Helen Mason died some six years ago, eight months short of her 100th birthday, but in her life she made a real impact in the world of ceramics.
A selection of her work is on display at Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics in Bates St: the exhibition is called Commitment to Clay and consists of Helen's work from the Rick Rudd collection and from that of the late Simon Manchester.
Rick Rudd, director and curator of Quartz, knew Helen, and said she was like everyone's grandmother.
"She loved the whole scene of ceramics and was open to people doing new things at a time when most of them were pretty structured.
"Her work looks naive in a way, but in actual fact, it's her, and it's her personality."
Helen Valentine was born in Darfield, Canterbury, in 1915. Her family moved to Wellington in 1920 and in 1931 she became a boarder at Archerfield College, Dunedin. While there she met Robert Nettleton Ford, who was teaching pottery classes.
She returned to Wellington and attended Victoria University College (1935-37) where she studied economics, book-keeping and psychology. She met Malcolm Mason and they married in 1939. That same year she joined the New Zealand Listener as the editor's assistant, later graduating to editing women's pages.
In 1952, now with three children, she attended pottery classes in Petone and in 1953 she moved an oil kiln, formerly owned by pioneer potter Elizabeth Matheson, into the family home. Thus began her career in ceramics.
"She was one of the movers and shakers of the time, in many respects," says Rick. "She was held in high regard for what she did for the movement."
Helen was editor of the New Zealand Potter magazine from the first issue in 1958 (which she co-edited with Doreen Blumhardt) until 1966.
The exhibition covers a range of her work including what Rick terms "expressionistic decoration, which was really loose for that time. I just love it: elegantly defined, but loose."
Rick pointed out a small number of teapots.
"Her insane spouts, they're so different from what was being done at the time by other potters."
Commitment to Clay includes a water feature. Her pottery lamps are topped with lampshades which she painted herself. One small pot has ash from the Ruapehu eruption embedded in the clay. They look like speckles.
Helen was a character, a traveller, even outfitted a house truck and parked it at Barry Brickell's place for a while. Rick says she always carried a kete.
"She was a prolific potter," he says. "She was one of the pioneers of that 'big' era, the 60s, 70s, 80s."
Helen Mason was a life member of the NZ Society of Potters and in 2005 was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for services to pottery.
The exhibition will be on show at Quartz Museum of Studio Ceramics until May. The museum will be open over both weekends of Artists Open Studios.