80 Years in the Making
80 years is a remarkable milestone for Sturt – now Australia’s oldest design centre. Looking through Sturt’s Archives we are reminded of the incredible history of this place and of the pioneering makers who are part of its very DNA. Sturt grew from one inspiring woman’s vision and since then this humble creative enclave in the Southern Highlands of NSW has been a place of pilgrimage for great makers who have lived, worked and taught at Sturt.
Sturt – 80 Years in the Making showcases some of these master makers who have contributed to Sturt’s legacy and inspired so many… like ripples in a pond – their joyful creativity encouraging others, some now teaching new generations of craftspeople around Australia and the world. These skilled makers were leaders and pioneers in their chosen crafts, championing creativity, forming new associations advocating for artisans and their practice. Not only did they spend a lifetime experimenting, pioneering and honing their craft, they demonstrated a joy of making and a generosity of spirit in sharing that knowledge with others.
See our featured makers below - navigate by using the arrow or dots to slide from one maker to the next.
Ivan McMeekin (1919-1993) was invited by Winifred West to set up Sturt Pottery in 1952, the first pottery in NSW to produce stoneware from local materials. In 1954 Ivan constructed the buildings and equipment at Sturt, doing pioneering work researching local clays and glazes including a new porcelain clay from the Nattai River area later called Mittagong Blue. Using a small, round down-draft wood firing kiln, and potters’ wheels made at the Sturt wood workshop, Ivan made a huge contribution to the post war pottery movement in Australia. Ivan was one of the founding members of the Potters Society of NSW (later Australia) and his research on Australia’s raw materials and clay bodies are still referenced to this day. Pictured: Ivan McMeekin 1954
Gwyn Hanssen Pigott OAM (1935-2013) (nee John) was Ivan McMeekin’s first studio assistant at Sturt Pottery from 1954-1957. Gwyn John assisted Ivan in his pioneering work with local clay and taught the first Frensham and Sturt pottery classes. Gwyn’s early stoneware work at Sturt is now rare as she went on to work with porcelain. By the time of her death at 78 years Gwyn was one of Australia’s most distinguished potters. She’d worked with some of pottery’s best known figures, and had acclaimed studios in the UK, France and Australia, along with successful exhibitions the world over. Gwyn is best known for creating a new language for ceramics through her famous still-life grouping of porcelain pots and her love of everyday functional objects instilled in her by Ivan. Pictured: Gwyn John c.1954
Les Blakebrough AM (1930-) trained as Ivan McMeekin’s apprentice, then ran Sturt Pottery from 1959-1972 and was Director of the Sturt Workshops from 1964-1972. Les was encouraged by Winifred West to learn about kilns in Japan, later inviting numerous Japanese and international master potters to stay and teach at Sturt. During that time seventeen apprentices were trained in Sturt Pottery. Les continued to develop timesaving clay machinery and furthered his pioneering work with porcelain and glazes which eventually led to his famous Southern Ice Porcelain. Les was founding member of the Crafts Board of the Australia Council, Head of Ceramics at the Tasmanian School of Art, and is now regarded as one of Australia’s most acclaimed ceramicists and living treasures with work in major public collections all over the world. Pictured: Les Blakebrough 1962
Ray Norman (1945-) Ray Norman managed Sturt Metal from 1969-1985. Ray offered traineeships to a number of aspiring makers, including Roz Renwick, Harold Sobetzko, Sue Anderson (dec.), John Bexon, Kerry Norman, Vicki Dwyer, Jim Bickford, Diana Boynes, Len Hudson, Greg Healey, Nicholas Deeprose, Guy Wilson, Sheila McDonald, Ian Frew, Jonathon Greenwell (dec.), Alice Whish et al. All participated directly in the development of production ranges in support of the workshop. From the earliest days, Jack Southerden, was a collaborating lapidary in the workshop. Ray encouraged the use of Sturt for symposiums, workshops and master classes associated with crafts organisations, including the Jewellers and Metalsmiths Group of Australia (JMGA), whose foundation conference was held at Sturt in 1980. Pictured: Ray Norman 1975
Elisabeth Nagel (1930-), master weaver, left her studio in Germany in 1959 on invitation from Winifred West and ended up generously teaching weaving at Sturt for 50 years. Elisabeth was one of a number of highly trained German weavers who came to the Highlands to share their skill and expertise. By 1965 along with running regular classes, Elisabeth had important commissions including soft furnishings and furniture for the Hong Kong Hilton Hotel and 100 yards of upholstery fabric for the new National Library in 1967 (spun at Sturt, and dyed in vessels on gas burners in the workshop). Other commissions included fabric and rugs for ANU, the NSW Government and St. Columbus’ Church in Sydney. Elisabeth also collaborated with Ernabella Arts in central Australia which continues to this day. Pictured: Elisabeth Nagel c.1980s
Tom Harrington (1951-2009) was much admired Director for Sturt School for Wood from 1992 until 2009 where he continued to champion and build its reputation as a pre-eminent fine furniture school in the country. Tom had the course accredited as a Cert IV in Fine Furniture Design and Technology and selflessly passed on his passion and skill to some of the most successful graduates in Australia. Tom originally studied economics/law at ANU, spent several years as a yacht skipper and cabinet maker before becoming a highly skilled furniture designer/maker and tutor. It was his ability to nurture budding makers that earned him so much respect. Darren Oates, a Sturt graduate, said of Tom that “…it cannot be underestimated the value of what I learnt. There is no way I would be doing this full time for ten years if it was not for what I learned from him.” Pictured: Tom Harrington 2000
Paul Davis (1955-) was Head of Sturt Pottery 2001-2009 where he brought his ceramics expertise from his studies of master potters in the Hagi area of Japan. Paul invited a stream of renowned international potters to teach at Sturt and synthesised his Australian and Japanese experiences to produce his acclaimed ceramics. Paul originally trained at the Caulfield Institute of Technology (now Monash) in the 70s and completed a Diploma of Art at RMIT, Melbourne in 1973. Paul and his partner Jacqueline Clayton also collaborate as StudioJam and produce tableware for some of Australia’s best restaurants such as Quay, Bennelong, Subo & Noma Australia. Paul and Jacqui are currently setting up a new studio in a factory in Rutherglen, Victoria and Paul’s 50 year retrospective show, Paul Davis – Under the Influence will launch at Sturt in April 2022. Pictured: Paul Davis 2000
Rachel Wood (1962-), UK ceramic artist, visited Sturt for a professional residency twice in 2013 and 2019 falling in love with Sturt and the Australian bush. Rachel’s work is known for her expressive, visceral, calm and considered qualities. While in the Highlands Rachel created prolifically, preparing her exhibitions for Sturt and delivering ceramics workshops amidst bushwalking for inspiration. Rachel originally completed BA Honours Degree in Ceramics in the UK, serving as Robin Welch’s apprentice in 2007. Rachel’s international reputation grew after winning the coveted Neue Keramik Award in Germany in 2016 and 2017 and the Diessen Ceramic Prize in Germany. Rachel is one of the hundreds of international residents who continue to bring their vibrancy and talent to live, teach and work at Sturt. Pictured: Rachel Wood 2019
Alan Wale OAM (1929-2016) was a fine woodworker, inspiring teacher and founding director of Sturt School for Wood in 1985 where he taught until he was tragically forced to retire through blindness in 1992. Alan was also one of the founding members of the Woodworking Association of NSW and received an OAM for his service to the visual arts and crafts and woodworking associations. Woodworking had been taught at Sturt since 1941 with OE Southerden and his son Jack, Tony Fullford from the 60-80s, and many other woodworkers over the years. But it was Alan who developed the year-long course and helped elevate the Sturt wood school to a premier training school for fine furniture makers passing on his passion for hand skills and as student Rodney Hayward put it, “…the tacit understanding of accurately, deftly working with sweet wood”. Pictured: Alan Wale with students 1990
Yasuhisa Kohyama (1936-) began work at one of the largest ceramic factories in Japan at 15 before becoming apprentice to well-known tableware ceramicist designer, Sakuzo Hineno. Kohyama revived the Japanese anagama wood-firing kiln, the first potter in the area to build this kiln since the Middle Ages. Kohyama visited Sturt on invitation from Paul Davis in 2004 sharing his skills as a master of the ancient practice of Sueki, a method originating in southern China, accounting for his unglazed, glassy surface textures. His work is collected around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Pictured: Yasuhisa Kohyama 2004
Yasuo Terada (1948-) was invited to Sturt in 2008 as a guest demonstrator for the National Woodfire Conference organised by Sturt. Yasuo was a 4th generation artist potter, bringing his master skills in Oribe style from his studio in Seto, Japan’s oldest centre of continuous ceramic history. For 1300 years the chimneys of Seto’s kilns have been alive. Setomono is the Japanese word for pottery, literally “things that come from Seto”. Pictured: Yasuo Terada 2008
Ryoji Koie (1938-2020) was one of the world’s senior potters who had the reputation as an ‘enfant terrible’ in Japanese ceramics. Koie started work in a tile factory, making his first pots at the age of 20. He went on to create inspiring wheel-made, extruded and constructed works, along with ambitious sculptural pieces. Koie was resident at Sturt in 2006 where he shared his spontaneity and fresh ideas for new possibilities with clay. He helped to make ceramics an art of performance too, a ceaseless experimenter, steeped in Japanese tradition but informed by modern art as a whole. Pictured: Ryoji Koie 2006