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Vault

Selections from a collection of small British ceramics

24 January 2009 - 21 February 2009

Growing up in a family engaged primarily with science and demonstrating little curiosity for aesthetic matters it's remarkable that Fiona Thompson went on to develop an interest in design. This became manifest when she moved to Sydney in 1950 where she worked for the interior designer Marion Hall Best. Back in Auckland she studied pottery painting with Frank Carpay and began acquiring the sort of designed objects found in overseas magazines like House & Garden: Gustavsberg and Rörstrand services were purchased on lay-by from Patrick Pierce's Art of the Potter shop; Paul Voss cutlery was acquired piece by piece from the manufacturer, C Hugo Pott in Solingen; and Rosenlew casseroles designed by Timo Sarpaneva came from Décor, Marjorie Lowe's shop in Remuera East.

In the mid-1970s, Fiona became involved with the New Zealand chapter of the World Crafts Council in organising an exhibition of Auckland crafts. In 1980 she published the Craft hunter's guide; intended as a nation-wide survey of well-made crafts, it was updated in 1981 and 1984. Fiona largely compiled and funded it, assessing entries on not only submissions from makers but also what she saw during treks made around the country in a temperamental Renault 12. By the mid-1980s she was organising exhibitions of New Zealand crafts for local and overseas display and was elected to the Crafts Council.

The selection of British ceramics displayed here was collected mostly during this period and complements a larger New Zealand collection. It's challenging to understand the cultural isolation that prevailed here as recently as twenty years ago. Despite popular enthusiasm, local knowledge of international crafts was limited; this showed in the work of local potters who, with notable exceptions, seemed stuck in an Anglo-Oriental time warp. Fiona's collection was formed against this tendency and on a shoestring budget, with pieces more often than not acquired from the makers themselves. Their size reflected a need for portability with a prime consideration being what could be carried without causing the airport scales to trip into excess.

While there are a number of formal moments that characterise the collection, its significance lies in the condition of its formation. It reflects the taste of someone who, despite a limited budget, import and currency restrictions and a dominance of the New Zealand ceramics market by the dross of Staffordshire, developed a discerning sense of the modern, whether international or local, industrial or hand-made.

Christopher Thompson
19 January 2009