The Rise of Maori Clay Artists

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In the 1980s, a number of Maori artists began working in clay and expanding the scope of their art. Although some artists who were teachers in the New Zealand Department of Education in the 1960s had explored clay art, the movement began to develop its greatest momentum under Manos Nathan, Hiraina Poulson, Paparangi Reid, Baye Riddell, Wi Taepa and Colleen Waata Urlich.

Nathan, Poulson and Reid introduced their clay art to the New Zealand Crafts Council at a meeting in the mid-1980s. Present were the director and the crafts advisory officer for the Arts Council and myself as director of the Central Regional Arts Council. The pieces were raw and exciting, but they did not conform to the highly developed British and Japanese-influenced pottery style that had evolved in New Zealand. The work failed to excite the crafts adviser - but I knew when I saw the pieces that this was a significant development in the history of Maori art.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich, as exponents and teachers, were the major influences on this Powerful new form of Maori art. Nathan and Riddell were recipients of a Fulbright Award that allowed them to spend several months working with clay artists in New Mexico.

Nathan, Riddell, Taepa and Urlich continue to develop their careers on the international art scene with exhibitions in Australia, the United States, Canada, Britain, Asia and Greece. Their work is featured in several publications on Maori and New Zealand art.

Equally important was the clay art of Shona Rapira Davies, now established as a leading New Zealand and Maori artist. She created large-scale public clay installations and sculptures that endure today as major works of New Zealand art.

Paerau Corneal was the next significant artist to join the main group. Young artists now emerging include Davina Duke, Carla Ruka and Cameron Webster, who have a sensitivity of touch that is of their own generation. Other clay artists are coming from the Toihoukura Maori art school based in Gisborne.