For decades, potter Peter Lange maintained a studio at the bottom of his garden in Maungawhau Mt Eden in Tāmaki Makaurau: over the years he made everything from pots to Anagama, a six-metre brick boat that he floated in the Viaduct, as his practice grew from the practical to something bridging art and craft, but always imbued with his cracking dry sense of humour.
It also hosted visiting potters and students: alumni include Lange’s late brother David, who made a pot for a charity auction, and current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who used to visit when she was a backbench MP in need of time out. “She was very good,” recalled Lange recently. “She showed promise.”
In October, Peter moved everything out of the studio, and into a new studio in his basement. He and wife Rosemary subdivided and sold the back section earlier in the year, to set them up for retirement – but not before they placed a covenant on the enormous old pōhutukawa that shelters the house.
As he cleared everything out, Lange found 50 years of forgotten work – including the first pot he ever made back in the 1970s. “You expect people to walk down the hall and exclaim at every point – well it’s a shambles, so they don’t. But that’s part of the deal.”
The shed looked empty and a little forlorn the day I went over for a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit; very little remained apart from a photograph of Michael Joseph Savage on the wall. “That’s important,” said Lange.
Lange, his wife and daughters moved into the house in 1982. They were living around the corner, above a shop on Dominion Road – Lange had a gallery downstairs with some other potters. Gallerist Barry Lett told him there was a house for sale and that he should buy it. “It’s a good price,” said Lett.
“So before we knew it, we had a house – we didn’t expect that.” It had been a student flat and was a mess; the couple also found silver paper and grow lamps in the ceiling. Not long after, David Lange came to visit. “He walked up the path and looked underneath and said, ‘Oh, I know this house, I defended someone who murdered someone down here!’” The kids didn’t go to sleep that night.
And at the bottom of the garden there was a collection of old sheds, one of which became Peter’s studio. He added a porch to the front and set up a wheel and a kiln, and spent the next few decades making and teaching from the space.
Forty years on, Lange was feeling both energised and sad about the change. He has a new tin shed in which to fire work, and a snug little studio under the house. But, “I don’t want to be here when the shed comes down,” said Lange, looking at the fence going up between his gracious old villa and the back garden where a new house will be built. “I’ll take a day off I think.”