Nelson Pottery


Nelson/ Tasman's ground-breaking pottery

There is some evidence that the use of clay may date back to early Māori settlement, but the history of clay use in the Nelson region is a European one. Brickfields were in existence as early as 1842 and many brickmakers and bricklayers were listed among the early immigrants. As building began, clay mining and brick making were widespread activities throughout the region.1

Mirek Smisek 1967Mirek Smisek 1967 The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection,
L7694 fr8
Click image to enlarge

While clay was used for bricks, insulators, tiles and flower pots, there was no clay suitable for throwing pots when Czech refugee, Mirek Smisek, arrived in Nelson in 1952.2  Smisek was the first fully professional studio potter in New Zealand, teaching pottery and producing his own work from 1956.3

To blend a suitable clay for potting, Smisek sought the help of Ian McPherson who, with his father William, had clay mining licences in Golden Bay and on the West Coast. McPherson experimented for a year to produce a suitable potting clay.4

The philosophy of English writer and potter, Bernard Leach, regarded as the father of British studio pottery, had considerable influence on Nelson's studio pottery scene, with Smisek being an admirer.5

Mr & Mrs Davies at Onekaka, Feb 1963Mr & Mrs Davies at Onekaka, Feb 1963. The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection, 3574 fr3
Click image to enlarge

Cornish potters May and Harry Davis also incorporated Leach principles in their work.6 In 1962 they emigrated to Nelson, on hearing about the raw materials available for pottery, and established the Crewena Pottery at Wakapuaka. Soon their domestic ware was setting new standards in New Zealand's rapidly expanding pottery movement.7

Jack Laird, 1969Jack Laird, 1969 The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C
Wood Collection, L9495 fr8
Click image to enlarge

Jack and Peggy Laird arrived from England in 1964, part of an influx of people from the northern hemisphere looking for a better life. They established Waimea Craft Pottery which employed 17 potters at its peak.

The Lairds set up a Labour Department-approved apprenticeship scheme which offered many potters training in a workshop environment. Well known Brightwater potter, Royce McGlashen served a five year apprenticeship at Waimea, during which he estimates he threw thousands of pots.9

Between 1956 and 1976, the number of studio potters multiplied nationwide, with Nelson eventually having the most potters per head of population and gaining an international reputation as a centre of excellence in studio pottery.10

Waimea Craft Pottery, 1969Waimea Craft Pottery, 1969
The Nelson Provincial Museum, Geoffrey C Wood Collection, 6034 fr5 3
Click image to enlarge

By the mid-1970s, pottery had become an important part of Nelson's economy.  Tourists looking for unique gifts and souvenirs, as well as restrictions on imported pottery, meant many local potters were able to sell their work with ease.11

Contemporary Nelson potteryExamples of 21st Century Nelson pottery by (left to right): Sue Dasler, Katie Gold and Estuary Arts, Parapara. Photo by Wayne Stronach
Click image to enlarge

Pottery was also a popular hobby. In 1954, Smisek taught five classes a week at the Nelson Technical School.  In the 1970s, Waimea College provided funding for twelve classes in the Tasman region.12

In 1973, Craft Potters was established in a Hope orchard by a group of amateur enthusiasts.13 By 1975, Craft Potters had 140 members and was operating five fulltime classes. There were three pottery groups in Nelson city alone.14 Pottery clubs offered a creative outlet and became a focal point for a hobby that some turned into a job and a way of life.15

Nelson's pottery industry has been commercially viable from the earliest days.16 Cheap pottery imports have had an impact, but Nelson remains renowned for its pottery and ceramics, and pottery continues to grow as a vital and innovative, creative industry.17


Sources used in this story

  1. Clay: Celebrating the creative history of potters and pottery in Nelson, 26 May to 5 August 2007: 
  2. Warren, J. (2007) Clay : the pottery industry:  165 years in Nelson (rev.ed.) [Richmond, N.Z.] : Nelson Potters' Association. p 7- 9
  3. Evans, V. (2007) Head, heart and hand : studio pottery in Nelson 1956-1976 [thesis]. Palmerson North, N.Z.: Massey University, p28
  4. Warren, J. (1992) Clay : the pottery industry:  150 years in Nelson  [Richmond, N.Z.] : Nelson Potters' Association. p 7- 8
  5. Evans (2007) p.16
  6. Evans (2007), p 16
  7. Crewenna Pottery (1964) New Zealand Potter.7(1), p.24
  8. Evans, p. 41, 80; Warren, J (1992) p. 16,17
  9. McGlashen, R. (1981) Royce McGlashen - production. Potter.23(1) p.34-36; McGlashens secures Longfield's legacy (1985, May 25) Nelson Evening Mail, p.9 [historic Brightwater home]
  10. Evans, V. (2009) Studio Pottery in Nelson 1956 - 1976 [unpublished papers] [Nelson], p.2.
  11. Evans (2007). p 66, 75, 110.
  12. Warren (2007) p 13; Warren (1992) p.29
  13. Warren (1992) p 32-33
  14. Evans (2007) p 56-57; Gibbs, Peter (1987) Nelson community potters. Potter 29(1), p.6
  15. Evans (2007). p 65
  16. Warren (1992), p 32
  17. Clay: Celebrating the creative history of potters and pottery in Nelson, 26 May to 5 August 2007 

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  • I enjoyed this article. In the 1950's I and Michael Trumic owned "Several Arts" in Christchurch. We sold a lot of Mirek's pots and when in Nelson enjoyed his hospitality!

    Posted by Joyce-Charlotte Brinkers, 12/04/2014 11:05pm (6 years ago)

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Further sources - Nelson Pottery




  • Alexander, Kelly (2006) Clay touched by Gold : Katie Gold. HER Business, n.68:p.81
  • Bell-Pearson, Christine(1983) Brightly decorated earthenware. Potter 25(2), p.29
  • Carlson, J. (1982) Clay clay and more clay. Potter. 24(2), p.20
  •  Conway, A. (1988, Dec/ 1989, Jan) CRAFTS : Timeless terracotta. New Zealand Home and Building, p. 23-25 [Peter Burrell]
  •  Conway, A. (1988, May) four corners: Baked earth. North & South, p. 15 [Peter Burrell]
  • Crawford, J. (1991) Xenoliths 1991. Craft New Zealand.n.37, p.20-21 [Christine Boswijk]
  • Crewenna Pottery (1964) New Zealand Potter.7(1), p.24
  • Crombie, Carol (1976) In Nelson : making pots in an orchard. Potter, 18 (2):p.19 [Craft Potters Nelson Inc.]
  • Davis, May (1963) Crewenna pottery, New Zealand. New Zealand Potter. 6(1),p.6-8
  • Evans, Vic (1993) Paul Laird. Potter; v.35 n.3:p.8-9
  • Evans, V. (2009) Studio Pottery in Nelson 1956 - 1976 [unpublished papers] [Nelson] (held Nelson Public Libraries)
  • Farraway, Peta (1989, Feb) Living in style : Clay days in the Neudorf Valley. North and South, p. 110-114 [ Jon Benge, Gill Gane, and children]
  • Gane, Gill (1980) Gill Gane and Jon Benge. Potter. 22(2), p.30-31
  • Gibbs, Julie (1985) Craft Potters, Nelson. Potter 27(1), p.16-17
  • Gibbs, P. (1985) Lynne and David Griffith. Potter, 27(2), p.28
  • Gibbs, P. (1985) Thackwood Pottery, Nelson. Potter 27(1), p.26-27
  • Gibbs, P. (1986) Pitfiring without a pit. Potter, 1986 28(1), p.32-33
  • Gibbs, P. (1987) Vic Evans. Potter, 29(2), p.37-38
  • Gibbs, P. (1987) Nelson community potters. Potter 29(1), p.6
  • Gibbs, P. (1987, August 29) Arts : Spontaneity in clay. Listener, 118 (2480), p.66 [1987 Fletcher Challenge pottery award exhibition]
  • Gibbs, P. (1987, Feb 28) Nelson's pot on the boil. Listener;115 (2453), p.32-33
  • Gibbs, P. (1991, Autumn) Nelson pots, Nelson crafts. New Zealand Crafts n.35, p.16-17
  • Gibbs, P. (2004) Jack and Peggy Laird. New Zealand ceramics magazine, 3(3), p.18-20
  • Gibbs, P. (2009, August 22) Master craftsman of the clay. The Nelson Mail, 14
  • Harris, Margaret (1970) Nelson potters. Potter. 12(2), p.4-17
  • Harry Davis pug mill (1970) New Zealand Potter 12(2), p.39
  • Into colour (1983) Potter. 25(1), p.25 [Royce McGlashen]
  • Jenkins, Stan (1995) Harry and May Davis. New Zealand Potter. 37(1), p.27
  • Meadowcroft, Jill (1993) Burrell's beautiful terracotta. New Zealand Gardener 49(5),p.30-31
  • McCarthy, Stephen (1980) Stephen McCarthy. Potter. 22(2), p.31
  • Mcglashen, R. (1981) Royce McGlashen - production. Potter. 23(1):p.34-36
  • McLeod, Sue (1983) Vivid images. Potter. 25(1), p.16-17
  • Malcolm, N. (1997) Katie Gold. New Zealand Potter 39(2),p.32-33
  • Malcolm, N. (1974) Raku makers. New Zealand Potter. 16(2) :p.18-20
  • Malcolm, N. (1978) Kiln for fast-firing stoneware. Potter 20(2), p.34-35
  • Mason, H. (1986) Harry Davis. Potter. 28(3), p.18-19 Mason, H. (1988).
  • Crewenna reactivated. Potter. 30(1),p.33
  • Moore, Pauline (1989, October 18) A humorous approach to clay. Press, p. 26 [Steve Fullmer.]
  • Nelson minerals for the potter. (1963) New Zealand Potter. 6(2), p.24
  •  Potter's culture comes through creativity (2001, April) Kokiri Paetae, p.3214 [Eileen Webb]
  •  Potters promotion (1983, Feb) New Zealand Crafts; p.6-7 [Julie Warren and Peter Gibbs]
  • Quigley, Margaret (1990, November 10) A potter at Nelson. Press, p. 27 [May Davis.]
  • Rikihana, Q. (1992, August) Their dream come true. Next, n.18, p.50-54 [Bruce Hamlin and Rosie Little]
  •  Robertson, D. (1989, April) Darryl Robertson : Bronte, Nelson. Potter. 31(1), p.10-12
  • Steve Fullmer (1984) Potter 26(1),p.22-23
  • Stucke, Liz (1980) Liz Stucke. Potter, 22(2), p.29
  •  Taylor, B.L. (1997) Down to earth in Nelson. New Zealand Gardener, 53(5), p.70-75
  • Taylor, B.L. (1942) Feldspathic clay, kaka, Nelson. Extracted from: New Zealand Journal of Science and technology (1941) 23 (2b) pp.33-43 [held Nelson Public Library]
  • Warren, J. (1995, April) Obituary: May Davis. New Zealand Potter. 37 (1), p.26-27
  • Williams, H. (1992) Seville, Expo '92. Potter. 34(1), p.19-23 [Boswijk, Fullmer, Robertson, Darryl] (Nelson)
  • Zimmerman, C. (2003) Changing faces at Craft Habitat in Nelson. New Zealand ceramics magazine. 2(3), p.19


Held Nelson Provincial Museum

  • Laird, Jack and Peggy. Nelson Ceramics [sound recording] / interviewed by Karen Pattison. LS30.15
  • Smisek, Mirek. 1984. Nelson Ceramics [sound recording] / interviewed by Karen Pattison. LS30
    (both restricted from broadcasting, exhibition & copying without permission)
  • Laird, Jack D. 1966-1988. Records. AG 408 LS36.18.A.3
    include plans for pottery wares plus letters, brochures and articles].
  • Nelson Potters' Association. [1979?-2007]. The Tourist guide to Nelson Potters. UMS 155

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