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image icon 'Koala bowl', 1932

'Koala bowl', 1932
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This is a ceramic bowl made in 1932 by Merric Boyd (1888-1959) and decorated by his wife Doris Boyd (c1885-1960). It is a round, reasonably deep container, measuring 15.0 cm (height) x 32.0 (diameter) cm x 30.0 cm (depth), that is quite uneven in shape. The bowl swells at the base and then pinches in below the lip, or upper edge, which has the same flowing, organic qualities of the base. On the facing section, there is a bold sculptural feature that consists of two small koalas perched on a light-coloured tree branch. The inner surface of the bowl is glazed in a soft-green colour. The outer surface is covered in a dark-blue glaze that has been applied and then deliberately wiped away from the lower part of the bowl to reveal and emphasise the form of the branch.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • is a ceramic work by Merric Boyd (1888-1959), who is considered to be Australia’s first studio potter - Boyd was the eldest surviving son of Emma Minnie and Arthur Merric Boyd; in 1913 he settled on a property at Murrumbeena, then on the outskirts of Melbourne, which he named ‘Open Country’; here, he established a studio where he lived and worked for the rest of his life, refining his technical skills at the Australian Porcelain Insulator Works at Yarraville, Victoria; he enlisted in the Australian Flying Corps in 1917, returning to ‘Open Country’ in 1919; within a few years he was established as the most prominent potter in Melbourne
  • conveys a strong sense of dynamic movement - the artist has given the edge, or lip, of the bowl a curving quality that is characteristic of thick wet clay being squeezed by hand on a pottery wheel at speed; the glazing on the outer surface adds to the sense of movement by emphasising the streamlined forms of the tree branch; this sense of motion (which can be found in many of Boyd's ceramic works) creates an impression of living organic forms
  • demonstrates Boyd’s pottery-making technique - the basic form of ‘Koala bowl’ was shaped on a pottery wheel (the ridge marks made by the potter’s fingers remain visible on the inner face of the bowl); the high-relief sculptural areas, which include the gum tree branch and koalas, were hand-built and added to the bowl form while the clay was still wet
  • conveys the artist’s fundamental belief that everyday household items should function as works of art, as well as being daily reminders of the creative potential of human life - it was Boyd’s essential belief that everyone was given the ‘divine right’ to be as creative as possible
  • expresses an emerging sense of 20th-century Australian design style - this is demonstrated through Boyd’s use of Indigenous motifs (identifiably Australian subjects such as koalas, gum trees and emus) blended with an individual, expressive approach to sculptural form
  • reflects the lingering influence of Art Nouveau on Australian design in the earlier part of the 20th century - Art Nouveau (French for ‘new art’) is an international art and design style that peaked in popularity at the beginning of the 20th century; characteristic of this style is its emphasis on organic forms and asymmetrical lines (often waving or curved whiplash-like), which create a strong sense of rhythm; the Art Nouveau elements in ‘Koala bowl’ can be seen in the curving and swelling of the forms and the strong suggestion of the tree limbs ‘coming to life’
  • references the contribution made to Australian art, and ceramic-based art practice in particular, by the generations of the Boyd family - Doris Boyd often worked as a decorator on her husband’s pots; inscribed on the base of ‘Koala bowl’ are the words ‘Merric Boyd 1932 Colour Decoration by Doris Boyd’; in 1944 one of Merric Boyd’s sons, Arthur Boyd (1920-99), along with two other artists, John Perceval (1923-2000) and Peter Herbst (1919- ), founded the Arthur Merric Boyd Pottery Workshop at Murrumbeena, where they produced lines of functional ware and a wide range of decorative items, such as elaborately painted plates; Boyd and Perceval also produced sculptural ceramics, of which Perceval’s series of angels is a well-known example.