Barry Brickell, 1935–2016

Author: Courtney Johnston, Director

With great sadness we mark the death of potter, conservationist and visionary Barry Brickell.

Haru Sameshima Barry in his studio (detail), 2012

Haru Sameshima Barry in his studio (detail), 2012

I know I am joined by all the whanau of The Dowse—past and present—in saying that it is with such sadness that we have learned of the death of Barry Brickell, the great New Zealand potter, environmentalist and train enthusiast.

From his early work of the 1950s onwards, Barry's pots were marked by a unique sensibility, a blend of rugged materiality, understanding of place, and wit. From everyday mugs to the statuesque Spiromorphs to his clay murals, Barry's work draws its power from his interest in the process of making—"not the thing but the how", as he said.

Alongside his contribution to New Zealand as an artist, Barry became a well-known figure for his interest in engineering and environmental restoration, which were united in his establishment of Driving Creek Potteries and Railway in the Coromandel. Here he created his pottery studio, planted hundreds of thousands of native trees and shrubs, and built his narrow-gauge railway.

It was a privilege for us all to work with Barry and his Driving Creek team on the 2013 survey of his rich career, His Own Steam. Our senior curator Emma Bugden and sociologist and writer David Craig brought together a selection of over 100 works in an exhibition that is one of the most warmly received in The Dowse's recent years. Barry brought all his considerable life-force to the project, occasionally needling us playfully for our museumy ways, but at all times acting with characteristic generosity. The exhibition travelled around the country, bringing pleasure not only to art and pottery fans, but also those people who had connected with Barry and his mission in life as one of the over one million visitors Driving Creek has hosted.

You can see images of Barry's work on our page about his exhibition His Own Steam. Barry was interviewed on Nine to Noon on Radio New Zealand at the time of the show; he also spoke with Spectrum on Radio New Zealand late last year at the time of his 80th birthday.

Barry was a beloved figure, admired for his commitment, bravery and individuality. He will be deeply missed.

Courtney Johnston, Director, The Dowse Art Museum

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