ALLAN LOWE: Simple yet Sophisticated

Allan Lowe jug - Photo by China Rose Antiques

Early Life and Career

Allan James George Lowe (1907-2001) was born in Collingwood, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Victoria in 1907 to Allan Frank Lowe and Ada Alice Wilcox. He trained as a painter before setting up a pottery studio at the suburb of Merlynston, Victoria in 1929, before moving to Hoffman’s Brickworks in Brunswick in 1930 where he worked making pottery. Over the next few years that followed, he taught himself pottery; how to throw, studied glazes at the State Library of Victoria, built his first kiln with the assistance of an advisor from the Hoffman Potteries, and took more intense pottery classes under the tutelage of Gladys Kelly of the Working Men’s College (which later became known as Melbourne Technical College). He then relocated to Eaglemont in 1932, and then to Ferntree Gully in 1944, where he started his potting career full-time.

Allan Lowe, c. 1955 by Reshid Bey – Photo by National Portrait Gallery

Influenced by Chinese pottery, and with what he saw at the National Gallery of Victoria K.W. Kent Collection, he went on to begin making simple earthenware forms using sophisticated glazes and minimal decorations. He also became quite attracted to Aboriginal art and featured Aboriginal designs experimentally on some forms. He became friends with Bill Onus, the indigenous artist and together, they made several trips to Central Australia in the years 1956, 1963 and 1964. Allan Lowe was awarded a Bronze medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Art Festival, and in 1979, he became a Fellow of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts. Allan had his works signed with “Allan Lowe” incised or painted on them. He married Peg, and together with their son, Peter and his wife Marian, they worked on various earthenware in the studio. These also had their works uniquely signed ‘Peg Lowe’ and ‘Marian Lowe’ respectively.

Pre-War and Post-War Pottery

Allen is recorded to have lived at 42 Mashoobra Street Coburg in 1931, where he was listed as a “Window Dresser” as the career. Allan then relocated in 1932 to Eaglemont, an outer suburb of Melbourne. By 1936, he has moved to “Thrums” Malvern, now listed as a “Traveller”, and then he moved again with his family in 1939 to 27 & 55-57 Kiaora Parade, Fern Tree Gully with Frank and Ada, which was then a country town. He is also recorded as being a Traveller. In those days, however, travelling Salesmen were usually referred to as Travellers. As it seems, he never bothered to make updates to the Electoral Roll. During the second-world-war, Allen Lowe worked at the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation at Fishermans Bend, just at the banks of the Yarra River.

Allan Lowe. Sake set – Photo by Australian Pottery at Bemboka

The armed forces was a protected industry at the time, hence he was scored as ineligible to serve in the military. He then began full-time pottery making at Fern Tree Gully in 1944 right up till the war ended. Allan also worked in KiaOra Parade Fern-Tree-Gully for quite a number of years, using a simple kick wheel built by his father with parts from an old petrol bowser. His earthenware had special characteristic earthy tones and looked simple yet abstract.

The Ferntree Gully Arts Society has been in existence for over sixty years to Alan’s time. He, therefore, wrote a letter to the Secretary of the Ferntree Gully Shire, suggesting an Art Exhibition event to be held in order to “develop the cultural and appreciative level of our residents, and the proceeds of it donated to the Red Cross to help the fighting men.”

The Alan Lowe Work of Art

Allan Lowe jug with signature. Item 3946 – Photo by China Rose Antiques

One strong example of Alan Lowe’s work is the wheel-thrown ramekins. Allan’s wife Peg Lowe’s are slightly smaller than those of Allan. These ramekins were very lovely and sometimes come accompanied by dishes or saucers, with the inscription “Allan Lowe” on them. Some of Allan’s works from the 1970s that were signed ‘Lowe’ were actually made by his son Peter Grosvenor Lowe and attributed to him. Peter and wife, Marian, are artists in Dunolly, Victoria; and were both instrumental to Allan and Peg in their craft in Fern Tree Gully. Klytie Pate and Alan Lowe, in 1947, became the first ceramicists whose studio pottery were purchased by the National Gallery of Victoria. The items purchased included a ginger jar by Pate and a piece by Alan Lowe.

Alan’s work was special as it was a combination of Chinese forms and Aboriginal motifs. Allan worked with Bill Onus on this, so that at times, he would throw earthenware pots and Bill Onus would paint them. Bill was a well known local Aboriginal artist at the time. They worked together at “The Hut”, an artists’ co-operative in Ferntree Gully This was also where Alan and other artists came together to show their work and practice live drawing.

Allan is also considered to be one of the first potters to have creatively drawn sympathetically on Aboriginal colours, with the themes and motifs inclusive. Much of his works are elegant and simple representations of oriental design. He often travelled to central Australia in the 1950s and 1960s to make inspirational drawings from the indigenous people there.

Aboriginal-style imagery

Allan Lowe ‘Euro Aboriginal’ Australian pottery plate, c1950s – Photo by Canberra Antiques Centre

Aboriginal-style imagery became very popular in Australia after the Second World War. This was when local designers and other Australians were looking for a national cultural identity. Australia has an Indigenous heritage that provides a rich source of inspiration. Designers and craftspeople, therefore, worked towards doing Indigenous art, particularly rock art, so they can source and modify motifs that suit contemporary fashion. This brought forth a stylish imagery that usually blended with the colours of the desert landscape with cross-hatching forms and specific references to dot painting, native plants and animals, animal footprints, boomerangs, spears, and the Aboriginal people themselves. These were shown among the many ranges of domestic wares that were produced at the semi-commercial potteries in Australia during the 1950s.

Achievements and Awards

Allan Lowe’s talk with the Ferntree Gully Arts Society in 1955 brought about the formation of the Pottery Group of the Warrandyte Mechanics Institute and Arts Association. Allan and Klytie Pate were both awarded a Bronze medal at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics Art Festival, and Alan was made a Fellow of the Royal South Australian Society of Arts in 1979.

The National Gallery of Victoria held a retrospective of his work in 1979, the very year he retired. Some of his work and his wife Peg’s ramekins are also to be found at Sydney’s Powerhouse Museum (although they are not called ramekins). The Potters Cottage in Warrandyte was also established in 1958 following a visit from Allan. Allan died in 2001, at the age of 93.