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Rushforth, Peter

Peter Rrushforth AM was a leading foundational Australian Potter [1] He was born in Addison Road Manly on 4 December 1920. His paternal grandfather was a Canon of the Anglican Church and so was raised with Christian values even though he was not a member. Frederick, his father (a World War 1 veteran) disappeared when Peter was 7 and his mother (Phyllis nee Sadler) died when he was 14. He had a difficult childhood as a consequence supported by the extended family. He left school at the age of 12, never to return, due to poor health. He studied shorthand and undertook clerical work until at age 19, during the Second World War he enlisted and was captured on the fall of Singapore in February 1942. He was forced to work on the notorious Thai-Burma Railway and was later a prisoner of war in Changi Prison, Singapore from whence he was released at the end of the war.

His daughter Janet said:

“With rare exceptions he seemed to find the good in people no matter who they were. Even after his harsh experiences as a prisoner of the Japanese, he never took a position that condemned the Japanese as evil. Instead he saw Japanese soldiers as victims of their cultural circumstances. He rarely spoke about the war. One story he did relate was about the time when he was very sick as a POW and a Japanese soldier secretly helped Dad by giving him his own medicines. When asked about his wartime experiences, he would say, no doubt to protect us, his family ‘if you kept your head down, it wasn’t that bad’. It was only recently that we discovered that he actually tried to escape twice during his time as a POW.”[2]

He was commissioned to create a Peace Vessel for the Hellfire Pass Memorial, opened in Thailand in 1997, in memory of the sufferings of the Thai-Burma railway.

Returning to Australia he started to study ceramics at Melbourne Technical College (now RMIT). An early mentor was Allan Lowe together with Harold Hughan, Melbourne’s first stoneware potter. Bernard Leach’s seminal A Potters Book (published in 1940) was a great influence. In 1949 Peter moved to Sydney to teach pottery at the Concord Rehabilitation Hospital and then in 1951 was appointed the first full time pottery teacher at East Sydney Technical College (later the National Art School). He travelled to study in Japan in 1963 with the potters at Koishiwarra on Kyushu and won a Churchill Fellowship in 1967 that took him to Europe, India and the United Studies. In 1956 together with others he established and became the first President of the Potter’s Society of Australia and later in 1962 helped found Pottery in Australia. He was appointed to the Crafts Board of the Australia Council in 1977. [3]

He “is thought to be one of Australia’s most significant pioneer studio potters. He creates his high fired stoneware vessels using Jun (Chun) Temmoku, limestone and ash glazes …he says of his work “dominating my pots are the processes themselves, fire, clay and the earth materials that form the essence of individually made pots.”[4] 

 Rushforth was awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985, an Australia Council Emeritus Award in 1993, a Fellowship of the National Art School in 2003, an honorary Doctorate of Fine Art from RMIT in 2010 and an Honorary Fellow of the International Academy of Ceramics in 2015.

 

He married Jean (Bobbie) Roberts a nurse at Concord Rehab in 1950.

 Upon his move to Sydney in 1951 Peter and Bobbie lived on the corner of Hull and Albert Roads Beecroft and built a kiln in the backyard. His daughter Susan Rushforth said of her childhood:

 “Dad’s concept of simplicity in all things was reflected in our upbringing, and particularly our childhood in the 1950s in our first family home in Beecroft (on the then outskirts of Sydney) with a bushland context. We entertained ourselves in the bush and with our friends, despite Dad making billy carts and piggy banks for us as well as providing art materials for our use.

The most important space of our Beecroft home was the courtyard, which became the centre of activity for the whole family. The courtyard was the home of Dad’s kiln and the repository of his pots waiting to be turned and fired. Such was his passion that the courtyard was often full of pots, and at an early age we learnt to manoeuvre ourselves around the pots without causing any breakages.

We think that he was able to make so many pots not only because of his passionate drive to create and Bobbie’s support, but because he found a way to escape the family chaos. He proved to be good at plotting escapes! 

Difficult financial situations as an artist potter, coupled with his approach to a simple life style did not allow for us to receive bought gifts so he showed his love in other ways. He encouraged us to find joy in making things. He set u a large table in th garden and gave us clay, pencils and paper. We loved it when he showed us how to draw portraits and make pinch pots and kites. The piggy banks he made for us were appreciated but unfortunately we could not get our money out without breaking them. 

 The bushland opposite was magical and we spent our childhood playing in the creek and building cubby houses, often with our dear friends the Slatyers…. Displaced by increasing suburban development the search for living in remote places, close to nature and particularly the energy of the bushland, aligned with both our parents.” [5]

 

He and his wife moved to Church Point in 1968 and upon retiring from teaching in 1978 they moved to Shipley in the Blue Mountains. His final firing at Shipley was in June 2013. Through each of these moves he sought to live amongst trees.

 Peter died on 22 July 2015. He was survived by Bobbie and 3 daughters, Elizabeth, Susan and Janet, together with his grandchild Rebecca Berrell and great grandchildren, Isabel, Byron and Ryder.

[1] Anne-Marie Van de Ven “Vale Peter Rushforth, a great Australian ceramist” Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences at www.maas.museum/inside-the-collection accessed 29 January 2019; John Morcombe “Tribute to honour late ceramist Peter Rusforth on Sunday” The Daily Telegraph 11 August 2015

 [2] Janet Rushforth “Farewell to Peter Rushforth” Australian Ceramics found on www.australian ceramics.com/2015/12/04

 [3] John Freeland “Pacifist potter Peter Rushforth’s artistic sensibilities a product of Changi prison education” Sydney Morning Herald 10 August 2015

 [4] quoted in Sally Wark “Development trend of contemporary ceramic art – Australia” pp98-102 accessed 29 January 2019.

 [5] Susan Rushforth “Reflective thoughts” Australian Ceramics found on www.australian ceramics.com/2015/12/04