Glazed investments

Potty: Some ceramic pieces in Mitta Mirsha’s collection date back to the 1950s. Photo: Ken IrwinSome people have a knack for collecting things before they become popular. This vision is evident in Mitta Hirsh’s home, in Studley Park.
Nanjing Night Net

In her architect-designed home, circa 1973, are Australian and European ceramics from the 1960s and ’70s.

”Many of these pieces were collected by my parents, some as early as 1956,” says Hirsh, a design consultant, who specialises in 20th century lighting.

The collection of Hirsh’s parents, Etta and Manny Hirsh, was exhibited in 2010 at the Boroondara Homestead Art Centre. Key pieces included ceramics by Col Levy, one of Australia’s leading potters, as well as a lichen-green glazed container by David and Hermia Boyd and works by master Japanese ceramist Shigeo Shiga.

As well as part of her parents’ ceramic collection, which includes four tall vases by Levy from the late ’60s, Hirsh’s home hosts two ceramic birds designed by Aldo Londi and manufactured by Bitossi from the same period. Perched on fine brass legs, which double as the stand, the taupe and pale grey ceramic birds are a more recent addition to Hirsh’s collection.

”I love the simplicity of these birds. They’re timeless. They have such a modernist aesthetic,” says Hirsh, who has them displayed on her late 1960s sideboard in the dining area.

As well as Levy’s ceramics, which sell for thousands of dollars, Hirsh has a number of small vases, circa 1971, by Victor Greenaway. Featuring narrow tapered necks, these smooth elegant vases juxtapose their rustic earthy glazes with futuristic forms. ”These ceramics have a contemporary feel. They could easily have been produced today,” says Hirsh, who estimates some pieces to be worth upwards of $5000.

While many of Hirsh’s ceramics have sentimental, as well as monetary value, others found in her kitchen have simply given her delight. For example, there’s the mustard and yellow-banded earthenware cup and saucer produced by British company Stonehenge. ”I found this set at a local market, but you occasionally find them turning up in second-hand stores,” says Hirsh.

Hirsh’s parents were both attuned to collecting ceramics that others dismissed as simply a glazed pot. ”It’s thanks to my parents that I’m still keenly interested in ceramics,” says Hirsh. ”It’s a specialist area, not dissimilar to collecting antiques,” she adds.

Phillip Cannizzo, co-owner of Designage, in High Street, Windsor, started collecting ceramics from the post-war period in the 1980s.

”Very few people were seeing what I saw in these ceramics. Some found them quirky, rather than serious collectables,” says Cannizzo, who has ceramics by Marcello Fantoni and by Guido Gambone.

As each country had their own potters, there are distinct hallmarks in each design. Some designs were made by hand, while other pieces were produced in larger volume, in factories rather than workshops.

”You can easily see the difference between the two,” says Cannizzo, who estimates the prices fetched for Gambone and by Fantoni range between $500 and $15,000.

Artist Pablo Picasso was also influenced by ceramics produced at this time. As well as incorporating them into his paintings, he also created a number of limited-edition pieces.

”Picasso appreciated the importance of these ceramics when he first saw them in the ’50s,” says Cannizzo. ”The American servicemen, returning after the war, also purchased Italian glassware, as well as ceramics,” he says.

Those hunting for ceramics by Guido Gambone will be assured it’s the real thing by searching for a drawing of a donkey located at the base. ”It’s his signature,” says Cannizzo, who has seen the value of his work increasing every year.

”The first Gambone ceramic I purchased, I wasn’t aware who it was. It was just something completely fresh. It had something completely new to say,” he says.

Jaci Foti-Lowe, owner of Hub Furniture in Melbourne and Sydney, has featured ceramics by Bitossi in her showrooms since establishing her business 10 years ago. Aldo Londi’s Rimini Blue series for Bitossi (named after the town in Italy) includes the distinctive saturated blue-glazed ceramics of vases, sculpture, objects, platters and even umbrella stands. Starting at $150, through to $500, limited-edition pieces are slowly released every year.

”There are 7000 in the archives, with 10 to 15 designs appearing with every new collection,” says Foti-Lowe. ”They’re still timeless designs, even though they first appeared 60 years ago,” she adds.

As well as adding colour to the Hub showrooms, Foti-Lowe has a couple of Bitossi ceramics in her garden at home. An ashtray (no longer appropriate to sell) sits outside with a larger platter.

”I love the hit of blue you see from our living area,” says Foti-Lowe, who sees these vibrant ceramics as ”jump starting” any interior or exterior.

While Foti-Lowe saw the immediate appeal of these ceramics 10 years ago, her mother was aghast when she saw them in the designer showroom.

”She had just cleared similar pieces out from her garage, thinking they had little or no value.”

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