With so many galleries and art outlets available in our city it is difficult to cover them all, but there is one that should definitely not be missed. Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics was opened a few years ago by Rick Rudd and I have always thought that it must rank in the top echelon of such NZ institutions. Three visits over the past week have changed that opinion. It now must rank as the best in the country! Nothing in our major cities can match the combination of quality and quantity in Rick's collection.
Why three visits? When our daughter was visiting from Auckland we did a quick tour of several of my favourite venues, seven in all. Number eight was Quartz, where, for two reasons, we spent longer than intended. The first was the unusual appearance of the foyer. Always neat, tidy and precise in presentation, it was strewn with a large number of boxes, newspaper, bubble wrap and pots. Rick explained that these were a part — a small part! — of the Simon Manchester collection, recently bequeathed to Rick's Foundation. A Wellington businessman, Simon, who died in July, had amassed a huge collection of ceramics over the years, most of which he kept in his apartment. As that building has now been sold, Rick has the task of transporting it all to Whanganui before the end of the month. Simon collected many pieces by his favourite potters, not just one of each, and the total will be well in excess of 3000 items. Since early August Rick has been opening boxes, checking for damage, cataloguing all the items with the help of Lorna Sutherland and her computer skills, then finally deciding where to put them.
Many have been integrated into Rick's existing collection of the potters' works, a card simply stating "Simon Manchester collection". The majority are in storage until Rick is able to have an extension built to his museum, an area for both storage and exhibition preparation. The curating and assigning of 3000 vessels is no easy task, and one unfortunate result of this bequest is that Rick has been unable to continue his own work since August. The creative process is important for him, but, as he emphasised, the collection must be removed from Wellington before he can even think of getting back to work himself.
Despite that lull, Rick is pleased with his personal success this year. After winning a Merit (along with Andrea du Chatenier) at the 2018 Portage Awards, he has had two pieces accepted for this year's competition. The major ceramics exhibition in the country, the Portage receives only about 60 items per year. Another piece has been accepted for the Wallace Art Awards, which covers all art forms. In addition, one piece for Waiclay, Hamilton, plus two for the Auckland Studios Potters have also been accepted. A total of six in four major competitions is quite an achievement.
I mentioned two reasons for our prolonged stay. As we wandered round the various rooms, Juliet was just as fascinated as I always am by the sheer number of items, their delicacy, their beauty and their diversity in size and purpose. Downstairs there is a collection of about 130 pieces which chart the history, in chronological order, of NZ pottery, from the start of last century to the present day. Rick said that, to the best of his knowledge, it is the only curated exhibition of the development pf studio pots over that period.
We were also advised, when going upstairs, to look behind the curtain and view "Simon's Treasures". We forgot. Next day, at Gallery 85, Paul Rayner asked if we had looked behind the curtain. When I muttered an abashed "No", Paul said "Go back!" So we did. Was it worth it? Well ... ! One small room is absolutely packed with 250 wonderful examples of the potters' skills. They are quite breathtaking. Attempting to describe the type of vessel, size, intricacy of design, decoration, etc, is impossible. If you are reading this, then you must go and see for yourself! Also upstairs are other displays, devoted to specific artists, such as Doreen Blumhardt, Anneke Borren, Len Castle, Jim Greig, Elizabeth Lissaman, John Parker, Frank Popplewell, Peter Stichbury and many more. It is an Aladdin's cave of NZ ceramics.
My personal favourite is the room containing Rick's earlier creations for the garden — large, solid, aesthetically satisfying objects — with a gentle, relaxing water feature. I find it so soporific. The room now contains some smaller works from earlier in his career, as the Manchester immigrants have involved a shuffling round and squeezing together of his previous arrangements.
Recently the Foundation offered an annual scholarship, worth $10,000, for the best Emerging Practitioner. The first winner, Oliver Morse, has his works displayed in a downstairs room. He used the money to buy a kiln and a studio. His ceramics on display are large, chunky, irregular, their bodies mainly white, with figures added in light pastel shades, reminiscent of the ancient Greek oil flasks (lekythoi) of Classical pottery tradition. I found this out on my third visit, when spending an entertaining and informative hour with Rick for this article.
When all the boxes are finally emptied and vessels catalogued, Rick's idea is to curate separate exhibitions for the artists, on display for up to three months. After that, he intends to offer them to other galleries, especially lesser known ones, as travelling displays.
He explained that Simon wanted his collection to be seen, and often loaned them out, particularly to the Dowse in Lower Hutt.
Not being knowledgeable in ceramics, I admit that most of the artists were unfamiliar to me. However, they will all be known to the aficionados of ceramics.
To have such a comprehensive collection in our city is staggering.Rick's enterprise and dedication is thoroughly deserving of the support of his fellow citizens.