment. Paul Davis was manager from 2001 until 2009, and focused on building respect for what he saw as the legacy of the founding ideas of the Pottery. He invited significant Australian and international potters who would best demonstrate the use of the Sturt kilns, and helped organise events such as the ceramic conference in 2003 which celebrated 50 years of the Pottery, and the national Woodfire conference which took place at Sturt in 2008.
Currently, Sturt Pottery studio leader is Simon Bowley.