Playing with Fire: Auckland Studio Potters Turns 50 by Peter Lange and Stuart Newby
Centre for New Zealand Art Research and Discovery, University of Auckland $75

Richard Parker by Richard Fahey
Objectspace Masters of Craft $39

Rails Toward the Sky: The Story of Driving Creek Railway by Barry Brickell
David Ling $49.99

Among the visual arts highlights of the recent Auckland Arts Festival were two excellent ceramic exhibitions: Playing With Fire at the Gus Fisher Gallery, featuring work by three members of the Auckland Studio Potters, which turns 50 this year, Peter Hawkesby, Denis O'Connor and Graeme Storm, and a one-person survey by Richard Parker at Objectspace. Both exhibitions were accompanied by high quality publications.

Although Hawkesby, O'Connor and Storm all feature in Playing With Fire, the scope of the book is much broader, fairly described by Peter Lange in his foreword as "a miscellany, one that celebrates with enthusiasm the wonderful subculture of 50 years of ceramic and pottery in Auckland ... There's nothing quite like the drama and excitement of mixing earth, water, air and fire in your own backyard."

The miscellany kicks off with a typically stylish essay by Justin Paton, then, in a section called Context for Creativity, are a series of statements by and about key figures in the history of the society, varying from a paragraph or two to illustrated essays of a dozen pages or more.

Highlights are Roger Blackley's essay on the late Warren Tippett, an illustrated memoir by Denis O'Connor, and lively pieces by Baye Riddell (Journey of a Maori Potter), Barry Brickell, Peter Lange, Chester Nealie and Christine Thacker.

There are also three "conversations": John Parker interviews himself while Len Castle and Richard Parker are interviewed by others. Each piece is richly illustrated with colour photographs, many supplied by the artists themselves but supplemented with expert images by Yuki Sato.

A section called The Family Album is purely photographic and features work by many well known practitioners including Peter Stichbury, Duncan Shearer, Andrew van der Putten, Matt McLean, Helen Perrett, Graham Ambrose, Campbell Hegan, Rosemarie McClay, Elena Renker and a dozen others. Other sections of the book focus on the activities of the society, thoughts about the past and future, and a chronology of "Landmarks" compiled by Stuart Newby.

Some classic black and white photos by Mart Friedlander taken in the 60s and 70s (Barry Brickell, Len Castle, Helen Mason, Jeff Scholes and others, all looking absurdly youthful) are a valuable extra in this rich, colourful and vibrant smorgasbord.

Richard Parker's exhibition at Objectspace, curated by Richard Fahey (who also wrote the text of the book and contributed to Playing With Fire) was a knockout (it ends today) and Parker's work is well documented in the first of what is to be a series of "Masters of Craft" publications.

Particularly notable is the cover - the wide flaps of which fold out to a poster-sized row of Parker's distinctive wire-cut vases from the 1990s, in a range of his delectable glazes.

There are nearly 70 colour plates featuring every aspect of Parker's work, beautifully photographed by Haru Sameshima. If later volumes in the series reach the same high standard they will be well worth acquiring.

Many thousands have enjoyed a trip on pioneer potter Barry Brickell's unforgettable railway at Driving Creek in the Coromandel. Brickell tells the whole fascinating story in Rails Towards the Sky, a well-illustrated and lively narrative. Probably more aimed at rail enthusiasts than pottery lovers, it nevertheless is highly informative about the life and work of a remarkable ceramic artist.

* Peter Simpson is an Auckland reviewer.