By Peter Stichbury
This publication of the combined diaries of Bruce and Estelle Martin contains recollections of their working life together, their travels and their devotion to pottery.
My wife Diane and I knew Bruce and Estelle since the early 1960s and our mutual love of pottery informed our close friendship in the succeeding years.
Bruce and Estelle started by making stoneware in an oil-fired kiln with great success. Then, to our surprise, we found them building a large anagama kiln – whale-shaped with the main firebox at the ‘nose’ and several side stoking minor fireboxes along the flanks. Little was known of these kilns in New Zealand at the time and Bruce and Estelle had to rely to a certain extent on instinct. The building of what was, in effect, a climbing kiln up a slope was physically demanding work for two such slightly built people.
Diane and I were invited to their first two firings, in 1982 and 1983. There we saw the lovely stacks of cut wood, carefully arranged in water tanks laid on their sides. For nine days and nights we enjoyed the quiet, peaceful atmosphere. I was invited to place a few pots in the second firing and these came out very well.
Kilns of this nature require a large amount of physical effort and a perfectly controlled rhythm to ensure a constant supply of energy to keep them going. In Bruce’s writing one notes this need for rhythm, for spacing and constant analysis of the firing procedure. If there were a few problems at the first firing, as Bruce explains, they were quickly overcome.
The kiln took about ten days to cool and the first results were exciting. Estelle, in particular, was keen to observe the precise location of each pot in the kiln before it was taken out. Only then could lessons be learned about amounts of melted ash, glaze, colour and particular effects of flame movement. In the early days other potters came to help; later firings were an exclusively family affair.
As the diaries make clear, Bruce and Estelle did not rely only on the literature about firing anagama kilns. They made trips to Japan to see things at first hand. A Japanese potter came to Kamaka where he made pots and directed a firing.
In 2008 Bruce and Estelle Martin were awarded Honorary Membership of the New Zealand Society of Potters in recognition of their distinctive contribution to New Zealand ceramics, a fact that had already seen many awards and prizes bestowed on them. It has been a privilege to know them and to see their devotion to their work.
The Heron Migrates is a valuable addition to the catalogue of the touring retrospective exhibition Kamaka: The Ceramics of Bruce and Estelle Martin first shown at the Hawke’s Bay Cultural Centre, Hastings in October 2005.
Peter Stichbury, MNZM Auckland.