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In 1973 an eager group were attending classes with Mirek Smisek at Nelson Polytechnic. The facilities and time available to them didn’t match their enthusiasm and some of the members decided to set up a working group of their own.

Ngaire Hands and Ronnie Read placed an advertisement in the paper looking for premises and Diana Heatherbell at Zenith Orchard in Hope replied. A meeting was arranged and 20 people turned up. From this beginning Craft Potters became the first organised potters group in Nelson. In February 1974 they signed their charter as an Incorporated Society, the aims and objects being to foster the art and craft of pottery.

The group flourished and by 1975 had a membership of about 140, with a waiting list of about 50. First president was Ronnie Read. They rented a part of the orchard’s packing shed, the Waimea County Council gave them a specified departure to sell pots and a gallery for the members was opened. Waimea College provided the tutors, Ross Richards, John Crawford and Stephen Carter, and later Justin Gardner. Over the years there have been many tutors and day and weekend schools have also contributed to the wide range of pots made by members. The classes were an extension of Adult Education and the group received some funding from the Provincial Arts Council and the Waimea County Council.

Their annual exhibitions began in 1974 and in 1975 they had a working members section, invited Len Castle as their guest potter, and began to include the local professional potters. Sales were high, and interest great. In 1976 a good number of the Nelson members left the group to form Nelson Community Potters. The group continued to thrive and the annual exhibitions became an important event on the pottery calendar of Nelson, with most Nelson potters invited to exhibit, along with two featured guest potters, and members of the group.

Early on Bob Heatherbell built a double chamber diesel kiln that he hired to the club. This kiln became a great catalyst for members and was seldom cold. Many friendships were “fired” by the kiln as well as many hundreds of pots. In 1984 a celebration was held for the 600th firing and soon afterwards the kiln was dismantled and rebuilt at the new premises in a different form.

After ten happy and eventful years at Zenith, the orchard was sold and the club now decided what had been a vague aim to one day have a property of its own, was a necessity. Over 18 months searching for a suitable place to build began along with many fundraising activities. Eventually the Club was able to purchase, by Specified Departure, a 1/3 of an acre of land in Ranzau Road, Hope. A great deal of work was done by enthusiastic and dedicated Club members, raising money and building. An enormous amount of time was put in by Barry Savage, David Packer and the late Marjorie Johnston (the president at the time), with much support from Gordon Johnston who had the knowledge to deal with the various bodies necessary at the planning stages.

The club moved in to their own premises in 1984. Mr Gwyn Thurlow, Chairman of the Waimea County Council, officially opened the building on the night of the opening of the 11th exhibition. Mr Peter Rule, of the Central Regional Arts Council, opened the exhibition. Both these people represented the bodies that had made grants to the club. Apart from grants from the Lotteries Board and a small grant from the Waimea County Council, club members raised the money themselves. The building opened with a mortgage that was quickly paid off and the whole facility was debt free within two years.

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