Mabel used her bedroom at "Braemar" as a studio for her pottery, china painting, poker work ("pyrography") and other craft activities. Mabel's brother (Charles) Gordon brought his young daughter Helen back to live at Braemar for several years (1927-1930 approx) after the death of Helen's mother, Madge. Helen remembers Aunty Mabel asking road workers in Lindsay Street for clay from their excavations (RJL-3, brown vase made from Braemar clay). Mabel helped Helen make some small pots during her time at Braemar. Helen also recalls trips with Mabel to the city to drop off and collect pots from the Craft Society's rooms where some of Mabel's work was fired. Other work was fired by arrangement at the kilns of R. Fowler & Sons. On one occasion she had trouble with the blue glaze and the kiln results were not what she expected. On another occasion, a pair of "lotus" pots (RJL-6) "backfired". Mabel imported glazes from overseas.[Go to top]
Mabel attended Sydney Technical College from 1909 to 1911 where she studied flower painting with A.G.Reid, a former student of Lucien Henry, and china painting under J. Arthur Peach. Although her interest in ceramics soon shifted to pottery, she retained an interest in painting and many of her pots have painted decoration (eg HJL-5). In 1920 she returned to Sydney Technical College, studying design, pottery and pottery design between 1920 and 1923. In 1927 she enrolled in the Intermediate Art Course at East Sydney Technical College and she took a further course in pottery there in 1928.
Mabel's pots mostly took the form of vases, jugs and bowls. Some pots were angular in shape with underglaze decoration using Egyptian motifs, others feature Australian flora or fauna rendered in Art Nouveau style. Some vases are underglaze decorated with stylised forest friezes (eg. HJL-1) some have slip decoration under a clear glaze and one large vase has applied modelled decoration of gum leaves and gumnuts (HJL-2).
Mabel didn't use a wheel, but had plaster of Paris moulds, each in two halves and used these to shape her pots. The Kookaburra vase, 1917 (HJL-5) is identical in shape to a vase photographed in a 1925 article on the work of Mrs Vi Eyre, who prosed Mabel for membership of The Society of Arts and Crafts. It seems likely that potters in the society shared moulds on occasions. Mabel imported glazes from overseas and experimented with locally dug clay.[Go to top]
Art Gallery of New South Wales:
Lotus Vase c1929 186cm high (14.5 dia)
Earthenware with matt glaze, inscribed base J.M.L.
Purchased by the Gallery from The Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW annual exhibition in 1929 (cat. No.2). Displayed in the Australian Decorative Arts exhibition held at the Gallery 11 Nov 1991-16 Feb 1992. It is one of a pair of "backfired" vases with a lotus design (RJL-6 is the second of the pair).
National Gallery of Australia:
Parliament House Vase 1928 shown at the 1928 Society of Arts and Crafts Exhibition - see above (donated by Robert Lesslie);
Penguin Vase c. 1920 (donated by Russell Lesslie - see above)
Power House Museum:
The Trustees of the Technological Museum (now the Power House Museum) purchased a two handled vase at The Society of Arts and Crafts of NSW annual exhibition in 1927.[Go to top]
Mrs Vi Eyre
Vi Eyre won a scholarship to Julian Ashton’s art school and while studying there taught younger artists including Elioth Gruner. She was a prominent member of The Society of Arts and Crafts NSW and seconded Mabel’s nomination for membership. The following extract from an article about her work entitled “ The Potter’s Clay - Ancient Art in the Modern Way” gives an insight into the early nineteenth century potters workshop. The article was published in The Australian Women’s Mirror on September 1 1925.
“A potters studio is a most work-shop-looking place, with innumerable moulds and buckets filled with clays in various stages of preparation. The potter needs a fair amount of physical strength to juggle the heavy moulds, and Vi Eyre makes and designs all her own.
“At present, however, she is working on a method in which she models her articles into shape with tools and fingers. Much of the colour is put into the clay when it is being prepared, but the artist’s brush does a lot before the model goes to the kiln; and then, if a satisfactory result is not obtained the brush comes into play again, and the piece has to go through the china baking process.
“’The potter has a much more anxious time than the china painter,’ says Mrs Eyre, and she knows because she is as expert at china craft as at pottery. ‘One never knows what is going to happen in the kiln, particularly when a high glaze is desirable. It is not rare for a piece, on which a week of care and thought has been expended, to come out all lined and spluttered – absolutely spoiled.’
’“The most exquisite blues and the richest browns are notable in Vi Eyre’s pottery, and her wealth of decoration is unlimited…. Her inlaid clays mostly favour bush fauna…but she also shows fine examples of native flora…. Mrs Eyre’s admirers claim that she is the foremost of Australian potters, if only for the fact that she was the first to introduce inlaid designs into Australian pottery.”
Mabel used all the tequniques desribed by Mrs Eyre - moulding, hand modeling and inlaid designs. She would no doubt have aslo concered with Mrs Eyre's comments on china painting as she too was an exponent of both crafts. [Go to top]
Note: These catalogues include only the works retained by Mabel's neices and nephews and their descendants. We have no information on other works which Mabel may have sold at her many exhibitions.
Helen Leeder Collection
HJL-1 Blue and green forest vase, gloss glaze 22cm high
HJL-2 Gum leaf relief vase, matt glaze 27cm high
HJL-3 Stylized gum blossom vase, gloss glaze 30cm high
HJL-4 Aboriginal canoe vase, gloss glaze 33cm long
HJL-5 Kookaburra vase, matt glaze 27cm high 1917
HJL-6 Pansy bowl, semi gloss glaze 15.5cm dia
Nola Brice Collection
NB-1 Gumleaf dish, matt glaze
Russell Lesslie Collection
RJL-1 Brown & buff vase. 15cm dia
RJL-2 Teal jug with pink gum blossom.
RJL-3 Brown vase made from “Braemar” clay. 13cm
RJL-4 Small blue vase.Gloss glaze. 11cm high
RJL-5 Brown bowl with geometric pattern. 15cm dia
RJL-6 Lotus vase. Backfired Mabel instructed that it should be kept in the family.
Matching vase held by Art Gallery of New South Wales, 18cm high Circa 1929
RJL-7 Asparagus platter. 30cm x 14cm
RJL-8 Teal jug with gum leaf. 18cm high
RJL-9 Dark blue jug, geometric design. 18cm high
RJL-10 Blue vase, Christmas tree design. 13.5cm high
RJL-11 Pitcher, Egyptian design . 28cm high
RJL-12 Pitcher, iris design. 24cm high
RJL-13 Blue pansy bowl (ref HJL-6). 15cm dia
RJL-14 Frog book ends. 14cm high
RJL-15 Grey flannel flower bowl. Metallic glaze. 16cm dia
RJL-16 Large green bowl with gum leaves in relief. 32cm dia
Gloss glaze. Kept on the hall table, containing a pot of maidenhair fern.
RJL-17 Flannel flower bowl. Made with Russell’s help. 15cm dia