Creativity at artist’s core
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.