Saturday, April 21

The Fortune Teller by Sherwood

Perhaps the single most iconic piece produced in those early years at Waitakere - the experimental Sherwood years - was a large figurine called the Fortune Teller.

As with many things, there is more of a story here than initially meets the eye. The Fortune Teller was made in 1953, the year New Zealand became enthralled with everything royal. Cameron Brown modelled her on Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth II's grandmother. Elizabeth II's coronation was the happening thing at the time, and a Royal Tour of New Zealand was in the offing and much anticipated by the general public.

In New Zealand ceramic history, 1953 also saw the production of one of the most iconic (some say infamous)  pieces of Crown Lynn, also with a royal theme. At the time, the great Dutch designer Frank Carpay was employed by Crown Lynn, producing the now much sought-after Handwerk line of decorated art-house pottery. The design he came up with was a clean modernist line drawing on square plaque, of the young Queen wearing a shear silk gown through which one could distinctly make out a carefully rendered bosom replete with nipple. There is one in the Auckland War Memorial Museum's collection:

By the standards of the day, Cameron Brown's royal gambit was only a touch more respectful, given that he was representing a dowager British Empress as an itinerant circus medium. Crucially, the style remains faithful to the potter's folk art style, eschewing the modernist take on the 1953 royal phenomenon executed by Carpay.

The colours of this object are among the best I've seen and the decoration among the most careful. It is said that Cameron Brown's wife, Dorothy sat for hours as he modelled the body, so he could get the posture and fall of the clothing just right (thanks newzealandpottery). This particular Fortune Teller can be identified as one of the first two or three produced because of the dainty ceramic earrings which were very fiddly to apply and apparently replaced on later models.

You can find images of a couple of later models from the collection of Manos at the website run by Ev and Heather,

Sadly only about 20 Fortune Tellers were produced, making it one of the most desirable and collectable pieces of early Titian. The marks are shown below. The first is on the bottom and the second on the base around the back.

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