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Master craftsman of the clay

Last updated 12:35 22/08/2009
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MARION VAN DIJK/The Nelson Mail
VISION: Jack and Peggy Laird.

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To many, Jack Laird, who died this month, was the father of pottery in Nelson. Peter Gibbs looks at his legacy.

It was more than a pottery, it was a family of like-minded people who embarked on that great journey of working clay.

Jack Laird, a pioneer of the craft pottery movement in Nelson, died suddenly on August 7, just a few weeks short of his 89th birthday.

Jack and Peggy Laird established Waimea Pottery, just north of Richmond, in 1964 and became known as leaders in the establishment of training for potters in New Zealand. Mr Laird grew up in England, marrying Peggy in 1943.

He studied graphic design and illustration at the Chelsea School of Art on an ex-serviceman's scholarship in 1945. During postgraduate work at London University he fell in love with the art of the potter, skipping other classes so he could spend more time on the wheel.

His enthusiasm to start a pottery was dampened by post-war obstacles, so he gravitated towards teaching. The couple's first child, Helen, was born in 1946, followed by Nick in 1950 and Paul in 1952.

With a growing family to support, the couple moved to the Channel Islands town of Jersey when Paul was seven months old, Mr Laird establishing and running the art department in a new grammar school. After five years the Lairds decided to move on.

In a Nelson Mail article in 2004, Mr Laird described the next step: "A job came up advertised in the Times Educational Supplement about a lecturer's job in New Zealand at Victoria University to set up an extramural department so I applied for that and to my surprise I got it." They moved to New Zealand in 1959.

Based in Palmerston North, the job covered a zone that included Nelson and the Lairds fell in love with the area. The vision of establishing a pottery took hold and eventually suitable land was found north of Richmond.

The pottery opened in 1964.

One thing that defined the pottery was the training it offered. Soon after the Lairds became established, Richmond mayor Muir McGlashen approached them and asked if they would take his son Royce on as an apprentice.

There was no such scheme in existence, but in his typically matter-of-fact fashion, Mr Laird approached the Labour Department, found out the procedure and established a programme at the pottery. Royce McGlashen and his cousin Adrian Beavis completed the apprenticeship scheme, while many other potters undertook part of the training and went on to establish their own successful potteries.

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These included such potters as John and Anne Crawford and Darryl Robertson. In the 2004 Nelson Mail article, Mr Crawford described the experience of working at the pottery: "Waimea was the direct result of Jack and Peggy's vision.

It was more than a pottery, it was a family of like-minded people who embarked on that great journey of working clay.

Working there was the most formative and seminal event in my life. Jack taught by example. His work was honest, well designed, full and generous. We all grew at Waimea, were given skills, strength, love and support."

Mr Laird's interests grew when he began to design tableware for Temuka Pottery near Timaru, eventually setting up Richmond Pottery and Ceramics in a building next to the pottery.

With the ebb and flow of government regulations and changes in the structure of the tableware business, things changed during the 1980s. Mr Laird and his son Paul began working as individuals, with other potters also using the space and Mrs Laird looking after administration and sales.

Mr and Mrs Laird sold their interest in Richmond Ceramics, which later closed.

The buildings then became Craft Habitat.

"I think we always had in the back of our mind that it would be nice to have something like a craft village," Mrs Laird said. "When we were moving to find other tenants for the building, that was the natural thing to do. There were quite a few people who launched themselves in that place."

Best known of those tenants were Ola and Marie Hoglund, who moved on to their Lansdowne Rd site when the land their studio was on was acquired for Whakatu Drive in 1993.

It wasn't until 2004, 40 years after setting up Waimea Pottery, that Mr and Mrs Laird stopped working there, Mr Laird setting up a small studio in their house on the Ridgeway in Stoke.

In the Mail article, Royce McGlashen said: "Jack was always open with ideas, willing to talk things through. Peggy was a thoughtful, soothing presence, solving problems and helping the staff. Together they did a tremendous amount for young people, creating opportunities in pottery which will never be available again." --------------------

- The Nelson Mail

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