Publication:

NZ Gardener - 2021-10-01

Data:

Twenty million years in the making

LETTERS

They say good things take time, and the ceramics of Morris & James certainly do. If you take a stroll around the concrete floor of their Matakana pottery, every piece you’ll find is New Zealand-made in every sense of the word, and it only took millions of years! From understated pots to bright art pieces, everything from Morris & James started in the earth, from their own clay deposit. They have to think ahead; a year of work comes from a single clay harvest at their riverbank in Matakana, north of Auckland. The area was once deep under water, until earthquakes lifted sandstone out of the sea. The weathering of this sandstone on the forest floor formed the unique clay. Fast forward to the establishment of Matakana and the rich deposit was discovered by a brickworks, built metres from the pottery’s current site, which helped build the town from the ground up. At the start of every summer, they work the ground to expose the raw clay and let the elements once again do the work. It takes all summer to dry enough to be harvested, sieved, rolled and crushed into a fine powder. Next, they slowly reintroduce water, roll and extrude to create the famous deep orange Matakana clay. Not much has changed over the years and the potter’s wheel is still an important tool. To create their enormous pots and planters - some over a metre tall and weighing over 35 kilos - artisans start by extruding an enormous vertical tube, then spin it on the wheel to manipulate it into the final look. If your patience is about to run out, you might be out of luck, since the pieces are next carted into a humiditycontrolled room. There, they can take up to four weeks to dry! When they’re finally ready for their first firing, they’re rolled along the miniature rail system into a giant kiln. After being heated to over 1,000°C, they’re hardened enough to receive their famous splash of colour. From understated blacks to moody maroons to punchy azures, every lick of colour is still applied by hand, using compounds made of powdered glass and minerals. In a sense, the artisans are painting blind, since the raw, chalky compounds look nothing like the final result. Pots are rolled into the kiln for their second firing in pastel pinks and dusky blues; only when they come out are they hardened, glossy and vibrant – and finished. It takes months to make it from earth to garden. It’s worth the wait ■

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