Potters' Paradise; HOW DOREEN BLUMHARDT HANDCRAFTED NEW ZEALAND
In New Zealand there are 3 million people, 60 million sheep, and 300 potters. Those who make their living at potting may not be doing as well as the sheep, but this is definitely a healthy ratio.Skip to next paragraph
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There are reasons for this modest burgeoning at potters' wheels. There is a lot of good clay in New Zealand, but no one, not even the Maoris, craftsmen from ancient times, thought to mold it until postwar importation quotas made handmade pottery and dishware more attractive.
Then there is the work of Doreen Blumhardt, CBE. Miss Blumhardt, now throwing her own pots, has spent 30 years teaching art to children, art education to teachers, and art appreciation to everyone else. In the foreword of her book, ''Craft: New Zealand'' ($75, Universe Books: New York), C. E. Beeby, former director of education in New Zealand, wrote: ''To anyone who knew the parlous state of the creative crafts in New Zealand 50 years ago, 'Craft New Zealand' is little short of a miracle. Behind it lies the story of a small and isolated country - full of natural beauty, but cut off from the sight and touch of lovely things made by hands over the centuries - coming of age.''
The scene was set during World War II. Dr. Beeby saw the student work of Doreen Blumhardt at the Teachers' College in Wellington and asked her to do experimental work for the education department in elementary schools around the country.
''I did this for seven years,'' she recalled on a visit to Boston, her large, steady, potter's hands folded in her lap, but her energy evident in her brusque but almost pauseless New Zealand speech. ''First of all I experimented in a school for a year with wool, because we have 60 million sheep, so wool was the thing. Clay seemed greatly the thing, so we started the children using clay. It was wartime . . . there was nothing available, so I had a chalk factory make some powder colors so we could use paints. We had wallpaper which we used the backs of to paint pictures. . . . Because we could get some scraps of newspaper, we made puppets out of the daily paper. Dr. Beeby . . . thought that we should be a country who was doing much more for our children than we were in the arts, and he and I worked together on this project for some years.''
Miss Blumhardt traveled over New Zealand and arranged for teachers to be trained in art education. ''I believe that it helped create a climate in which a lot of this work that's happening so wonderfully was able to succeed.'' If the children of the '40s are not potters, painters, or puppetmakers, they understand what it's like to be one. And they buy the crafts.
Aside from the 300 professional potters, there are droves of weavers, woodcarvers, jade sculptors, and bookbinders. They use clay, wood, shells, feathers, jade, metals, glass. They produce lavishly finished and surprisingly original items, from a plainly beautiful collection of graceful wooden spoons to drifts of glass globules that catch the light. In her book, glossily photographed by Brian Brake, the work, along with comments on the making of it, gives a sense of quiet, self-reliant industry with flashy results. Raymond Boyce , a theater designer, says: ''The world does not owe the artist a living. Society does not recognize the necessity for the performing arts. . . . One doesn't blame an audience for not being receptive; the customer is always right. One sticks to humility and integrity, optimistic to believe that something of the intention will rub off at some time.''