Crown Lynn, for those that don’t know, is a 20th century New Zealand institution. A ceramics manufacturer that achieved widespread recognition and a place on many a household table in the form of vases, figurines and, most popularly, crockery.
The exhibition is split across two galleries. The East Gallery focusses on the early days of Crown Lynn through to the 1950s. The West Gallery, where I spent most of my time, covers Crown Lynn’s highly productive period through the 1960s until the closure of the factory in 1989, according to the helpful exhibition notes.
As I walked around the West Gallery, a big stupid smile gradually broke out across my big stupid face. I was experiencing what I can only imagine people experience when they’re about to die. My life ‘flashed before my eyes’ as little pieces of pottery evoked vivid recollections of the past twenty-eight and a half years of my life…
This mug is the solace in every staff kitchen of every job I’ve ever worked. The desperate instant coffee between providing ‘diversion’ to dementia patients.
The more-heaped-spoonfuls-than-strictly-necessary-milo at the start of my Friday night shift in the Christchurch public library, four hours of microfiche and genealogy ahead of me.
The earl grey tea that grows cold beside my computer as I rewrite yet another budget briefing paper as the light gets dimmer outside.
The sturdy mug, the origin of which nobody knows. The mug that is mine, solid and true amongst those emblazoned with cats, poodles with hats, and the pyrex flotsam and jetsam of my adventures in the labour market.
This plate is the warmth and happiness at the Tully’s, my ‘second family’ as I am growing up in Christchurch. Jim’s lasagne and rissoles. Liz’s cucumber and tomato salad with heaps of vinegar, salt, pepper, and maybe a little bit of sugar?
It is conversation and debate about whatever is happening in the news. It makes me feel special, like I belong. It is gentle teasing and laughter around a table.
This dinner set is meals at my Grandma and Grandad’s house in Clyde Road when I am three and a half years old. It is the days and weeks after arriving in our new city when we live with them, before Mum and Dad find us a place of our own.
It is dinner times spent silently trying to work out the seemingly random pattern inherent in the inexplicable juxtaposition of colourful dots and grey cross-hatched background*.
Years later in my teenage years, it is the weekly trips with Mum and some permutation of my brothers and sister to (by now only) Grandma’s little house in Ilam Road. Served with a cup of milky tea and a chat, it is raisin scones that Grandma likes and Mum specially buys or makes her. It is talk of the garden and the ever advancing bamboo. It is duty and it is love.
This dinner plate is me as a student, casting about opportunity shops (with my partner in crime, Crockery Fife) instead of writing essays. It is coming home with a rag tag collection of mismatched plates and mugs, treasures to adorn whichever student flat has the pleasure of my residence at the time.
A few years later, it is those same plates wrapped carefully in newspaper, splashed with tears and placed in banana boxes, as the debris of another failed relationship gets packed up.
And it is the unwrapping. It is the reordering of plates and mugs in a new home with new possibilities.
The Crown Lynn collection is my clink and clatter soundtrack. It plays softly in the background as I live my life.
Does Crown Lynn (or any other crockery) evoke memories for you? Please share!
*Notes on the Fiesta pattern, from the useful exhibition brochure, provide insight into the plate decorating process and enormous comfort to me and my pattern recognition capabilities:
Fiesta was hand painted, and surviving photographs of the factory suggest that the plates would have been painted by the predominately female staff of the decoration department who in the mid-1960s were responsible for producing 70,000 items a week. Morrison’s collection provides some insight into this process, and she gleefully points out how the decorative patterns on very few of the plates actually match the template. There is something reassuring in these digressions and in the rogue drips of paint remaining on the plates, indicating that despite mass production the hand of the maker still prevailed.