Carl Vendelbosch has built 11 pottery kilns in various homes and locations, and has been involved with Nelson's studio pottery scene since the 1960s.
Carl and Ellie Vendelbosch met at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at The Hague in 1948 after the difficult war years. Carl grew up in Leerdam, a village of glassblowers, where he was apprenticed to a master glassblower in 1936. He had some trouble with his left eye which limited his work options, so headed for Amsterdam where he found work with a glass instrument maker. He hid from the Germans for a year as they wanted him to make glass instruments in Germany. Eventually he studied sculpture at the Academy from 1942.
Ellie studied painting and drawing at the Royal Academy. But life was not easy for her family with her Jewish father's business forced into bankruptcy. "My mother was not Jewish so we were lucky, but if Germany had won the war we would not have survived. We were hiding a lot of relatives. There were always people who helped us, such as the resistance - Carl was part of that." "All of Ellie's uncles and nephews on the father's side disappeared into the (concentration) camps," adds Carl.
"We wanted to marry and start work, but there was no future in Holland at the time. The Government paid half of the passage to New Zealand and, like most Dutch couples, we married after we came out in 1951," he says.
Carl worked at Luke Adams Pottery , a Christchurch decorative ceramics manufacturer, where he renovated all of the company's old plaster moulds. It wasn't so easy for Ellie to find work. "I was doing silk screen printing in the Netherlands, but nobody had a clue what it was here. The Labour Department sent me to a printing business. A Polish immigrant wanted to set up a hand printing studio but there was no market for it. It was quite bleak in New Zealand then- there wasn't much handmade creativity."
The Vendelboschs struggled with Kiwi English when they arrived, but say people were marvellous. "There were fine, friendly people at that first pottery- oh yes it was a good time," says Carl. "The greatest shock was when a whistle went at 10 am and everybody walked away on my first day. It was smoko. That was a real revelation to us- to have 10 minutes off for a cup of tea," says Carl.
From the beginning, the Vendelboschs began to experiment with making pots- Carl was interested in form, Ellie in colour and design. They built a kiln in the back garden of their small rented Christchurch flat. "We made our own kiln and wheel and began making pottery at home. The first kiln was huge -that was a failure - we couldn't get the temperature right. We knew nothing about glazes. It was trial and error all the way through," says Ellie.
"I always had my little wheel and kiln at home. Bernard Leach's ‘A Potter's Book' was the standard Bible on pottery - that was the only book at the time," says Carl.
In 1958, the family moved to Geraldine, where they built another pottery workshop at home. Ellie looked after their three children and Carl worked for Temuka Insulators, where he initially pressed insulators but then became involved in throwing large domestic jars.
At the time, various people around New Zealand were experimenting with clay. In 1956, Yvonne Rust, a pottery enthusiast, organised a pottery summer school, with tutors including Carl, and Mirek Smisek. The visit of Japanese maestro, Shoji Hamada in 1965 was a highlight for the budding industry.
"That was an exciting time. We met Hamada. His pots were pieces of immense beauty. We were inspired by it. That was the goal- to make pots that were alive, not dead," says Ellie.
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In 1965, Jack Laird invited Carl to help establish Waimea Pottery. "Jack saw there was a demand and he wanted a professional thrower. It was a real pottery factory - it was all handmade. The demand was constant. At one stage there was a staff of about 20 people, with several ladies just doing the glazing," says Carl. Jack and Carl also provided advice on the development of products for Temuka Pottery, which grew out of the insulator company.
At home in Richmond, there was another homemade kiln, which Ellie kept an eye on while Carl was at work. She also taught herself to throw pots. In 1974, Carl left Waimea Pottery and set up a studio in Richmond. Along with son Peter, the Vendelboschs set up their own pottery in upper Moutere in 1977.
"It was very intensive and very satisfying. There was high demand and high production straight away. We worked to orders from shops- mugs, casseroles, dishes. It was a wonderful time," says Ellie.
While meeting commercial demand, the Vendelboschs also had time to make pieces for exhibitions around New Zealand, and for regular pottery exhibitions at the Suter Art Gallery. In 1996, Carl and Ellie semi-retired and moved to Mapua where they still have a studio. Son Peter, and his wife Trudes, have their own pottery in the Lower Moutere.
"Looking back, I wondered how we ever managed. That first big kiln- what were we thinking??!! But there was always growth and years of fulfilment-it's been beautiful. We've had our ups and downs but there have been plenty of highlights and Ellie and I have always had the same aims and philosophy. Our Christian faith has also helped," says Carl.
They say their career spanned the best times for studio pottery in New Zealand. Carl believes the removal of tariffs on pottery from overseas marked the end of Nelson's glory days as the main producer of domestic pottery in New Zealand. "The economy is down and the demand has completely gone. I don't think those days will come again- people's tastes have changed."2013
Sources used in this story
- Based on an interview done by Joy Stephens with Carl and Ellie Vendelbosch at their home in Mapua, Nelson 27 May 2013.
For more information see the references in the related stories below.
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Further sources - Carl Vendelbosch
- Elliot, M. (2009) Conetendown studio pottery in New Zealand, 1945-1980 Moyra Elliott and Damian Skinner ; with an essay by Damon Moon. Auckland, N.Z. : David Bateman, pp.65;70
- Peter Vendelbosch. Nelson Potters. Retrieved 10 June, 2013