Elizabeth Lissaman, potter
Elizabeth Hazel Lissaman was born in Blenheim on 11 October 1901, the second of six children of Helen Eva Bligh and her husband, Henri Lissaman, a sheep farmer.
She was brought up on her father's sheep station, Waireka, near Seddon. At school she had a strong desire to make pottery, and this persisted even though she had no contact with anyone else interested in making pots. She later wrote that 'It was almost impossible to obtain any information even about how to begin. There were no books to be had from the libraries and, of course, no supplies - even if I had known what I wanted.'
In 1921 Lissaman went to stay with her grandmother in Sydney, Australia. Here she was able to acquire the knowledge she needed from libraries, brickworks and isolated beginner potters, some of whom were willing to share the expertise they had gained by hard work, trial and error.
She learnt a great deal about clay preparation, choice of clays, potters' wheels, how to throw, elementary techniques for glazing and decorating, and building and firing simple kilns. At Balmoral beach, Sydney, she built her 'first little kiln and managed to fire it with quite a measure of success'. The glaze had to be altered considerably to suit clays and temperatures both there and in New Zealand, on her return in 1922.
Elizabeth Lissaman set up her studio on her parents' farm. A very good terracotta clay was located at The Elevation just south-west of Picton. She dug and bagged her clay there, transported it by train to Seddon, then took it about 10 miles to her studio. Next she needed a potter's wheel, but none could be bought in New Zealand. Her father, brothers and friends devised a unique machine using a bicycle chain mounted on a vertical wheel-shaft, a fly-wheel and a plaster-of-Paris wheel head. The design took account of her permanently injured leg, the result of a childhood accident, and it was operated by a pedal from a standing position. Using a Wengers catalogue from England, she ordered her ceramic materials, and had to wait months before shipments arrived.
On 20 August 1930, at Waireka, Elizabeth Lissaman married an English farm hand, Henry Francis Hall. They were to have three children. The couple first lived in Canvastown, west of Havelock. Elizabeth continued to use her maiden name for her pottery, and sales of her work helped ease the financial hardship caused by the depression. However, their lives improved when the family moved to a farm near Levin in the North Island. For two years Elizabeth's newly imported Brayshaw kiln stood at the railway station while her pottery shed was built. In 1954 the family moved to Tahuna, near Morrinsville, to farm.
Elizabeth Lissaman was always helpful to aspiring potters, giving lessons and weekend schools. Her book, Pottery for pleasure in Australia and New Zealand, was published in 1969.
She was accorded honorary life membership of the New Zealand Society of Potters in 1965 and was appointed an OBE in 1982 for her services to pottery. She died at Maurvern Rest Home, Cambridge, on 18 February 1991, survived by her three sons. Henry had died in 1980.
Reproduced as part of Women's Suffrage display panel, Marlborough Museum & Archives
Sources used in this story
- Doreen Blumhardt. 'Lissaman, Elizabeth Hazel', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1998, updated August, 2011. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/4l10/lissaman-elizabeth-hazel
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Further sources - Elizabeth Lissaman, potter
- Vial, J. & Austin, S. (2018) Elizabeth Lissaman : New Zealand's pioneer studio potter. Auckland : Rim Books
- Elizabeth Lissaman Potter. Marlborough Museum virtual exhibit:
- Elizabeth Lissaman. On Wikipedia: