Cre­ativ­ity at artist’s core

The Press - - Obituaries Family Notices - Mike Crean

Ar­chi­tec­ture may play lit­tle part in pot­tery but David Bro­ken­shire com­bined both arts. The Christchurch cre­ator of colourful and sin­u­ous porce­lain shapes died re­cently. He was 89.

Bro­ken­shire won many awards and had his work ex­hib­ited in sev­eral coun­tries, where his pieces com­mand high prices. Yet he was an ar­chi­tect first and taught him­self to model clay as a re­lief from the ten­sions of work.

The plumber’s son from Thames was a true artist, wife Noe­line says. He in­her­ited his ‘‘soft­ness, gen­tle­ness and po­lite de­meanour from his mum’’. But he also had a fiery tem­per. His pub­lic rages em­bar­rassed her at times.

Af­ter school­ing at Thames, Bro­ken­shire joined the air force, in 1943. He fought in the Pa­cific dur­ing World War II, then stud­ied ar­chi­tec­ture at Auck­land Univer­sity. He grad­u­ated in 1950.

He first worked for the Christchurch City Coun­cil but was quickly taken on by Dunedin firm Miller White and Dunn which had con­tracts for new build­ings on the Otago Univer­sity cam­pus. This brought him to the no­tice of Christchurch firm Hall and McKen­zie which was de­sign­ing the new Her­mitage re­sort ho­tel at Mt Cook af­ter fire had de­stroyed the for­mer one. He ac­cepted a po­si­tion with them and re­turned to Christchurch in 1955.

Noe­line says her hus­band showed suf­fi­cient orig­i­nal­ity in his work on the Her­mitage com­plex for Hall and McKen­zie to give him re­spon­si­bil­ity for the de­sign of the oc­tag­o­nal restau­rant there. Again his cre­ativ­ity im­pressed and he was given the task of de­sign­ing the registry build­ing at Can­ter­bury Univer­sity’s new Ilam site. He worked on other univer­sity build­ings at Ilam and de­signed many Can­ter­bury homes, mainly in the coun­try. He also de­signed his fam­ily home.

In spite of his flair for de­sign, Noe­line says he was ‘‘ab­so­lutely hope­less with a ham­mer and nails and screw­drivers’’. He learned all he knew about ar­chi­tec­ture from books and was not in­ter­ested in vis­it­ing build­ings to ex­am­ine their de­signs. How­ever, on a trip to Bri­tain he rev­elled in close scru­tiny of cathe­dral con­struc­tion, from Can­ter­bury to York.

‘‘He was ab­so­lutely blown away by them. He es­pe­cially loved Coven­try Cathe­dral (par­tially re­built af­ter its World War II bomb­ing) for the com­mit­ment to old and new,’’ Noe­line says.

Nev­er­the­less, as an Angli­can, he favoured a new cathe­dral in a mod­ern de­sign, for Christchurch. He be­lieved the ‘‘card­board cathe­dral’’ was a ‘‘more hon­est ex­pres­sion’’ of the Chris­tian mis­sion.

Bro­ken­shire un­ex­pect­edly and abruptly dropped ar­chi­tec­ture and never seemed to con­sider it again. He had al­ways ap­pre­ci­ated art and did fine wa­ter colour paint­ings. Then, de­pressed by prob­lems at work in the late 1970s, he be­gan shap­ing fig­ures from lumps of clay at home. One night Anne sug­gested he should take up pot­tery – and he did.

His early work with clay pro­duced large sculp­tural shapes. He was en­tirely self­taught, us­ing a tech­nique of lay­ing coil upon coil of clay to build up a base, then smooth­ing it for a plas­ter­like ex­te­rior fin­ish.

A Ja­panese in­flu­ence sparked Bro­ken­shire’s shift to fine porce­lain art works. Many of his works de­picted sea themes, re­flect­ing his hav­ing al­ways lived by the sea. His ex­per­i­ments with ser­ried curves and colours, us­ing sprayed acrylic paints, at­tracted huge at­ten­tion. Ja­panese pot­ters vis­ited him in Christchurch and he was hosted by many on a trip to Ja­pan. He built up a collection of Ja­panese works and, in turn, had his works ex­hib­ited and sold in Ja­pan.

Bro­ken­shire once wrote he was ‘‘en­thralled’’ by the ‘‘fragility and translu­cency’’ of porce­lain work by the Chi­nese and Ja­panese. The art com­mu­nity was en­thralled by his work, too. Many pieces sold world­wide. Al­though some were lost in the Can­ter­bury earthquakes, some sur­vive in the Christchurch Art Gallery.

As with ar­chi­tec­ture, Bro­ken­shire stopped pot­ting abruptly, a decade ago.

David Ser­pell Bro­ken­shire, born Thames, April 24, 1925; died Christchurch, April 26, 2014. Sur­vived by wife Noe­line, sons Mark and Si­mon, daugh­ter Anne and two grand­chil­dren.

David Bro­ken­shire

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