Driving Creek founder, Barry Brickell born in New Plymouth in 1935, was the first born of four siblings. At an early age Barry and his family moved to Auckland, settling in Devonport.
Early in life Barry had a keen interest in coal-fired gasworks, brickworks, foundries and railways, particularly steam locomotives. At High School he had a fascination for Chemistry and Physics that later led him to completing a science degree in 1960 from Auckland University.
At age 13 years whilst at High School he was introduced to potter Len Castle sparking a lifetime interest in pottery.
Following university Barry moved to Coromandel town to take up a school teaching position, a short-lived pursuit lasting only a few months. So in 1961 Barry reverted to his old hobby of making pottery and quickly became a successful fulltime potter purchasing his first property, 90 Driving Creek Road, in Coromandel.
In 1974 he purchased the adjacent 24-hectare property, 380 Driving Creek Road, the present location of the Driving Creek Railway and Pottery.
Ironically it was initially Barry’s art that was responsible for funding the early part of the railway construction and conservation works, then as the tourist railway grew in popularity it was the railway funding Barry’s interests in art and conservation.
Barry was one of the first two people in New Zealand to make a Iiving out of pottery, hand-made pottery from his own wheel. It started as a hobby right through secondary school when he first had kilns and learned to throw pots. He had a reputation as a potter during varsity and training college days, so it wasn’t hard for him to make a living from it.
Courtney Johnston, Director of the Dowse Art Museum, when writing about Barry’s artwork states, “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 Spiro morphs 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 Barry would say”
Over his lifetime Barry sold thousands of pottery and ceramic objects, including many sculptures and murals, wrote several books, and painted numerous works of art.
Barry was well versed in New Zealand history, with a special interest in Maori culture and native flora and fauna.
In 1994 Barry registered a covenant with QEII Trust over the Driving Creek Railway property and added a second covenant over the 1.6-hectare predator-proof fenced wildlife sanctuary area in 2005.
Barry Brickell died on 23rd January 2016 at Driving Creek aged 80 years.
Barry is buried at Driving Creek at a site he had selected surrounded by his native trees overlooking the railway.
During his life Barry wrote several books and small publications, including ‘A New Zealand Potters’ Dictionary’ (1985) and ‘Rails toward the Sky’ (2011). In 1996 Christine Leov-Lealand published the biography ‘Barry Brickell: A Head of Steam’. In 2013 Auckland University Press published the book ‘His Own Steam: The Work of Barry Brickell’.
In the 1988 New Year Honours list Barry was appointed an Officer of the British Empire for his services to pottery and ceramics.