November 07, 2013

Clem Ainslie of the Harvey School: An important discovery for Australian Pottery fans.

A Slight Deviation.

While we've always been focussed on the earliest ceramics, there's a whole world out there called the 20th century.....
It recently caught up with us, and it was a remarkable experience. I have always admired the Martin Brothers pottery, and the associated Arts & Crafts movement potters, who went back to basics and created hand-sculpted pieces in the earlier manner, turning their backs on the mass-produced 'ceramics for the masses' of the later 19th century.
      In Australia, this idea takes root in Brisbane, in the classes of Mr L.J.Harvey who taught at the Brisbane Technical College during the 1920's and 30's. One of his main ideas was that each pot should be unique, and so he did not teach or allow the wheel to be used: the results of wheel-made pots were all too alike. It was from this hotbed of creativity that a young lady discovered her passion for sculpting pots, and it was our good fortune to discover her daughter living in Geelong with an amazing collection of 40 of her mothers creations.
But there is a mystery: she is not in any of the books on this interesting period of pottery in Australia.
She is an unknown potter, and we are delighted to have re-discovered her.

The Kookaburra Vase, by Clem Ainslie of the Harvey School, 1927

Introducing Clem Ainslie

Isabella Clementina Ainslie was born in Brisbane in 1888. She had an artistic temperament, and it was only natural that in 1923, she found the classes of Mr Harvey most agreeable, so much so that she continued to go along for the next 14 years. In this time, her daughter estimates she produced a few hundred pots, many as gifts, and as special orders from people who had seen others with her work in their drawing rooms and wanted their own.
The Crane Vase - by Clem Ainslie 1924

Her style was varied, and follows the Harvey School tradition with 'exercise' pieces showing her honing her skills at sculpting clay. She does a series of excellent pots in the Australiana taste, such as the Kookaburra Vase above. However, her most intriguing show her exploring her own creativity; the Crane Vase of 1924 and the Egyptian pieces illustrate her talents. The latter, from a time just after the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb, are apparently unique in the field of Australian art pottery from the period.

The Egyptian Vase by Clem Ainslie, 1927

Each piece is marked quite clearly, and yet she doesn't appear in the publications on the subject of Australian Pottery. 
Moorabool has taken it on themselves to rectify this situation, and has published a beautifully illustrated book, titled 'Isabella Clementina Ainslie of the Harvey School'. For more info, many illustrations, and the ability to purchase your own copy, visit the website set up to promote this once forgotten lady potter:

Clem Ainslie's Website