Influenced by the writings and work of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada, Estelle Martin started potting in the late 1950s, with a book propped at the potters wheel. Estelle and husband Bruce built their first kiln in the backyard of their house in Pakowhai Road, Hastings, NZ, using recycled bricks and an old vacuum cleaner to blow air through homemade burners. Early glazes were concocted from fruit-wood ash collected from local orchards and papa rock dug from the river bank on family outings.
Estelle and Bruce established an outlet for their pots in a shop in Hastings in 1964 and sent pots to galleries around New Zealand. Bruce gave up work as a radiographer and the family lived on the proceeds of their potting, among the first potters in New Zealand to do so. They made honest domestic ware: jugs and teapots, mugs and casseroles, and vases for ikebana.
In 1968 Estelle and Bruce purchased a ten acre block of bare land adjacent to the Hastings Aerodrome and they set about planting trees and shrubs, mainly New Zealand natives. They commissioned Haumoana architect John Scott, to design a house and workshop for the property, the result being one of Scotts most notable houses from this period. Some years later they built, by hand, a small holiday home in the bush near Hokitika, also designed by John Scott.
In 1978 Estelle and Bruce travelled to Japan to pursue their interest in ancient Japanese pottery. For three months they travelled through Japan, staying in ryokans, visiting potteries and museums, and meeting Japanese potters and collectors.
On their return they built a large Japanese style anagama kiln on their property at Bridge Pa. Later, Japanese potter Sanyo Fujii stayed with them for seven months to make pots and help fire their anagama. Estelle, Bruce and Fujii exhibited work from this time at the renowned Mitsukoshi Gallery of Fine Art in Osaka, in 1984.
The firing chamber of the Kamaka anagama held about 1000 pots, and was fired for eight to ten days, using over 25 tonnes of split pine wood. This firing process is arduous and has only been undertaken outside Japan in smaller kilns for shorter two or three day firings.
Estelle enjoyed the magic of firing with wood in the large anagama kiln. She loved the way the intense heat and flame gave life to the surfaces of her work. In the anagama no glazes were used; all the surface effects were a result of the firing, of the smoke and ash and flame in the kiln. In all, the large Kamaka anagama was fired ten times over a decade.
While Estelles work won awards and is represented in public and private collections, she really wanted her pots to be used and enjoyed as part of peoples daily lives. Her pots are at their best when used: a platter with food, a vase with flowers. Her lifes work will give pleasure to many for years to come.
Estelle Martin died on 10 July 2001 at Cranford Hospice, Hastings, after a short illness. She is survived by her husband Bruce, her three sons, Brett, Dean, and Craig, and her seven grandchildren.