one woman's story . nell holden


nell holden

During the Second World War, regulations in Australia restricted potters to making utilitarian wares. Nell Holden made Bankisa jugs, based on the characters created by her cousin May Giibbs. As the mould for her jugs had been made before the war, Miss Holden was able to use a loophole in these regulations to overcome the the restrictions and to continue to produce her pots. This speech, made by Nell Holden in 1972, is reproduced from our history book.


when I first thought of making pottery

'Beginning in 1926, as others besides the members may be interested, when I first thought of making pottery, which was about 46 years ago, there was very little encouragement. I was told I would have to import clay from England as there was none available in Australia.

Later we did find we could buy clay at a commercial pottery, 'Fowlers' of Marrickville. It took some time before I was able to really start as so little was known of the craft in those early days, but always my first wish was to learn to make pottery.

An opportunity came in 1928 when we sold our home in Warrawee and moved to Edgecliff, which made it convenient to enrol at the East Sydney Technical College for pottery, clay modelling and design and china painting.

Mr. Peach was the teacher of china painting and pottery and Mrs. Shilitoe taught design. Mr. Peach knew more about china painting than pottery. He had been employed in a commercial capacity in England before coming to Australia.


we melted half a sovereign for gold work

I remember for gold, we had melted down a half sovereign on a tile for gold work - there was a small kiln where china painting was fired with fairly good results. There was very little original work being done there. We learnt to press the clay into moulds and pour 'slip' into others.

The slip is put into a big jug and poured to fill dry plaster of paris moulds which had to be securely tied by strips of rubber cut from old inner tubes, or string and wedges. The main thing was the mould must be securely tied together as the moulds were usually made of several pieces. When the desired thickness of clay has formed, found by testing with a fine point, the mould is then reversed over a bucket or bowl so that the surplus slip runs out, then the mould is left until the shape releases from the mould.

The shape must then be trimmed to remove any edge left by joins of the mould. At the college, moulds were mostly simple, jugs, vases etc. The method is now generally used in a commercial way.


we were determined to throw our own shapes

At the college, we were soon tired of doing the same moulds as everyone else and were rather critical of seeing the Technical College mould shapes in the early Arts and Crafts Exhibitions and were determined to learn to throw our own shapes on the wheel. No one in the class used the wheel, as the college wheel was not in good order and did not run true. We asked if we could use it and were given clay that had been used in the modelling school and it contained matches and was very rough.

We did manage to throw a few shapes but there were many disappointments. Firing was only done once a year at the school so we decided we would leave and work on our own. First we visited 'Fowlers Pottery' and were allowed to watch some of the potters at work.We talked to a Mr. Guthrie who was an expert at throwing pots on the wheel. At the time he was throwing ink bottles. He showed us how a bread bin could be thrown

We told him of our difficulties and he offered to come to visit us and see what we were doing. He realised we were serious and offered to take us on as pupils. He taught us every Saturday morning for some months. At that stage he had a potters wheel made to Technical College plans. It was only useful when we were learning and later was modified to run by motor. Mr. Guthrie helped us fire our first kiln (which was built in my aunts garden at Kurraba Point) with wood and coke but to get the required heat we had to use coal, with disastrous result.The chimney smoked like a warship and there were complaints from the neighbours so we had to give up firing that

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