ONE OF NEW ZEALAND'S MOST RENOWNED POTTERS, BARRY BRICKELL PASSED AWAY EARLY THIS YEAR. THIS IS MY TRIBUTE TO HIM, ALONG WITH MY STORY OF HOW I CAME TO FIND HIM AND LIVE AS A RESIDENT ARTIST AT HIS PLACE IN COROMANDEL, NEW ZEALAND.
MY TRIBUTE TO BARRY BRICKELL 26 OCTOBER 1935 - 23 JANUARY 2016. Today a hole appeared in the Art World, New Zealand, Coromandel and my world that can never be filled. Barry Brickell, creator of Driving Creek Railway and Potteries, passed away after cancer. He was 80 years old. I chanced upon DCR in 2001 when I set out from Auckland to cycle around NZ. A cycle courier saw me looking at a map and offered directions. When I told him I was going to Coromandel, he said I should go to Driving Creek Railway, where Barry Brickell had built a railway to bring clay down for his pottery and where today potters come from around the world to stay and work. He had no idea I was a potter, so I took this message as serendipity. When I arrived at DCR and rode the train, I fell in love with the place. I immediately sought Barry out and asked if I could stay, and he had a room – The Mouse House - and a studio in a car crate for me! Mary who worked in the ticket office and the local pub recommended me for a job in the bar and I was set. I later built my own studio under Barry's house on the train platform opposite the shop with the help of his fabulous staff. With up to 600 passengers travelling a day, this started my first time supporting myself with my art and I gave up the pub job. At one stage Neville and Ron taught me how to drive the trains to become a backup driver, but some (not Barry) objected to a woman driving the trains!
I lived at DCR for 2 years with artists from all around the world. Barry had his staff build me a new cabin to my design, which to this day is known as Jo's Hut (although I called it Kereru Hut) After I moved out with fellow potter Monira Killian I continued to work at DCR for a further 2 years. After that I moved in with Shep and had my studio at home, but continued to sell my work in the DCR shop for another couple of years before moving back to Australia.
During my time at DCR Barry was nothing but supportive and encouraging. He claimed not to teach, and certainly he kept to himself in his studio, but was always available to talk and give advice. I learned how to dig and process my own clay, how to fire a woodfire kiln, a salt kiln and a reclaimed oil kiln.
Barry loved wine and from the afternoon on, talking with Barry was a bit of an eye-opener as he had strong opinions on everything. He could be found in his kitchen eating his week old stew, which is really all I ever saw him eat! Many an enjoyable, enlightening and sometimes shocking evening was shared around his large dining table with the ever changing population of 'Inmates', staff and friends. Barry had many quirks and was the archetypal eccentric. I won't go into his many sayings and favourite stories, once I start I wouldn't know where to stop. He only wore one type of shirt, a green polo with the sleeves cut out and re-hemmed, short shorts and 'Chinese Safety Sandals.' In Winter he would wear baggy trousers, a woolen vest or jumper and still his sandals! He walked daily up the hundreds of steps he'd carved out of the mountainside to the Eye-full Tower, which was built during my time there as the ultimate terminus. Barry lay or oversaw every inch of the track himself and checked it all daily. He hired many staff to maintain and drive the trains and plant his native Kauri forest plantation, and later the bird sanctuary, which he gifted to the National Trust. Many, many volunteer hours also went into the building of DCR over many years, including his skilled friends and WWOOFERS. I had the option to work for my keep but preferred to pay cash and have all my time to work on my art.
Barry had no patience for time-wasters. Anyone who came to stay and failed to be productive, was sent packing. Hence the quality of fellow artists was high. Only serious artists stayed on. I was lucky to share my time there with quite a number of artists – Barry, Tom and Wailin of course(NZ), Monira Killian(Germany), Mary Lee(NZ), George Sempagala (Uganda), Peter Brickell(Canada), Rollo Dunford(UK), Justin Dutelle(France), Phil Wolf(USA), Tim Holman(UK), Alaskan Tim, Rebecca (Becs) South(NZ), Linda McGill(Scotland), Caitlin (Australia), Helka Karjalainen(Finland) and Ted Upton the poet(UK). That list doesn't even include the many many talented and creative artists I came to know in Coromandel, in particular Mary Foreman, a good friend of Barry's who became a mentor and fast friend in art and music. I was there for the building of the Eyeful tower and helped Henery and Rachel Mackeson build the bottle wall in the toilets up there. My face is immortalised in the trackside wall of fame, plaster casts I helped make of all the artists and staff at the time. Barry refused to be caste, but he is immortalised in every inch of the place, with his art, his trees, his garden, his gallery, studio and all the visiting artist studios, the workshop, the many kilns, the tram carriages and gorgeous cabins all built for people to stay in.
I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that Coromandel would not be the tourist mecca it is today without Barry's vision, creation and generosity. Many people are able to live there through his employment, and many tourist related businesses such as cafes and gift shops, would not be sustainable without the numbers of people his railway and potteries bring to the town. Barry has put measures in place to ensure DCR will continue to operate, his forest will continue to grow, birds and artists alike will continue to find sanctuary in the unique and magical environment he created. I was lucky to see Barry again a few times since I left NZ, including in June when I went over for Shep's Tangi.
This is my very abbreviated tribute to the single most influential person of my art career. And one of the most inspiring people I am ever likely to meet. It will never be even a fraction as interesting at DCR without you Barry Brickell. Haere Ra.