Here is a great story of a theme and technique as championed by none other than Pablo Picasso adopted in the Hinterland of Australia.
You can see F.T.’s ceramic fish plate; the markings read “Jampots Pottery, Montville.” Montville pottery was located from 1966-1998 in Montville, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, Australia. So how did a ceramic which was so genuinely like a Picasso ceramic come to be made in the Hinterland?
Picasso would have been proud. The Hinterland is the traditional lands of the Aboriginal Gubbi Gubbi People. The area was ‘first’ discovered by Captain Cook, as he surveyed the mountain range from his ship The Endeavor; that mountain range had sections that stood up like furnaces, and reminded Captain Cook of his home in England, and of the Glass House furnaces.
Ironically, the elements that make for good clay are found in such regions, both in England and in the Hinterland. We now know the minerals from such rock formations are from magma intrusions. These mountains were formed 25 million years ago. Although Captain Cook named them, they had a name well before 1770; ”daki comon” in the Aboriginal language, “stone standing up.”
Picasso used tribal elements, as we remember from les Demoiselles d’Avignon, 1907, which depicted nude women with tribal mask faces. Likewise, in the early 1960s potters in the Hinterland also saw images through the lens of tribal patterns.
I learned that the Hinterland is comprised of the Pacific Ocean views, rainforests, the Glass House Mountains and the towns of Flaxton, Mapleton, Maleny and Montville, where the fish plate was collected by an ancestor of F.T., who must have hung out with the potters of Montville. There’s not a lot of information out there about the Pottery Montville, but I did find a few facts.
The Pottery Montville was the first craft endeavor on the Sunshine Coast, founded by English immigrants Doug and Audrey Everett in 1961. Imagine leaving England as a young couple and starting a pottery kiln!
Since the 1960s, the little pottery had many owners, and each had their own brand of Terre de faience, terracotta with colorful high glaze that ‘sits’ on top of the pottery. Thus, Montville Pottery had many artists throwing pots and selling to the tourists in the 1960s and 1970s, and then in the late 1980s the town Montville had a brilliant idea. To put the town on the tourist map, they decided to demolish the Pottery, and to build a complex of artist’s studios to attract visitors to the ‘artistic’ town; the whole Pottery was torn down, and because the Artist’s Community Block had to have a name, if you visit Montville today, you will find a craft complex called The Pottery Building.
In any event, F.T., who inherited his plate, asked if he really did have a Picasso Madoura piece, because to him it looks so much like Picasso’s ceramics. Well, most Picasso ceramics have the imprint: “Emprint Originale de Picasso” and the Madoura mark (Picasso’s potter).
I can see why F.T. was hopeful that this Australian look-alike from the Hinterland might have been, in fact, a Picasso piece of Madoura. Let us compare values.
Out of Earthenware clay, with a faience glaze, we find a dinner service by Picasso of hand painted faience, attributed by the scholar Alain Raime (1988) in the “Catalogue of the Edited Ceramic Works of Picasso” 1947-1971. We see the value today of the 26 pieces at $137,000. Next, we see a Picasso Unique Plat Poisson Ceramic, a little platter not unlike the one F.T. inherited, made in 1952, selling for $58,000. No wonder F.T. asked for my opinion!
Alas, I must quote F.T. Picasso’s favorite expression: “Every act of creation is, first of all, an act of destruction.” Now comes the destruction: F.T., the fish earthenware and faience dish is NOT by Picasso.
It is made by some very talented Hinterland artists in the 1960s who were channeling the spirit of the artist who had a tremendous impact on 20th-century modern art, associated with the Cubist movement, through his friend Georges Braque, and who influenced Surrealism, Neoclassicism and Expressionism, and who deconstructed our way of looking at the world. Picasso made 20,000 works of art, so I understand that F.T. was hopeful that he had something by this great artist.
In fact, the abstraction of F.T.’s fish plate reminded him of the portrait Picasso did of his first wife Olga (and he went on to do similar portraits of every woman in his life): Woman with a Hat (Olga) 1935, in which Olga’s face is simply abstracted lines that call to mind the structure of both her and her personality.
So, F.T., you have a merging of cultures, and a little plate that is in the shape, the reason and the way a fish is. The value is $300.
Dr. Elizabeth Stewart’s “Ask the Gold Digger” column appears Mondays in the News-Press.
Written after her father’s COVID-19 diagnosis, Dr. Stewart’s book “My Darlin’ Quarantine: Intimate Connections Created in Chaos” is a humorous collection of five “what-if” short stories that end in personal triumphs over present-day constrictions. It’s available at Chaucer’s in Santa Barbara.