I was thrilled to be given this book to review. I have been a visitor to Barry Brickell’s property at Driving Creek in the Coromandel over many years. I have always been in awe of Barry’s property, with its railway and many hectares of native planting. I knew little of the creative side of Barry’s character. Of recent times the millionth visitor has passed through Driving Creek. Over many years, the railway has expanded with Barry doing most of the work, with others helping at different times, building the tracks and the steam trains to pull the passenger carriages. Barry has also built all his own pottery kilns, and traveled all over New Zealand building kilns for other potters.
This book is very well laid out with a foreword by long-time friend Hamish Keith. His Own Steam follows Barry through his life with beautiful photographs of various works over many years. I love the earthiness of his work, not bowing to fashion and staying true to himself. I had a real laugh at his father Maurice wanting Barry to have a “real job” with an office and carpet on the floor. I don’t think his father was really disappointed with his son, as he helped him build his first kiln at their family property in Devonport, and in his parents later years, they moved up to the Coromandel to live closer to him. Barry is an individual who would be deemed eccentric by some, but genius by others, myself included. I especially loved his salt glazed pots and the beautiful murals that he has done for various organisations including the Devonport Library, and the lovely twisted forms of his larger pots. The fact that he made coffee mugs and jugs for his own use shows how functional his homewares are.
I am not a potter, but like many others in the 1970’s, my own home had many pottery pieces displayed with my own parents despairing at my choices. I now only have one very precious piece made by a visiting Japanese potter bought in the late 1970’s. I still love the earthiness of what I call “good pottery”. Barry’s bowls and sculptural pieces are absolutely beautiful.
While this book would appeal to people of the pottery and ceramic world, who have more than a fleeting knowledge of Barry and his work, it also has a wide appeal to others. I especially liked the footnotes to explain various comments throughout the book and also the chronology compiled and written by Emma Bugden and Toni Taylor.
In New Zealand we are very lucky to be able to express ourselves freely without harassment and to celebrate others greatness. Barry and his gifts are to be celebrated.
Review by Christine Frayling
His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell
By David Craig & Gregory O’Brien, with new photographs by Haruhiko Sameshima
Published by Auckland University Press