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Murray Garner: an inspirational NZ potter: Gail Drake writes on the determination of Murray Garner.


A WARM BREEZE BLOWS across the deep blue water as a boat load of tourists prepare to explore the coral reefs, hidden beneath the sparkling turquoise waters of Fiji. The depth, clarity and colour of the water bring to mind a favourite Murray Garner pot, standing in the corner of my loungeroom back in New Zealand. Murray Garner has an ability to capture the naturally occurring phenomenon of sparkling turquoise waters with his alkaline glazes, contrasting colour against a black manganese glaze.

Sometime life throws a curve ball, which we either face, or dismiss. Garner decided to face it head on by learning how to throw pots of exquisite beauty. At the age of 50, he discovered he had dislodged a blood clot while swimming. Over a period of 5 days paralysis crept over him, finally leaving him with impaired speech and incapacitating his right side.

Having been a nurse for 30 years Garner was well aware of the long and testing rehabilitation process that was ahead of him, if he had any chance of leading a semi-active life. Determined to make the best of a bad situation, he pushed himself daily by walking back and forth along a garden path, 10 times, three times a day, along with other forms of rehabilitation.

Garner's determination was strengthened by the fact he had recently built a new pottery studio in the garden of his Tauranga home on the rural-urban fringe of Ohauiti. He was not about to leave the studio unused. In this garden alive with native NZ bird song Garner would make his way down to the studio. With his right hand incapacitated Garner trained himself to use his left hand to throw pots. Ninety eight percent of Murray's work is completed on the wheel because handling slabs of clay is difficult.

Garner pugs his clay, using a newly acquired pug mill, enabling him to become more independent. He started by throwing small pots until his right hand became stronger and he learnt to use his left hand with many of his early efforts having a definite lean. Inspired by the fact that he managed something reasonable with his left hand and with the right hand gradually improving, three months later, (he could move one finger on his right hand), he decided to continue potting and remains a member of the Bethlehem Potters Society.

Using good aim to place the clay on the centre of his wheel, he cones up and uses his weak right hand in a fist balanced against the wheel basin or his body, and makes use of shapers to achieve the desired effect. With his right hand no longer able to withstand any weight Garner is not able to turn over a pot, but not allowing this to deter him from the challenge, he extrudes coils and finishes his spheres by coiling.

Murray Garner learnt his art in Dunedin in 1978 and is attracted by the technical aspects of pottery and ceramics. Chinese and Japanese styles and forms influence his work, with most of his glaze recipes being based on Chinese and Japanese recipes.

The clear fresh colours he uses are distinctive, something he has achieved despite a heredity disease of the eyes which means he sees the world through a veil of lace. I met Murray after he exhibited in the Waiclay National Ceramic Exhibition at the Waikato Museum of Art and History, in Hamilton, New Zealand. Ron Sang, a well known architect and collector of ceramics opened the exhibition. Sang was attracted to a large Orb with a vibrant copper-based red glaze, standing alone on the plinth with the light catching the glazes and it found a home amongst Ron Sang's collection.


With a desire to purchase a similar pot for a friend, I managed to track Garner down in his Tauranga home. After a friendly and warm greeting by Murray and his wife Kay we proceeded to his pottery studio where a feast of colour made purchase decisions difficult. Until I met him I was unaware of his disabilities and was amazed that the work before me could have been achieved by someone with his degree of disability. It can easily be forgotten that Murray has difficulties to overcome. His sparkling eyes, cheeky smile, warm and friendly manner is a delight to encounter.

Clay work has given Murray Garner a chance to overcome his disabilities, he in return, has given life to the clay. His ability to capture the brilliant clear turquoise and vivid red sunsets, will forever remind me of a the clear waters of a Pacific island.

 1. Tob's Black (Cone 03 - 6)
 China Clay 57
 Silica 23
 Frit 4110 20
 Add 200 grams of copper oxide to one litre
of glaze mix. Use this base glaze as a slip
under frit 4110.

 2. Turquoise (Greg Daly's E32) (03)
 Frit 4110 90
 Potash felspar 4
 Calcite 2
 Silica 3
 China clay 1
 Copper oxide 2

 3. Gullies Red (8 - 10) reduction
 Petalite 9.6
 Potash felspar 23.0
 Nephyline syenite 17.0
 Calcite 10.4
 Frit 4108 16.2
 China clay 9.4
 Silica 12.05
 Zinc oxide 2.3
 Tin oxide 1.0
 Yates Champion Copper oxychloride 1.0

 Apply moderately thickly and
 fire with good reduction.

Gail Drake is a ceramic artist from New Zealand. Photographs: Janet Smith & Gail Drake.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:New Zealand
Author:Drake, Gail
Publication:Ceramics Technical
Date:Jul 1, 2007
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