Updated: Sep 30, 2020
Based on 'Rock glazes of NZ'
Sample 54. Basalt
A hard dark fine-grained rock consisting essentially of lime-soda feldspar, augite and common olivine. Localities Auckland and Dunedin and various parts of North Auckland
I was familiar with Blackhead Quarry in Dunedin as it was also on my cycle ride in 2019. It's a pretty horrific blight on a magnificent landscape. It does, however, provide a visual for a conversation that so often runs through my head. To open a bag of white powder, make a recipe and then days later remove a beautifully coloured piece from the kiln, I constantly questioned 'What is this powder and where did it come from?'
Living in Taranaki in the early 2000's I was part of a community focused on food resilience, peak oil and peak everything. I couldn't make work without considering my materials, their origin, impact and question whether the landscape or the people were being exploited. My conscience was never satisfied as the answers weren't there. Indian feldspars, Australian feldspars, who digs it out of the ground? and in what conditions are they working? What impact is it having on communities and culture? Sourcing local ingredients closed this gap and provided answers, however, some ingredients are no longer mined in New Zealand, not specifically because they were exhausted, just simply no longer profitable to get out of the ground.
This was the beginning of my journey with rock glazes and Blackhead is a prime example of why we want to look at these materials and question the scale of consumption on the landscape. It's a pretty obvious image of what industrial quarrying looks like.
The quarry started in the 1950s when cutting chunks out of the coastline was still cool. In the 1980s local iwi, community and conservationist formed the group 'Friends of Blackhead' and managed to save the seaward facade and preserve the basalt columns 'Roman baths' and volcanic remnants.
There is a lot of Basalt in New Zealand and several potters using basalt in glazes. I choose Blackhead to tell this story as I feel as studio potters we aren't the ones using the industrial quantities of these ingredients but we can be the gleaners of past and present sites.
P.S. This research is about collating information on potters ingredients in New Zealand, mapping sites along with contacts for local iwi, councils etc where permissions can be obtained. It is not my intention to encourage digging up the landscape but to experiment respectfully without exploiting anyone in the process. The map is a work in progress but when completed will be available for those interested.