Crown Lynn pottery museum set to open

CHRIS SKELTON/Stuff.co.nz

"Te Toi Uku", or the Art of Clay museum is the culmination of 10 years of work to preserve a precious collection of Crown Lynn crockery and west Auckland's clay making roots.

Crown Lynn's white swan vases graced a generation of New Zealand homes, and are now to be the centrepiece of a museum housing a collection of Kiwi crown jewels.

When it officially opens on May 2, Te Toi Uku, The Art of Clay, will be the culmination of 10 years of work by a charitable trust to preserve Crown Lynn's heritage.

Crown Lynn pottery, perhaps best known for the white swan vases that had pride of place on many a Kiwi sideboard from the 1960s and 70s, has become an icon of homegrown New Zealand ceramic design.

It was also the leading name of a clay industry that flourished in West Auckland for the better part of a century.

Now that history has been brought together in a purpose-designed facility looking after not only a valuable collection from Crown Lynn, but also artefacts from the industry that once operated around it.

"We're on the brink of achieving what we'd always set out to do," trust chairwoman Lorraine Wilson says.

Te Toi Uku combines the legacy of avid art collector Richard Quinn, who dug up pieces of pottery from the old Crown Lynn factory after it closed in 1989, with a collection of clay machinery held by the old Waitakere City Council.

Until Te Toi Uku's facility was finished in New Lynn's Ambrico Pl,, the collection was housed in several locations.

"We had storage over half of West Auckland it seems," Wilson said.

Recognising the importance of Crown Lynn's heritage to the area, the local Portage Licensing Trust set up the Portage Ceramics Trust in 2005.

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Two years of fundraising followed to buy the Quinn collection and hire professionals to catalogue it, but the creation of the Auckland super city five years ago slowed work on the project.

"We feel terrible that it's taken this long," said Wilson, who has chaired the trust since it began.

Now the museum is preparing to host researchers and small groups of visitors. The collection is catalogued online at nzmuseums.co.nz, and a new Te Toi Uku website is due to go live shortly.

Among the thousands of items in the Crown Lynn collection are the swans, in all shapes and sizes, the crockery the company designed and made for Bellamy's restaurant in Parliament, its famous railway cups and saucers, and a limited edition collector's mug made to commemorate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Crown Lynn came into its own during World War II when no crockery could be imported. The company produced thousands of mugs and plates for the military and tableware for domestic use.

After the war Crown Lynn began to experiment with design, and developed fashionable techniques such as the trickle glaze.

The Portage Ceramics Trust now plans to hire a director and set up a team of volunteers to help make its treasures more accessible to the people of Auckland and others.

It also intends to collect oral histories from employees and designers who worked in the local industry, and eventually to open up the 90-year-old Ambrico brick kiln which sits incongruously among the modern terraced houses next to the museum.

Ambrico stands for Amalgamated Brick and Pipe Company, the company which eventually became Crown Lynn Potteries.

 - Stuff

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