A Professor's Clay Fired Passion

By James Cockington | The Sydney Morning Herald | Money | Wednesday 26 March 2014


Tea time: the late Professor Alan Walker having tea with Dame Lucie Rie.

''A lot of his friends didn't get it,'' admits Mandy Walker of her father's collection of contemporary ceramics. Her father was Professor Alan Walker, the celebrated biophysicist from the University of Sydney whose special interest was plant membrane transport.

He died in October 2013. Walker was a man of many passions, including art (especially Monet and Cezanne), music (Haydn), sailing and photography, although his love of ceramics may have been lost on some.

kwi rak

A woodfired terracotta platter by Kwi Rak Choung.

His preference was for the most modern work, some challenging the conventional concept of pottery. Next Wednesday his daughters, Mandy and Jude, will be selling 67 pieces from his extensive collection through Shapiro Auctioneers in Sydney. They are keeping a few pieces that have emotional significance.

Mandy Walker, a molecular biologist, says her father started collecting seriously in the late 1970s, although most items were bought in the past 15 years.


A red stoneware vase by Yasuhisa Kohyama.

He travelled widely to meet the artists whose work he admired, even doing a pottery course to understand more about the techniques involved. This is one of the few sales of contemporary ceramics to be held here in recent times, including some radical work by Japanese artists like Yasuhisa Kohyama and Murakoshi Takuma.

In Australia, pottery is usually dismissed as a craft, although the later work by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott is now included among paintings and sculpture in the secondary market. Walker was a buyer of her work at a time when it was more utilitarian. He bought several Hanssen Pigott dinner sets, which were used regularly, although reserved for special guests with good table manners. Miraculously, only one cup has a slight chip. Walker also collected the work of other modern Australian potters like Milton Moon, Peter Rushforth and Kwi Rak Choung (born in Korea but now based in Melbourne).

These are now rising in value although they still lag behind the earlier generation of potters like Grace Seccombe, Marguerite Mahood and Philippa James.

Mandy Walker says her father was predominantly interested in their artistic value but also had an eye on investment potential. ''That was part of the reason he bought antique furniture,'' she says, ''so these were probably also bought with a view to their value.''

Trumpet Vase

Dame Lucie Rie's white glazed Trumpet Vase.

Prices for antique furniture may have collapsed but it appears he was more clairvoyant with his ceramic collection. Walker bought some early pieces by English artist Dame Lucie Rie, including the most expensive piece in the sale, a white trumpet vase dated 1975. Estimates are $8,000 to $12,000. Prices for her work have spiked over the past decade in Europe and America. The white vase has been exhibited in the US, so Andrew Shapiro expects it will go to an overseas bidder, possibly a museum. While her modern work sells for much more, early pieces by Gwyn Hanssen Pigott are estimated at $4000 to $6000 per lot. This includes a 36-piece dinner set.

These single-owner collections are a boom area for auction houses as their owners either die or decide to downsize. As Shapiro says, any collection which reflects a single vision is likely to sell well at the moment, especially if it dates from the '60s and '70s, the period of most interest to the new generation of buyers.

On the same night Shapiro will sell two more collections: a corporate collection of 37 international travel posters and an institutional collection of contemporary Australian glass and ceramics. There appears to be no shortage of source material.


A stoneware sake bottle by Yasuhisa Kohyama.

The Professor Alan Walker sale is at Shapiro Auctioneers, 162 Queen Street, Woollahra on Wednesday, April 2 from 6pm. Catalogue online.

Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/money/investing/a-professors-clay-fired-passion-20140325-35eqv.html#ixzz2x8ufIsBX