Alpine Observer - North East Regional Extra

Unearthing the past


A MODERN- day archaeolog­ical dig sparked by a fluted ceramic meat platter, glazed teapot, jug and a terracotta butter bell has led to a compelling journey into Beechworth’s industrial past.

Everton potter Bob Schulze first saw the four pieces in the town’s Burke Museum about 36 years ago.

The everyday domestic items from late colonial Victoria were labelled ‘Ovens Pottery Co’ but little else of their history provenance was known – except that Beechworth had once been home to a pottery.

Burke Museum collection­s manager and curator Linda Peacock said she had later developed an appreciati­on for what

she saw in her early career as “unique, utilitaria­n items – beautiful in their outward simplicity”.

“Their contents long gone, the vessels in the museum retained within them their stories, but they were stories that only experience could decipher,” she said.

Bob Schulze had enrolled at Wangaratta Senior Technical College in 1966.

Jim Beattie, who had revived and reintroduc­ed ceramics to the college art

certificat­e course, then encouraged him to study ceramics at Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology.

In 1975 Bob set up at Glenrowan a studio pottery called ‘Stonehedge’ with

fellow potters Charlie Timma and Dave Edwards.

Two years later he was offered an opportunit­y to work with the Nakazato family, potters for 13 generation­s on Kyushu island in south-western Japan and renowned for karatsu, raku and hagi-style works.

In 1983 Bob establishe­d Brookfield studio pottery near Everton, became one of the founding members Potters’ Beechworth Gallery and pursued research of Beechworth’s pottery history that came to involve his wife, Anne, a former teacher, and son Stephen, a graphic designer.

The work spanned more than three decades and has led to a limited edition book, ‘ The early Beechworth potteries 1882-1892’, released at a special exhibition which opened at the Burke Museum on Saturday.

Bob said he began to take a serious interest in the history of Australian pottery at RMIT and by 1980 had become aware of an early pottery at Beechworth.

Anne, then an English teacher at what was Beechworth High School, discovered “a wealth of informatio­n” in the pages of colonial editions of the Ovens and Murray Advertiser – now owned by North East Media – in which longstandi­ng late Victorian editor Richard Warren had been a staunch advocate for Beechworth’s industrial developmen­t in the wake of the mid-19th century gold rush.

“As I read through…piece by piece the story of this part of local history began to emerge and fit together,” said Bob.

“To my surprise, the editorials, columns and advertisem­ents revealed that there had been not one but three potteries (on one site) at Hurdle Flat between Beechworth and Stanley.”

Beechworth Pottery Company, H. L. & E. Beechworth and Ovens Pottery Co Beechworth operated for just a decade to 1892.

The Collins family has long since farmed the land on which these potteries stood and

made and fired a range of utilitaria­n and decorative wares.

“They allowed me to collect shards on their property,” Bob said.

“Without the informatio­n these shards reveal, the positive identifica­tion of complete pots and the book would not have been possible.”

What Bob describes as “the successful achievemen­t by early Beechworth potters within a brief 10-year period” are now shown in ‘Clay and Fire’, an exhibition at the Burke Museum that runs until December.

It includes pieces from Bob’s collection, other private collection­s, National Pottery Museum in Holbrook and the Burke’s holdings.

Bob’s book also reproduces the only known photograph of any of the three potteries – taken of the Ovens Pottery Co and its bottle

kilns in 1891.

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 ?? PHOTO: Jamie Kronborg ?? SURVIVORS: Complete wheel-thrown terracotta flower pots and shards from the Ovens Pottery Beechworth 1891-92 collected by Bob Schulze.
PHOTO: Jamie Kronborg SURVIVORS: Complete wheel-thrown terracotta flower pots and shards from the Ovens Pottery Beechworth 1891-92 collected by Bob Schulze.

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