Suter showcases outstanding contemporary ceramics

23:35, Dec 20 2011

The Portage Ceramics Award offers a first prize of $15,000. The Suter is now showing a selection of the top works from this Auckland-based exhibition, including several pieces from Nelson potters.

Nelson Mail arts editor Peter Gibbs chose older works by these potters from the Suter's collection and they're now on show in the cabinet in the foyer outside the McKee Gallery.

Nowadays news is instant. That wasn't so in 1979, when it took a phone call from a friend in Nelson to the party line I shared in Golden Bay to tell me that he'd seen a small news story in the Nelson Evening Mail saying that I'd won a merit award the previous weekend in an Auckland exhibition called the Fletcher Brownbuilt Pottery Award.

The news was gratifying, but didn't mean much to me at the time. It was only in hindsight that I can recognise it as among the greatest critical recognition I got in a 20-year career as a fulltime potter.

The Brownbuilt moved on to become the Fletcher Challenge Ceramics Award, the Fletcher involvement lasting 20 years. In that time it became one of the world's most important exhibitions for ceramics, ending with the final show in 1996.

With entries open internationally, it gave Kiwi potters the chance to measure themselves against ceramic artists from all over the world – as far as comparisons are possible in such a subjective field.


In 2001, Lopdell House in Auckland instituted the Portage Ceramics Awards. Limited to New Zealand entries, the exhibition quickly became the country's biggest showcase of pottery and ceramic art.

In his foreword to this year's exhibition catalogue, Peter Lange pointed out that very few of the successful exhibitors made a fulltime living from working with clay – perhaps as few as 5 per cent. It was in keeping with these comments that the winner of the $15,000 prize was a completely unknown student from Nelson, Bridie Henderson.

As is usually the case, several other Nelson potters were among the 58 chosen for the exhibition by Australian selector Janet Mansfield from the 250 entrants. Of the most successful works, Mansfield said "it was the professional way that an intention was finally and fully resolved that made some works stand out above others".

Mansfield has made pots and written about them for 40 years and visited Nelson in the early 1990s during a period of research for her 1995 book Contemporary Ceramic Art in Australia and New Zealand.

Included in the cabinet display is a piece by Mansfield purchased by the Nelson Potters Association in 1986.

Henderson is the only Nelson potter from the Portage show who does not have work in the Suter collection. Included in the cabinet are small pieces she fired especially for the display.

Others in both the Portage show and in the cabinet are Nelson potters Owen Bartlett, Darryl Frost, Katie Gold and Darryl Robertson – also Chris Weaver from the West Coast.