Driving Creek
Driving Creek

About The Pottery

Pottery has played an important role in creating Driving Creek. Barry's passion for pottery is what the incredible and somewhat surreal world of Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway and Pottery was built around.

Driving Creek’s founder Barry Brickell was New Zealand’s first kiwi born full-time handcraft-potter and he purchased the present-day Driving Creek property upon which the railway and pottery sit in 1973. 

The pottery was set up as a communal studio, where people could come and learn the craft. Large number of volunteers, students and friends were drawn to Driving Creek by the creative environment. Barry Brickell accommodated numerous young trainee potters and apprentices, who were seeking an alternative lifestyle. Many students worked beside Barry, observing and learning.

In 1974, Barry built New Zealand’s first wood-fired stoneware kiln on the property with help from students. The bricks used for the kiln were from the chimney of the demolished Star and Garter Hotel in Coromandel Town. The kiln could reach 1300°C, using waste slabs of dry pine wood from the local sawmill as fuel. Potters from around the country who were then using oil, electricity or gas to fuel their kilns, came to the pottery to learn the gentle art of wood firing.  Today Driving Creek has one of the largest collection of kilns in New Zealand. There are 14 kilns on the property, 4 wood kilns, three electric and two gas kilns.

This first historic kiln is preserved as a monument to this period and is located close to the train track beside the train departure point.

From early on, Barry started processing the local clays using restored machinery acquired from abandoned brick and tile works. Most of the raw materials for the making of terracotta pottery, tiles and sculpture came from the upper slopes of the property. Coro Gold clay is still made and sold at Driving Creek Pottery.

A rail enthusiast, Barry started building the narrow-gauge railway in the 70’s. The railway provided a practical and environmentally advantageous way to provide all weather access to clay and pine wood kiln fuel for the pottery. This motivation also allowed him to explore his love of engineering and trains.

While many artists and potters arrived expecting to find a retreat, they were put to work building a railway to bring clay down from the higher reaches of his property to his studio. 

There were hippies and hangers on who came to the rustic pottery expecting some counter-cultural Jerusalem-style community, but who found something closer to a bush workcamp. There were young potters who turned up thinking that they were going ‘to a kind of pottery commune’ where they would find ‘a teacher (or perhaps a guru)’  to take ‘a close interest in their work’, but who left shaking their heads at how much time and sweat they had spent on the railway or getting clay from creek banks, as Barry drove himself and them into building his universe.

Close and formative links were made among several generations of writers, sculptors, curators and especially painters, including A.R.D. (Rex) Fairburn (1904-57), Anthony Alpers (1919-96), Theo Schoon (1915-85), Peter Tomory, Hamish Keith, Jim Allen, Colin McCahon (1919-87) and Toss Woollaston (1910-98). Later Brickell also made significant friendships with artists Ralph Hotare and Tony Fomison (1939-90).

(David Craig, His Own Steam – The work of Barry Brickell)

 Becoming a tourist attraction might not have been part of the original plan but as the railway and the pottery studio grew, so did Barry’s vision.

Today the pottery offers studio space for experienced potters and artists of various fields, who can come and do an artist residency there. The pottery has hosted artists from all over Aotearoa New Zealand and also international artists from Australia, Fiji, France, Iran, Scandinavia, Uganda, the United Kingdom, The USA and Vanuatu.

‘Each individual has a how: it’s a way of doing, completely unique to that individual. It’s in plants and trees too. In us it’s a deep, nuanced sensitivity, in the individual, unique. And it can be applied to everything. And then that thing isn’t a thing at all anymore, it’s a how. We all do things in a different way, whether we like it or not.’

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