Doreen Blumhardt, Teacher and Potter
Daphne Brasell Associates, Wellington, 1991, $21.95
In a world where books on artists and craftsmen are often loaded with jargon and preoccupied with the personal psychology of the subject, Doreen Blumhardt, Teacher and Potter, is a welcome change. One hopes it will be the first of a series which will inform us simply about the lives and work of New Zealand artists and craftspeople, and which will appeal to both layperson and professional.
The book is divided into two parts, a biographical essay by Marion McLeod and a photographic summary of Doreen Blumhardt’s pottery, beginning with a teapot made in 1954. The essay is a fairly full account of Doreen’s life so far, and one is left with the impression that with a woman of her vitality and energy much more is yet to be said. When I saw her a few weeks ago she was in the middle of constructing a large ceramic fountain.
We have lately in New Zealand taken more note than before of the effect people from varied ethnic groups have had on our developing culture. Doreen Blumhardt, born near Whangarei in 1914 of German parents, is one of these. An essay the length of this necessarily leaves much unsaid and must be read with a certain amount of imagination to see, as it were, between the lines. Much is hinted at degrees of racial prejudice, lasting until well after the 1939-45 World War, and maybe not yet having disappeared. At the same time much emerges of the difficulties many New Zealanders suffered in getting started in the years between the wars.
As the essay enters the era of Doreen’s life as a teacher and her work associated with Dr C E Beeby (who writes the book’s foreword) she says: ‘He was a visionary, the greatest Director of Education we’ve ever had’. It is then one wishes to hear more of people, briefly mentioned, who were associated with the development of a truly New Zealand-based philosophy of education. This was also a time of vitality and growth in all the arts with the contribution made by many European immigrants. At present, when it seems fashionable to tear down and start again, to take little notice of valuable past achievements, the time is ready for someone to write an accessible history of the successes of the Beeby era and beyond.
As we move into an account of Doreen’s work as a potter, an author, a traveller and worker for the arts, one marvels at her energy and tenacity. Nowhere can I find mention of the disadvantages of being a woman, and it could be enlightening to hear Doreen’s views on women’s movements and organisations. While the text has captured some of Doreen Blumhardt’s remarkable personality perhaps more direct quotes from her own words would have provided further insights, sparkle and life.
The illustrations are superb and the colour excellent and show the wide range of her work, from simple elegant teapots to large platters, floor pots, bottles and vases and ceramic wall tiles and decorations. They illustrate well her love of the natural world of New Zealand and how it has inspired her work and continues to do so. The photographs reveal her own skill in this field and are a tribute to her close friends Brian Enting and the late Brian Brake. This satisfying book is well produced within an elegant format.
Brian Carmody is a painter, retired lecturer in art from the Wellington College of Education and past President of the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts.