Art Ceramics


In art history, ceramics and ceramic art mean art objects such as figures, tiles, and tableware made from clay and other raw materials by the process of pottery. Some ceramic products are regarded as fine art, while others are regarded as decorative, industrial or applied art objects, or as artifacts in archaeology. They may be made by one individual or in a factory where a group of people design, make and decorate the ware. Decorative ceramics are sometimes called "art pottery".


The following is the English summary of a thesis by Johanna Adriana Heymans as part of her Masters Degree in Humanities at the University of Pretoria, May 1989.



The manufacture of art ceramics on an organised basis in South Africa began at a relatively late stage.

Although there are isolated references to potters who manufactured ceramics at the Cape in the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, it was only in 1907 that the first organised attempt as such manufacture was set in motion by Sir Thomas Cullinan. After the Anglo-Boer War, Cullinan undertook to provide fireproof bricks for the Rand mines. In 1902 he purchased the farms Olifantsfontein, Kaalspruit and Sterkfontein between Pretoria and Johannesburg for their outstanding clay deposits. Besides the brickworks (Conrand Company), Cullinan was eager to operate a pottery, and in 1907 he began to lay out a potters' village next to the clay-pit at Olifantsfontein. Special down-draught kilns, workshops and stores were constructed, together with accommodation and sports facilities for potters.

Cullinan dispatched his son Rowland Vivian Cullinan to Stoke-on-Trent to study the techniques of pottery and requested Harold Emery of Stoke-on-Trent to assist with planning, the purchase of machinery and the recruitment of potters in England.

Between 1907 and 1914 Emery worked at Olifantsfontein together with about thirty English potters. The business was known as the "Transvaal Potteries".

The work produced at Olifantsfontein during this period was in essence English pottery. In 1914 the Transvaal Potteries had to close down because they were uneconomic and because the English artists were not happy in South Africa.

In 1914, too, an English potter, John Adams, came to South Africa to take up a position as head of the art department at the Technical College in Durban, There he started a school of pottery.

Among Adams's students in the early twenties were Audrey Frank, Marjorie Johnstone, Joan Methley, Thelma Newlands and Gladys Short. Methley, Newlands and Short pursued their studies in England. Johnstone had meanwhile become friendly with Sir Thomas Cullinan's son Reginald, whom she was later to marry.

After completing their studies in England, Methley and Short started a pottery in Durban. The mediation of Johnstone led Reginald Cullinan to invite them to begin a pottery at Olifantsfontein. From 1925 Johnstone, Methley and Short worked together at Olifantsfontein, the studio being known as the "Ceramic Studio". Upon her marriage to Reginald Cullinan in 1926, Johnstone left the studio. In 1927 Audrey Frank joined the Ceramic Studio as did Thelma Newlands in 1928.

The Ceramic Studio produced a wide variety of decorative pots and utensils which were distributed throughout South Africa. In cooperation with the Natal potter Mary Stainbank, a large number of statues were manufactured for private and public buildings. The DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC WORKS commissioned tiled panels and works of art from the Ceramic Studio for the decoration of dozens of public buildings.

The Ceramic Studio became an artistic centre in the Transvaal and made a major contribution to educating the public of the time in the appreciation of high-quality indigenous ceramics.

Since the artists had close ties with England, they were strongly influenced by the thought of such individuals as William de Morgan and William Morris, as by the art potters of England, especially Bernard Leach. The Chinese Song period also had a great influence on the work of the Ceramic Studio.

The Studio's work was aesthetically successful with outstanding shapes and glazes and well-finished decoration. The Ceramic Studio marked the beginning of art ceramics in South Africa.

During the Second World War the activities of the Ceramic Studio declined. The studio was forced to close down and was bought out by the Cullinan company. The work was now known as "Linn Ware"- Short returned to Durban and Methley acted as manager until 1952, In 1955 the pottery was finally closed down.

[Submitted by William MARTINSON, January 2011]