Obituary: Wilf Wright – potter, philosopher, show-off

Wilfred James Wright, potter: born May 4, 1931; d May 3, 2021.

About a year ago, Wilf Wright was thinking of finding a horse to take him to the water.

The potter’s favorite place was by the river that ran through his property; a place which, over the years, had become more difficult to access. Driving his electric wheelchair through the paddocks and past his beloved animals made a perilous journey – not that it had completely stopped him.

“You got stuck a few weeks ago, right?” Wife Janet smiled at her husband in April 2020.

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“I admit nothing,” he replied.

Potter, philosopher, show-off: Wilf Wright laughed a bit like Santa Claus, but louder.

Famous potter Wilf Wright died five days before his 90th birthday.

ROSA WOOD

Famous potter Wilf Wright died five days before his 90th birthday.

A month after her death, Jan says it’s one of the things she misses the most – how it would blow up on the couple’s rural property in Reikorangi Valley, in the hills behind Waikanae.

“You could hear his laughter everywhere. You can’t hear it now, but you can remember it.

Wilfred James Wright was born in Christchurch to parents Gordon and Myrtle. He was a sick child who didn’t expect to live after developing pneumonia twice as a baby, and suffered from asthma throughout his early years.

The family moved to Wellington after WWII and Wilf attended Scots College, eschewing any interest in the sport for a passion in entomology.

“He wasn’t very good for the school per se,” Jan says. “He made some good friends, and they kept in touch, but he was more interested in not making any money, and there was certainly a lot of success.

Wilf and Jan in 2004. It was a great life together, says Jan.

Kay Blundell / stuff

Wilf and Jan in 2004. It was a great life together, says Jan.

The couple met in 1961 when Wilf crashed through the door of the Wellington Café where Jan was working while attending teachers’ school. He was showing off, she said.

“This man came in and said, ‘I need a bent piece of wire and a screwdriver – do you have one?’ And I said, “Why would I have one?” and I looked at it and I thought, “You’re a little crazy”.

Wilf needed the tools to hot spin his old Jaguar after leaving his keys in a friend’s jacket; it was their first meeting, although Jan says his reputation predated him.

“My friend told me about this person who was cutting his birthday cake and couldn’t find a knife, so he used his ice ax, which went through the cake, the plate and the wooden table below, and I thought crazy ‘. “

When asked what made her fall in love with him, she replied that there wasn’t one thing in particular – that was it.

The work of the Wrights is celebrated and collected both in New Zealand and abroad.

ROSA WOOD

The work of the Wrights is celebrated and collected both in New Zealand and abroad.

The couple married on January 12, 1963 in tiny St Andrew’s Church just along the road from the Reikorangi property that Wilf and his parents bought in the 1950s. Their companions put up a hangi for the reception.

Wilf’s interest in pottery began as a child and then developed while working at Stockton’s, the family’s pottery store off Lambton Quay. It was there that he met many of the country’s pioneering potters when they came to see the great tea chests of Britain and Europe unpacked.

The imported pottery was different from what was produced in New Zealand, and Wilf was particularly struck by the work of German-born British potter Hans Coper.

“Wilf thought that the jars don’t always have to be functional, they can be there for inspiration … he liked the texture and the earthy character and the fact that they could be a tea bowl, but you might not. never drink tea. He has his own personality.

It was in the late 1950s that Wilf crossed the Reikorangi Valley on the Kāpiti Coast in search of a town retreat and, seeing no sign of a sale, knocked on a stranger’s door. .

The neighbor’s house could be for sale, he was told, and in 1956 he bought the 4.8 ha block.

Wilf believed that jars don't always have to be functional;  they could also be a source of inspiration.

ROSA WOOD

Wilf believed that jars don’t always have to be functional; they could also be a source of inspiration.

At the time, there was only one house and a few macrocarpas, but a kiln was quickly built – “They couldn’t understand why I had ordered 3000 bricks if I didn’t build a house,” said Wilf in 2020 – and they were going to fire. at night while the artists slept in a shed.

The oil-fired oven was supposed to be far enough away that the neighbors were not worried, although the black smoke and soot that floated through the valley angered at least one woman whose sheets still managed to remove the dirt.

As Wilf set about making pots, he also began planting the property. A great idea, Jan said, except he used to spend household money on trees.

“I said, ‘You have to take more because we have visitors coming for tea,’ and he was like, ‘Okay, okay,’ but the next time he had trees, he planted them before coming down to see me.

“You are incorrigible,” I told him.

A Wilf copper beech planted 60 years ago has acquired both protection status and name. “Often times he and his friends would sit there and discuss all the things of the world, and take great joy in talking about philosophers too. They called it the philosopher’s tree.

“Wilf was wearing one of his outrageous hats, so I think people found it a bit funny too.  It was really a bit of a show-off.

ROSA WOODS / stuff

“Wilf was wearing one of his outrageous hats, so I think people found it a bit funny too. It was really a bit of a show-off.

A potter herself, Jan remembers how the couple sold their work from the gate. Customers drove the winding roads to the property, and opening a cafe on the grounds seemed like a smart thing to do.

“We never had a lot of money to do things, but we planted trees, kept animals, and made pots, coffee, tea and scones.”

The animals that lived on the property also became an attraction for guests.

“Wilf loved animals, he loved them all. We had the Highland cattle beast and a wallaby, and a fine pig, goats and an alpaca.

As Jan’s huge Great Danes sprawled around the place, doing nothing to deter burglars, Wilf had a small border terrier named Luke.

“He used to take her for walks and they both looked a bit bearded. Wilf would wear one of his outrageous hats, so I think people thought that was a little fun, too. It was really a bit of a show-off.

Wilf quit making pots about four years ago. He loved people, loved to talk about things, and collected cameras, old farm equipment, and sewing machines. Trying to put anything away just meant moving things.

He was planning his 90th birthday when he died; one more day, and he would have succeeded.

“He died just before his birthday. He was asking everyone to come, and of course, they came to his funeral instead.

He died at home, as he wanted. He had the honor of lying at the local marae before the funeral. Jan says staying at the marae made her feel like she was locked in a beautiful sphere of love.

“He had great faith. He was a little scared of death and I said, “Don’t worry, you’ve been through all the other things.” “

The couple married on January 12, 1963 in tiny St Andrew's Church just along the road from their home.

ROSA WOOD

The couple married on January 12, 1963 in tiny St Andrew’s Church just along the road from their home.

The couple’s property was closed to the public last year, and although Jan says it’s a time of limbo right now, his future plans include some reading and maybe some pottery. She was too busy making scones to make as many as she wanted.

She smells Wilf everywhere, almost as if he had just bought trees with household money; as if he could come back at any moment full of ideas and show himself.

“I liked him a lot, but he did some crazy things. It was a great life together.


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