I am currently working on a fashion exhibition entitled New Zealand in Vogue, the content and layout of which is inspired by Vogue New Zealand, which graced magazine stands between 1957 and 1968.
Each case is inspired by a Vogue headline. One of my favourites is ‘Unbeatable All-Blacks’ – a spread, not of famous black jerseys and the strapping chaps who wore them, but of little black dresses. As a visual flourish, I’ve added my favourite ‘All White’ to the case – this beautiful Ernest Shufflebotham Crown Lynn vase – for white is to the vase as black is the dress.
I became obsessed with Ernest Shufflebotham’s hand-potted wares in the early 1990s after seeing an all-white collection jostling for space on a colleague’s mantelpiece. I was told the designer was Ernie Shufflebottom – the name under which he has been known until very recently. For decades a grave error in transmission or transcription has seen Mr Shufflebotham immortalised in our ceramics histories as Shufflebottom. It was only last year, that his UK-based family made contact with Te Papa, amongst others, to save the family name from further embarassment.
Shufflebotham originally worked for Wedgwood in the UK as one of team of a talented throwers and turners who realised the designs of Keith Murray, an ex-patriot New Zealander. Murray was engaged by Wedgwood from 1933 to 1936 to produce ‘new cheap shapes, attractive to modern eyes’ – shapes that have maintained their attractiveness into 21st century, albeit no longer falling into the ‘cheap’ category.
In 1948 Shufflebotham exchanged Wedgwood, England for Crown Lynn, New Zealand. He was one of 15 English craftsmen who were employed by Crown Lynn to extend the company’s capacity in the post-war boom. Although he switched countries and companies, Shufflebotham continued to produce ‘Keith Murray wares’ – that is until David Jenkin, Head of Design, plucked up the courage to ‘suggest that he do something else’. While Shufflebotham continued to make ‘Murray variations’, over time he began to add his own twist to the famous Murray look.
Shufflebotham’s ‘hand-potted’ range was avidly promoted by Crown Lynn as the perfect accessory for flower arranging, stating in their advertising that the ‘most important feature of all flower arrangements is of course, the choice of a suitable containers – and there is absolutely no limit to the size or style of Crown Lynn containers’. In a promotional brochure they urged that Shufflebotham’s ‘moon-white pottery’ provided ample scope for floral arrangements that were ’always in good taste, particularly where contemporary furnishings play their part in the modern home’. Berin Spiro, Auckland’s most debonair and fashionable florist (and part time fashion compere and charm school director) helped promote the range.
Shufflebotham’s vases not only came to furnish the modern home, but also sadly the graveyard. In his series The consolation of philosophy: Piko nei te matenga, Michael Parekowhai captures the role of Shufflebotham’s moon-white pottery came to play in memorialising the fallen in cemeteries across the country.
The titles of Michael Parekowhai’s images refer to places in France and Flanders where the Pioneer Maori Battalion made a contribution during World War I.
At the City Gallery exhibition Crown Lynn: Crockery of Distinction, a Shufflebotham vase is displayed alongside a Keith Murray and a piece by contemporary ceramist John Parker. Inspired by the work of Shufflebotham and Murray, Parker announced in 1996 that he was no longer going to work in any other colour than white. That however is another story which is best told in John Parker Ceramics (City Gallery, Wellington, 2002)
POSTED IN CONJUNCTION WITH CROWN LYNN: CROCKERY OF DISTINCTION, CITY GALLERY, WELLINGTON