Crowan Pottery pin tray (7cm diam)



Harry Davis

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5 June 2013





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Wax resist storage jar made at Crewenna Pottery

Harry Davis was only really happy when he had a new project to get his teeth into, and in 1962 the Davis family left Crowan and emigrated to New Zealand, where they established the Crewenna Pottery near Nelson. Here for another ten years Harry and May Davis produced some beautiful pottery, similar to Crowan.

The quotations below are from May Davis' autobiography, May.

"Before we had even left England we had decided that Nelson would be the best place in New Zealand for us. Harry had studied the geological maps of New Zealand in the Birmingham Museum and realised how rich the region was in every kind of material we might need."

They bought a most attractive property at Wakapuaka on the slopes facing Tasman Bay, with a charming hundred-year-old house and enough space to build new pottery workshop facilities further up the hill.

"It was great having the pottery built as a pottery. At Crowan we had to fit ourselves into an existing building, but at Crewenna we designed the building to suit the process. At the south end we had the heavy machinery for processing materials. Outside was the old Cornish jaw crusher, and inside were the pug, blunger, a couple of ball mills we built ourselves, two presses and smaller items. Next came the throwing room, where we had two power wheels, stillions for pots and a jigger and jolley which was used only for making setters, a type of kiln furniture.

The throwing room led into the 'kiln shed', though it was not a separate shed. Here were more stillions and stacks of kiln furniture. There was a delightful veranda, where we sat to enjoy that 'cuppa', and also opening from the kiln shed were the glazing room and at the north end, the packing room."

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Wax resist fish decorated jug made at Crewenna Pottery

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For the more technically minded, the kiln was a twin down-draught shuttle kiln. Each chamber was 144 cubic feet. Fired with oil fuel it had two low-pressure burners operating on the first chamber for ghost firing with a reducing atmosphere. The smoke produced by the reduction being consumed in the second (biscuit) chamber by means of air, preheated in a chamber between the fire boxes, and supplied under pressure to the exhaust flues of the first chamber.

There was a retractable 'shuttle car' in each chamber running on rails, so pots were loaded on to the car outside the kiln, and then the whole car was winched in. The doors of the two chambers were built on the cars, so that they closed as the cars entered.

"The firings themselves took 36 hours, but the number of pots ran into a couple of thousand, counting the considerable number of cruet sets and egg cups which we always made to fill up the corners."

Crewenna cruet set

Other Crewenna small stoneware pots and egg cups

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"We had always envisaged a working group of about five, but this simply did not materialise. Most aspiring New Zealand potters wanted to work for three months or so before setting up on their own. Harry just would not accept this kind of approach could lead to a good craftsperson. We had someone from the UK for a year, and Stephen of course was with us for several years before he left to work elsewhere and finally to become a very successful potter on his own. Nina later worked with us for a while, after she had graduated from Fine Arts School in Canterbury".

"But really the kiln was too big and the firings tended to be so far apart that it was slow work developing a new glaze which would need several testings to perfect it".

Another Crewenna cruet set

Crewenna cider bottle

"When we first arrived we held an exhibition of the Crowan pots we had brought with us at the Suter Gallery in Nelson. This was also exhibited in Christchurch. Later, our Crewenna pots were sold to shops, but this did not last very long for we realised that we were strategically placed to catch the tourists who passed our gate coming south off the ferry. In the end we only sold from Crewenna".

"We later had exhibitions at New Vision in Auckland, as well as ones in Toronto, Sydney and London, but after that Harry turned against exhibitions. He did not like the way the public, and press, stressed the person rather than the pots".

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Harry and May Davis at Izcuchaca, Peru. Notice the dinner plates on the table!

In 1972 work at Crewenna was suspended when Harry and May Davis initiated and carried through a pottery aid project with a group of very poor Indians at Izcuchaca in the Peruvian Andes. Their aim was to help a Third World village, creating a pottery workshop with a degree of self-reliance. A really unique venture.

To fund the project, a series of lecture tours was undertaken in New Zealand, Australia, North America and Europe.

They returned to New Zealand in 1979 leaving the project as a co-operative paying its own way.

Until Harry died in 1986, there was no more production at Crewenna. He wrote two books. The Potters Alternative, and an autobiography which has never been published. He also travelled widely; lecturing about pottery, alternative technology and self-reliance. During this period, Harry and May lived upstairs at Crewenna and their eldest daughter Gwenny and her husband Guy Salmon lived downstairs. Crewenna became the headquarters of the Native Forests Action Council until they grew large enough to move to offices in Nelson.

A large Crewenna jug with brushwork decoration


In 1987, the year after Harry's death, May bought a small gas fired kiln and started decorating, glazing and firing the 2,000, or so, biscuit pots that had been left unfinished at Crewenna in 1972, when they went to Peru. This took some six months, with the help of Hugh Macmillan a local potter.

She sold the finished pots from the workshop, as well as the saggars, kiln shelves, other kiln furniture and the rest of the Crewenna potting machinery.

Crewenna is still in the family though. Harry and May's eldest daughter Gwenny still lives there and organises conferences.

Gwenny Davis

Gwenny has contacted us with the sad information that on 30 May 2013 the Crewenna Pottery buildings, that had recently been used as workshops, were completely destroyed by fire.

Needless to say she was very upset but as she put it:  "Nobody was killed. It wasn’t the house. It wasn’t January with tinder dry grass and high winds when I might have burnt several acres of grass, trees and neighbouring properties."

Watch the video from The New Zealand Herald.

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