Between 1973 and 1984, the three kilns at Ian and Sheryl Smail’s ‘Nodsdale’ property on Auckland’s north shore were used to fire pots by a number of leading New Zealand ceramists. This exhibition curated by Damian Skinner and with exhibition design by Micheal McCabe, explores the creative and social relations that linked these kilns, the pots fired in them, and the makers closely associated with the Smails; Chester Nealie, Liz Schwier, Warren Tippet, Bronwynne Cornish, Len Castle, Denis O’Connor, Nick Waterson, and the Smails themselves.

The first of the three kilns built at ‘Nodsdale’ (the Redvale property named for Sheryl’s nickname, Nod) was in 1974; a baby oil-fired brick kiln of ten cubic feet, with a single cylinder shearing-shed motor that Ian had repurposed. This kiln was in frequent use and used especially for salt glazing. The second kiln, built in 1975 or 1976, was a stoneware kiln, about 30 cubic feet and replete with vacuum cleaner blowers, the construction of which followed the connection of electricity to the property. The third was a wood-fired kiln completed by 1978.

Placing the kilns at the heart of this exhibition emphasizes the spirit of improvisation and invention that were so critical to the flourishing of locally produced ceramics of this period, and the shared and social nature of experimental ceramic practice at the time. It also acknowledges the quintessential contribution of Ian Smail as a consummate kiln firer, and the importance of his accomplishments in this area.

Bringing together archival and moving image material with a selection of work produced in the three ‘Nodsdale’ kilns, this exhibition hopes to continue the Objectspace tradition of connecting material practices to their social, cultural and historical contexts, to allow deeper access to, and further understandings of local materially-based practice and their attendant craft histories.

Damian Skinner is an art historian and curator. He is currently the 2017 J.D. Stout Fellow at the Stout Research Centre, Victoria University, where he is writing a biography of artist Theo Schoon.