the juanita bird collection of linn ware and 20th century ceramics

The Juanita Bird Collection of Linn Ware and 20th Century Ceramics

10 Nov 2021

Strauss & Co is honoured to present a single-owner collection of 20th century ceramics from the Johannesburg collector Juanita Bird.

The collection consists of prime examples from renowned potteries Globe, Ceramic Studio and the iconic Linnware. It captures the history of studio ceramics in South Africa in the first half of the 20th century, a history pitted against the relentless advances of technological progress and mass production at such companies as the vast Continental China Factory in Boksburg during the same era. Globe Potteries, the oldest, operated from 1920 to 1957 in Pretoria. The Ceramic Studio was founded in 1925 by Gladys Short and Marjorie Johnstone, who had both studied pottery at the Durban Technical College. It operated from premises in Olifantsfontein until 1942, when it was repositioned and renamed Linnware, which continued until 1962.

Globe Potteries were situated in New Muckleneuk in Pretoria, the site of the present-day Austin Roberts Bird Sanctuary. The owners Albert and Joseph Walker lived in England and the business was run by local managers. Well-known artists including Douglas Portway (1949/50) and Esias Bosch (1952/3) collaborated on design. The potteries produced a range of domestic ware such as jugs, mugs, cups and saucers, jars, condiment sets, teapots, and the like, as well as vases, bowls, baskets and troughs. The glazing was restrained but with interesting, mottled effects. The wares were hand thrown on the wheel and slip casting was used for the plates and saucers. Globe operated successfully for a long period of time despite not having a strong marketing engine behind it and never participating in exhibitions or commercial fairs. In the end the organisation was hampered by a lack of product innovation and inattention to its down-draft kilns. Globe production items most often have the name of the studio impressed on the underside.

The founders of Ceramic Studio rented space from the Cullinan Company in Olifantsfontein. The company was run and staffed mainly by women including Joan Methley, Audrey Frink and Thelma Newlands-Currie. Renowned artists who work with them included the sculptor Mary Stainbank, as well as Erich Mayer, Alfred Palmer and WH Coetzer. Even JH Pierneef visited often, and his influence can be seen in the San figure designs on some of the works.

Ceramic Studio produced earthenware crockery, homeware, painted tiles for post-offices, hospitals, schools and railway stations, as well as architectural items as such air bricks, fountains, and doorknobs. The process was also ‘by hand’: thrown on the wheel, slip cast, and/or hand built, seldom press-mounted. The studio participated in the famous Empire Exhibition of 1936 in Johannesburg, as well as many industrial, agricultural and flower shows and ideal home exhibitions. It also showed in art galleries, blurring the art/craft divide. Ironically, the studio’s extremely high ethical and aesthetic standards compromised its profitability, and, after difficulty obtaining glazes during WWII, it was forced to close.

Ceramic Studio items typically have the name handwritten on the bottom or are impressed with the distinctive studio stamp.

Linnware took over the baton from the Ceramic Studio. It operated from 1943 to roughly 1962 on the same premises in Olifantsfontein. It was founded by Sir Thomas Cullinan and staffed mostly by former Ceramic Studio potters. Linnware is characterized by its distinctive, deep green and turquoise glazes, although items were also glazed in russet, pale grey, cream, yellow, lilac, rhubarb, and mulberry. The characteristic luminosity of Linnware is due to the studio’s particular double-glazing technique. The studio produced crockery, vases and homeware such as candle holders, lamp bases and ashtrays.Linnware items have the name painted underneath, or are impressed with the initials L W or the LW logo.

The works of these studios bear testimony to the creative vision of a group of potters, most of them women, who put South African studio ceramics on the map. They set the standards of aesthetic originality and technical excellence for decorative pottery in South Africa in the mid-twentieth century and paved the way for subsequent potteries to continue to articulate a uniquely South African voice.

This online-only auction opens for bidding at 8am on Wednesday 10 November and closes 8pm Monday 15 November 2021.


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