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Harry Davis

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Lecture Tours

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5 June 2013




          Lecture and Workshop Tours



To many potters around the world Harry Davis is best known for the workshops and lectures he gave in the latter years of his life, details of some of which we have put together below:

Before going to New Zealand Harry Davis was not a good speaker. To quote May's autobiography:

"Harry's first public speech was delivered in Cornwall, and I remember that he was physically upset for a week in advance of the talk. I wasn't present then, but I was present in Sydney where he was asked to speak on our way out to New Zealand. It was dreadful - I squirmed in agony for him. Several people got up and left because it was so bad; he lost his place, um-ed and er-ed, left sentences incomplete. Poor Harry, he had things he wanted to say but nerves prevented him."

When they were settled at Crewenna in New Zealand, they joined the Forum Club, a local group which met once a week at a private home to practice public speaking. For Harry, this solved the problem, and in 1966 he undertook his first overseas lecture tour. Twenty-two stops across Canada from Vancouver to Halifax and then to the UK. According to May "He thoroughly enjoyed it". He even addressed a meeting in Quebec in French (and later in Europe another meeting in German).  


Harry and May Davis in Australia, 1972
Janet Mansfield

A paper published by the Potters' Society of Australia in the Spring 1972  edition of Pottery in Australia (Vol. 11. No. 2).

The Potters' Society of Australia sponsored and organised the Australia-wide tour by Harry Davis, renowned English potter now resident in New Zealand. The Australian Council for the Arts assisted the Society with a guarantee against loss for this national project.

The lecture tour of Australia by master potter Harry Davis during April and May, 1972, was of particular meaning for creative potters in our materialistic society. Potters in Perth, Adelaide, Alice Springs, Melbourne, Sheffield (Tasmania), Canberra, Sydney and Brisbane attended lectures, demonstrations and workshops and all responded to Harry's practical and professional attitude. Potters appreciated Harry's teaching of the technical art of pottery and also came to understand his philosophy developed through and beyond that art.







HARRY DAVIS demonstrating at the National Art School, Sydney.

Photograph: Dennis Pile

An exhibition of Crewenna pottery at the Potters' Gallery, Sydney, held during Harry's visit was the work of Harry, May and Nina Davis - regular production work made during the previous two months. There is no division of labour at Crewenna and all members of the family undertake all stages in the making of the pots. Without the personality stamp of an individual, the pots are, however, unmistakably "Crewenna" and are distinguished by fine craftsmanship, strength of body, beauty of glaze and decoration, and complete functionalism. Both stoneware and porcelain were displayed, including storage jars, casseroles, teapots, drinking vessels, tiles and plates; glazes ranged from pale green-blue celadons to rich browns and greens used in conjunction with beautiful brushwork. In the foreword to the catalogue for the exhibition, Harry stated that the proceeds from both the exhibition and the lecture tour would be directed towards setting up a pottery workshop in a remote area in the Andes of Peru, in the hope that the people there will be able to use their own creative talents in a satisfying way of life.

Craftsmanship in Action: With professional skill and demonstrating economy of time and motion, Harry Davis threw, decorated, turned and completed many pots in his "Workshop Practice" lectures and in his master classes. Plates, bowls, jugs, teapots and casseroles and large pots, made from two pieces and joined, showed how 30 Ib of clay could be used to good advantage without excess effort. Details of techniques were described, in particular the "claw grip"; the saucer and flanged lid were explained and in some cases tried out by the students.

Some very valuable sessions during the classes came during question times, when Harry used stories from his own long experience as a potter to help the students with their own particular problems. Subjects under discussion included glaze application, raw glazing, glaze density and the use of hydrometers, the use of wax, kiln wash, reduction firing and general kiln management.

A test Harry uses for glaze and body relationship is to glaze one side only of a thin clay strip. If, when fired, this strip remains flat, glaze and body have a satisfactory relationship. If the strip curls at the ends the glaze is said to be in tension; if the strip humps in the middle the glaze is in a state of compression.

New techniques for making kiln furniture: Harry Davis has developed an ingenious press for making shelves and saggars. Originally devised in America for use in the developing countries, making the press requires very little welding or machining and the components are cheap, easily obtainable scrap. In using this press, in conjunction with a modified corn grinder and with the use of a jigger for plate moulds, Harry shows that all the kiln furniture a potter needs is readily and cheaply made. The body composition (which needs to be almost dry for pressing) for the kiln furniture is 50 per cent grog or molochite ( inch down to dust) plus 50 per cent plastic fireclay, and this fires to a compact mass. The saggars are made in pieces - separate side and base - so that expansion and contraction is more individual, nearly eliminating stress and therefore cracking during firing. Any broken pieces are recycled through the grinder and nothing is wasted. Economy is not the only factor here, but, as Harry pointed out, the continual firing of ceramic pieces increases the long thin needles of mullite in the clay, making the body stronger and more resistant to thermal shock. (The crystobalite content is increased also; this has inferior thermal shock resistance but one counteracts the other and the refractoriness of these crystals is much greater in the fired product than in the original clay.) Photomicrographs of fired clay sec-tions were used to demonstrate these crystals.

The Iron Story: The interesting relationship between ceramics and geology and the ubiquitous nature of iron and its place in the geological system were subjects covered by Harry Davis in this informative lecture. Some of the points he mentions were: Iron is fifth on the list of most common elements with a percentage of five; it is a freak situation, as in some china clays, when there is no iron present. Only a small percentage of iron is present in the acid group of minerals (called Al-Sil) but in the basic rocks (called Mag-Sil) there is a considerable amount of iron and also calcium. A significant feature of this calcium and iron combination is its highly fluid characteristic when heated in reducing conditions. Two examples of this reaction are the molten volcanic lavas spreading over vast areas and the smelting of iron ore, which produces a very fluid synthetic basalt as a by-product. The acid rocks, on the other hand, are sluggish to melt, the viscous material only flowing very slowly. This wide vitrification range makes Si-Al rocks desirable for use by potters. A potter then, explained Harry, should not use basic rocks in a clay body because of the danger of squatting, and in glazes only a small amount of basalt should be used.
Some brick clays contain both iron and calcium and adding such clay to a stoneware body for colour or texture can lead to slumping of the body because of the fluxing action of the iron and calcium.

Also discussed was the olivine series of minerals (magnesium, iron silicates), which are not so fluid, and as they crystallize early in the cooling cycle produce matt glazes.
Iron from beach sands was another source for potters and also the hydrous forms of iron, limonite and haematite, which burn to a bright red iron oxide when calcined.

With reducing conditions in a kiln, iron will give colours of pale green through to tenmoku, depending on the amount used. A trace of iron in a porcelain or bone china body gives an illusion of whiteness.

A colorimetric way of determining the iron content in a clay is to substitute 10 per cent of the clay content of a white glaze with the new clay. If the result is a blue glaze the iron content in the new clay is less than 1 per cent; if the result is a green glaze the new clay has about H per cent of iron, and if a black glaze is obtained the iron content is over 5 per cent. Iron acts as a catalyst in the formation of crystobalite in clay bodies and stimulates crystobalite formation. Two per cent of iron oxide added to a body can cause the pots to shatter if the crystobalite level is already high.

Harry showed slides to demonstrate corresponding action in ceramics and geology, including some of porcelanite (a metamorphosed kaolin) from Ireland and lava flows in Hawaii.

Some Experiences in Peru: A lecture on Peru was given in Sydney by May Davis. With the aid of a map and some excellent slides we were given a general outline of the geography, costumes, agricultural activities, history and religions of the country. Of particular interest were the high mountainous areas where cultural activities are still pursued with skill and sensitivity. Listening to the story of the Davises' travels in Peru, their sympathy and understanding of the Andean people was apparent.

The Role of Women in Crafts: May Davis addressed a small group of people at the Potters' Gallery, Sydney, on this subject. She talked on the traditional duties of women in our conditioned society. In the crafts, she said that women had been the craftsmen when craftwork was done in the home but that the industrial revolution had changed this, taking work to the factories, so dividing domestic and craft work. A healthy revival at the moment which she sees is bringing craftwork back to the home.

It is stimulating for Australian potters to meet professionals like Harry and May Davis, and I would like to congratulate the Potters' Society of Australia for making these lectures and workshops possible. Harry Davis is a professional potter, is methodical in his workshop approach, his material losses in the pottery are nil, he has spirit and humour and a sense of adventure. He advocates being careful in the pottery and always making preparatory tests. He says that being careful is still not total predictability and that 100 per cent predictability will give a 100 per cent dead looking product.

Harry and May Davis's adventurous spirit will soon be taking them to Peru. With their practical ability and sensitive and sincere approach they embark on this admirable project with, I'm sure, all the potters in Australia watching the outcome with great interest.


In June 1972 Harry did the first of many lectures and talks on the Peru project, including one for Australia Radio, and at the end of the year left for Peru.


In 1974 Harry did a fundraising lecture tour of NZ and Australia for the Izcuchaca project in Peru. Returning to Peru in June 1975.

In Jan 1977 Harry left Peru to lecture in the US to raise money. The tour went well. He lectured among other places at Florida University at three faculties; Mechanical Engineering, Latin American Studies and Fine Arts. Someone there arranged meetings for Harry about aid at the World Bank and the State Department in Washington. Harry wrote, "From Izcuchaca to the State Department is a dizzy jump". "We tried to communicate but we were not speaking the same language."

After the tour he visited May in New Zealand on a three week tourist ticket and by May 1977 was back again in Peru.

In October 1978, he went off for yet another fundraising lecture tour in Los Angeles, Eugene, Thunder Bay, Vancouver and Hawaii.

The Peru project was wound up late in 1979 and during the next five years Harry travelled a lot, lecturing about potting and about alternative technology and self-reliance. When at home he worked on his book The Potter's Alternative on the same subjects.


In June 1979 Harry Davis gave The Self Sufficient Studio workshop at the Banff Centre, Banff, Alberta, Canada.


In 1979 Harry Davis arrived in Honolulu, doing a workshop at the University of Hawaii in Manoa.
I have two pieces of his work from that time. Sometimes it pay to wedge clay for the workshop giver. I do remember how appalled Harry was at the cost of a campus kiosk. It seemed he was about to weep when told the kiosk cost $80,000 to build, housing only some candy machines and a microwave. He was dumbfounded at what he and his wife had to spend to develop entire potteries compared to the kiosk.
Tim Malm - Seattle, US


The Oregon potters Chris Gum and Bruce Wild arranged a week long workshop with Harry Davis at Lane CC in Eugene in 1980. I was very fortunate in being able to attend. Harry was one of the most remarkable people I have ever met. My only regret is that I didn't get to meet May as well. They were quite a team.
Craig Martell, Oregon, US