Milton Moon is one of Australia’s most celebrated potters. Born in Melbourne in 1926 and educated at the Central Technical College in Brisbane in the late 1940s, his career has been noted for its amazing productivity with more than 100 solo and group exhibitions, but also because Moon was among the first white ceramicists to incorporate Indigenous motifs into his work.
As a well-travelled enthusiast Moon saw first-hand the latest developments in ceramics in the United Sates in the 50s, and his journeys to Japan and Europe gave him an insight and authority on the historical significance of his craft that very few Australian artists of any kind could reasonably claim. His visits to the studios of artists Miro, Hamada Shoji, Peter Leach and Rover Thomas, gave Moon’s work the subtle inflection of a truly multicultural and multinational outlook.
Now at the age of 84 Moon has written a memoir. With such a rich career, and with so many highlights and triumphs, with so many travel stories and well polished anecdotes to tell, it must have been something of a challenge to decide what to put in and what to leave out. As a bare-bones story there’s a lot to recommend A Potters Pilgrimage. Just as artists working today in new media like video art will recognise, and perhaps too those potters still toiling away in back yard studios powered by home-made jerry-rigged kilns, artists working in marginal forms have always had it tough.
The story of Moon’s early years, picking up techniques and tips from any source he could find, perfecting his craft in his studio, while working jobs to pay the rent, is an important story for younger artists who might expect the path to recognition to be quick and easy. Moon comes across as someone with a tireless enthusiasm and a quiet dedication that got him through the tough years.
As a book A Potters Pilgrimage is very much like a tour through the memory of someone who has very detailed recall of past events. Along with tales of his overseas journeys, Moon takes time to discuss colleague and friend Hatton Beck – who he compares in character to a koala. Beck was a gentle soul who was done out his holiday pay when he resigned from Central Tech because he made his resignation effective from the last day of term, rather than the last day of the year, a salutary life lesson to the younger Moon. There is the story about a neighbour who left poetry on Moon’s front door when the neighbour found the author’s dog, and Moon recounts the painful memory of this close friend dying in her 40s. For potters, or for those with an avid interest in the how-to of ceramics, there are detailed accounts of the various kilns Moon built, ancient and modern glazing techniques, and the always pressing concern of the proper recognition of ceramics within Australia’s creative arts community.
It would be mean to suggest that a book with a foreword by no less an authority than Betty Churcher, and a glowing testimonial by celebrated log-roller Philip Adams, and which covers such a rich career, was in bad need of an editor. Moon’s fulsome recollections are charming but also very… long. The sense of honesty and humble self-deprecation of A Potters Pilgrimage is testimony to the fact that Moon is one of life’s good blokes, but a few judicious cuts, a slightly less formal tone, and it would appeal to a much wider audience.
A Potter’s Pilgrimage
Wakefield Press, $39.95.