Ivan Englund – A Tribute

Pioneer Potter | Karen Weiss

englund1_sm.jpgHow is a man remembered – for his achievements, for his actions, for his character? There will be many of you reading these words who never met Ivan, who may not even have heard of him, but this is a man who made a difference to Australian ceramics. You might not know his name because he was not one to put himself forward. However, if you look back at the early copies of Pottery in Australia, the covers may be faded but inside them there is such energy, such curiosity about the possibilities of clay and glaze, such a frenzy of experimentation. And right in the midst of this you will find, in almost every issue, the name of Ivan Englund.

 

 

Ivan came from a no-frills working class family. When the Great Depression hit Australia in 1930, at the age of fifteen, Ivan left school to become a prospector’s boy, progressing to soda fountain attendant and cook at David Jones, a large department store in Sydney.

Intelligent and keen, young Ivan had ideas that extended beyond the shouted orders and the rattle of crockery in the David Jones kitchen. He attended art classes at night and joined the RAAF reserve force.1 When war was declared in 1939, Ivan was called up, and soon he was transferred to the air force, ending up in England flying bombing raids over Europe as a navigator on Lancaster bombers. He survived unhurt, something he attributed to pure luck.2 Ivan studied art while in England and, two years after the war ended, was accepted as a full-time student at the National Art School, Sydney for a Diploma of Painting and Drawing, under the Commonwealth Reconstruction Training Scheme. This was the same scheme that had supported Peter Rushforth in his training at the National Art School and it was there that the two first met. Englund_1962.jpgBy then Peter Rushforth had begun teaching pottery at NAS together with Mollie Douglas, and Ivan took classes with both of them. Their mutual enthusiasm for ceramics was fired by Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book and his vision of the artist potter as modern hero, bringing usefulness and beauty to a world almost destroyed by the ugliness and futility of war.

In 1950’s Australia, art was on the crest of a wave. As Sidney Nolan wrote, “We thought we had the tiger of the century by the tail.”3 Such a ferment of ideas and ideologies, and the potters were part of it, experimenting with materials dug from the countryside around them, with handbuilt kilns and hit-and-miss firings, playing with forms, inventing glazes. There was a constant to-and-fro as potters talked, whenever they could, to whoever would listen, of their discoveries, what had succeeded, what had failed.

On finishing his course, Ivan taught art at technical colleges in Victoria, Canberra and Wollongong, bringing with him his enthusiasm for clay and the brush (Ivan was painter and potter) and meeting up with fellow potters whenever possible to exchange information and ideas.

{xtypo_info}Right: Page 14, Pottery in Australia, Volume 1 No. 1, May 1962{/xtypo_info}

In 1956, a small gathering of four people, Peter Rushforth, Mollie Douglas, Ivan McMeekin and Ivan Englund, met at Rushforth’s house in Beecroft to form the Potters’ Society of Australia (PSA). It was a grand vision – this was a group that aspired to support potters nationwide. Two years later the PSA had its first group exhibition at the Macquarie Gallery in Bligh Street, Sydney. It was a stepping stone that marked the new path being taken by ceramic artists, away from the hobby groups of ‘well-dressed ladies in floral hats’.

Like the Elephant’s Child in Kipling’s Just So Stories, Ivan Englund was a man possessed by ‘satiable curiosity’ about this mysterious medium of clay. As with any explorer, he set out to chart a piece of this unknown territory, notebook in hand, inspired by the work of the other Ivan, Ivan McMeekin. In his thesis for the Fellowship of the Sydney Technical College on Illawarra rock glazes (1962) he wrote:
“It is a natural thing for a potter to be aware of the clays and minerals of the countryside in which he lives and works… For potters must be close to the earth where their materials are; pots are of the earth and from the earth.”4
It is this quality of earthiness that people who knew Ivan often refer to, when speaking of the man and his work. Willie Michalski, for whom Ivan was teacher, mentor and friend, comments:

“Patricia Englund (Ivan’s second wife) was tall and elegant and made tall and elegant pots. Ivan was down to earth, with big hands, and made big earthy pots.”5

One of Willie’s favourite stories about Ivan was, when he was first introduced to him, Ivan asked him what part of Germany he was from. Willie said, “I come from an industrial part of Germany. I was in Essen. ” Ivan responded, “I used to drop bombs on you!” Both men were agreed on the idiocy of war.
Inspired and encouraged by Ivan, Willie took up ceramics, enrolling at Wollongong Tech. From the end of the 1960s to the 1970s, he also shared workshop space with Ivan and another ceramicist, Karl Preuhs (who, being of German origin, has a similar story to Willie’s), as part of a group of painters, sculptors and ceramists who called themselves the Cygnets, their building being on Swan Street. Willie reminisces, “We all inspired each other. Had some great parties as well.”

Willie recalls he and Ivan hunting together for experimental glaze materials at the local blue metal quarry, climbing under the rumbling conveyor belt to gather the shaken down rock dust. Karl Preuhs, who worked as an industrial chemist, helped out with the analytical side of glaze development. Karl describes Ivan as “an artist, with a greyish beard, distinguished and learned, although he never thought of himself that way… [He] was a great help in my life.”6 Willie adds, “He was definitely the catalyst. I still have some pots of his.”7
Another member of the group, a former student of Ivan’s, was Beryl Anderson, whom Karl Preuhs describes as a “driving force” of the Cygnets. Ivan and Patricia’s marriage ended, and soon after, Ivan began his relationship with Beryl, also a skilled potter. It proved a happy pairing (they married thirty years later) which lasted the rest of his life.

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Top left: Jar, poured decoration over slip-coated stoneware, h.43cm, w.25cm; photo: courtesy Dick Aitken
Top right:Ivan and Beryl in their garden in Bawley Point
Middle left: Bottle, ash glaze over slip-coated stoneware, h.37.5cm, w.17.5cm; photo: courtesy Dick Aitken
Middle right: Raw Beauty, slip-coated stoneware with slip-trailed decoration, h.30cm, w.21cm; photo: courtesy Beaver Galleries
Bottom left: Platter, stoneware, rock glaze, poured decoration, diam.37.5, d.4.5cm; photo: courtesy Beaver Galleries
Bottom right: Ivan Englund

In 1971, Ivan became Senior Head Teacher of Art at East Sydney Technical College, and a year later he started the ‘Ivan Englund Pottery School’, run by himself and Beryl, at the Rocks, Sydney. Throughout this period he was also designing kilns, teaching at summer schools across Australia and exhibiting widely, both pottery and paintings. He retired in 1975 and spent most of the following year travelling in Europe, packed into a campervan with Beryl and their ten-year-old son Michael. He had paid a brief visit to Japan in 1962 but this was his first opportunity to see with his own eyes the paintings, the sculptures, the cathedrals and towns of which he had only read, or seen photographs, in all his years of teaching art. This visit was to set the pattern of his life for the next seventeen years – contented, productive years of making and exhibiting, travelling and teaching.

Soon after his return from Europe, he closed the Rocks school and the family purchased a small property at Walcha, in the northern tablelands of NSW, where he built a woodfire kiln, taught art classes, and Beryl opened the Parmenter Gallery in Walcha, always with some of Ivan’s work on display. Together they conducted cultural tours of Europe, Japan, Korea and China, and travelled widely abroad.

In 1995, a year after his move to Bawley Point due to health problems, Ivan exhibited at Beaver Galleries in Canberra. Susie Beaver says, “[Remembering Ivan] brings a smile to my face. Ivan brought ten pots down. The National Gallery bought one. Ivan sat in splendour next to the pots and talked to people … There was nothing pretentious about him or his work. It showed in the work which wasn’t ‘clever’ but honest; simple, firm decoration with simplicity of form and beauty of glazing.”8

In that same year, at the age of eighty, Ivan was awarded a Doctorate In Creative Arts from Wollongong University. Regrettably, due to worsening illness, Ivan was to stop working in clay in 2002, although he kept painting. He had a final retrospective exhibition at Beaver Galleries in 2005. Ivan passed away in October 2007 at the age of 91; his life well-lived with many friendships, his legacy a substantial and admired body of work. Vale Ivan Englund.

Top left: Jar, poured decoration over slip-coated stoneware, h.43cm, w.25cm; photo: courtesy Dick Aitken

Top right:Ivan and Beryl in their garden in Bawley Point

Middle left: Bottle, ash glaze over slip-coated stoneware, h.37.5cm, w.17.5cm; photo: courtesy Dick Aitken
Middle right: Raw Beauty, slip-coated stoneware with slip-trailed decoration, h.30cm, w.21cm; photo: courtesy Beaver Galleries

Bottom left: Platter, stoneware, rock glaze, poured decoration, diam.37.5, d.4.5cm; photo: courtesy Beaver Galleries
Bottom right: Ivan Englund


My gratitude to Allan Baptist, whose biography of Ivan Englund is soon to be completed, to Willi Michalski, Karl Preuhs, Margaret Tuckson, Peter Rushforth, Susie Beaver of Beaver Galleries, Canberra and the Blue Mountains Gazette.
An especial thanks to Beryl Englund.

1 Baptist, Allan
2 Englund, Ivan. Audio-taped interview with K.Weiss 30.1.03
3 Nolan, Sidney. Quoted in Sidney Nolan – in his words, film dir. Catherine Hunter accompanying the exhibition Sidney Nolan Retrospective, AGNSW 2008
4 Englund, Ivan, The Application of the Igneous Rocks of the Illawarra Region to Stoneware Glazes in Studio Pottery – A thesis for the award of the Fellowship of the Sydney Technical College. February 1962
5 Michalski, Willie. Interview with K. Weiss 2008
6 Preuhs, Karl. Interview with K. Weiss 2008
7 Michalski, Willie. Ibid.
8 Beaver, Susie. Interview with K. Weiss 2008


Article from The Journal of Australian Ceramics 47#1

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Author: Australian Ceramics

In 1956, The Potters Society of Australia was formed to encourage and foster the development, appreciation and recognition of potters and pottery. It was the first ceramics organisation in Australia. In 2006, our name was changed to The Australian Ceramics Association to more fully reflect the scope of practice of the members. We are a national, not-for-profit organisation representing the interests of practising potters and ceramicists, students of ceramics and all those interested in Australian ceramics. We actively support and promote quality, specialist ceramics education nationally. T: 1300 720 124

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