Pots and plates
From late in the war onwards, “hundreds of coffee sets, ramekins, ashtrays and decorative ware being turned, finished, decorated and glazed” in the Duldigs’ kitchenette. Every spare minute went into filling orders. Karl had a kick-wheel built to his own design. They bought an electric kiln on time payment, setting it up in the garage of the flat. They sold their first stock through a local florist and later at specialist outlets, the most significant being the Primrose Pottery Shop in the heart of the city. The demand for anything and everything was strong because of wartime shortages and later because imports of crockery and china were limited by the need to reduce the trade deficit. The pent-up demand for tableware was so great that shoppers smashed windows in January 1947 when a Sydney store advertised a shipment of plain utility services.[1] The domestic pottery trade earned the Duldigs sufficient income to buy a two-door Morris 8 in 1948.

The suburban sprawl that stimulated the demand for bricks and tiles as well as table-ware also locked up the land from which clay could be extracted. Duldig’s search for materials was wide-ranging. Helen Bond reports that he dug his own clay at Wye River, to the west of Port Phillip Bay, where his family holidayed from 1945 to 1952. This source “produced dark brown earthenware, ideal for contrasting with light and dark blue glazes or under-glaze colours, and suitable for hand built vessels such as vases, or an unusual coffee set”. To keep up with demand, the Duldigs also bought prepared clays. A white variety went into their “Rose Ware” line. The bulk of their supplies came from Camperfield Quarry, which was “distinguished by its plasticity, and was invaluable for producing finely turned dishes and generally suitable for all types of functional ware”. In the 1960s, for his terracotta sculptures, he turned to a pinker clay, dug from local drainage works.[2] This search for suitable clays brought him closer to his new land, as he dug beneath its surface. Karl and Slawa also experimented with colours and glazes, all in short supply until the 1950s.

Four patterns predominated on their ceramics. Slawa developed the rose decoration which, like the flower itself, owed debts to China and England. Attached to Britain as their “Mother Country”, Australians looked on the rose as their own emblem, whether in their gardens or on their crockery. After the shops rejected Duldig plates with crazing in their glaze, Swala sponged colour onto those surfaces, replicating a Chinese technique they had seen in Singapore. Her adaptations of middle-European folk patterns offered the brightness for which buyers craved after years of military drab, yet she avoided the rawness of the Mexicana resorted to even by art potters.[3] Karl’s employment of native flora was less innovative since the great potteries – Doulton and Rosenthal – had long known that local wildflowers sold well here.[4] His treatment of Aboriginal designs was distinguished by his pursuit of originals in the Melbourne Museum, and his sgraffito retained their detailing within an eccentric symmetry which recalled classical Greek pots. In lesser hands, abstracted Aboriginal motifs were appearing as the crudest simplifications on every commodity, from tea towels to Venetian blinds, and never more so than for the tourist trade during the 1956 Melbourne Olympics.[5]

[1] Commonwealth Jeweller & Watchmaker (CJW), February 1947, p. 100.
[2] Helen Bond, “The Duldig Ceramics”, The Duldig Ceramics, A Retrospective, Caulfield Arts Complex, Caulfield, p. 9.
[3] CJW, September 1949, p. 121.
[4] CJW, February 1954, p. 158.
[5] CJW, June 1956, p. 153; Victoria Haskins, “Turning Magpies into Canaries, the stories behind the Jedda Portraits”, The World of Antiques and Art, December 2001-June 2002, 62, pp. 98-101.