If you google ‘Gunda,’ the Urban Dictionary (Don’t-cha love it?) says it’s a word for a thug, gangster or a bully.
However that’s not what I think of when I hear the word Gunda. Instead, I get excited as I think of the Vintage Australian pottery company Gunda.
I once used to collect vintage Gunda pottery, however due to the whole ‘I collect too much stuff’ thing, I had to refine my collection and sadly sell it off, however it was in order to invest more in the collection that I held onto and still collect which is Ellis pottery.
But that’s a tale for another day! Today I’m talking about Gunda!
(Quotes shared in this article come from Ross A. Waterman’s piece at craft.org.au and is a fantastic read so if you have the time, be sure to read it!)
Latvian born potter Gundars Zigurts Lusis immigrated to Australia in 1949, after being evacuated with his parents to the Wentorf Displaced Persons camp in Germany.
The garage of his Camberwell family home became the studio of Gundars where he created the pottery company ‘Gunda’
The ‘rs’ was dropped from his name as he thought the Australian folk would be able to pronounce it easier! However it may have just been easier if he just signed his pieces well, as often his name is mistaken for ‘Gunde’ and I’ve even seen the signature be described as Sunolia, and Sundra.
Anyway! It was 1956 that Gundars created Gunda pottery, and right up until 1977, he produced a great range of wares.
Most of his pieces were slip-cast earthenware’s.
Slip-casting is a popular technique used for mass-producing ceramics and pottery. A mould is created for the shape you wish to create, and the liquid clay (the slip) is poured into the mould to form a cast. Once the mould is removed, it reveals the shape.
There is a huge range of pieces available including domestic ware, like salt and pepper shakers, cups, bowls and ashtrays, but also decorative pieces like lamps, vases, wall chargers and planters too!
What separated Gundars from other Australian potters of the day was his appreciation of European abstract art and design. That was also what made me love his work.
Although the items he created weren’t typically ornamental or decorative items (Like cups or ashtrays) his pieces were!
Each piece without a doubt was Gunda. His style can’t be mistaken for anything else.
He made domestic ceramics that were truly unique! I love his stunning biomorphic, geometric and organic shapes and designs.
Unlike similar artists of the period like Ellis and Martin Boyd pottery who were businesses with employees helping to produce their works, “Lusis described the Gunda studio pottery as “A one man band” as he alone designed, made and individually decorated and marketed the thousands of pieces of ceramics produced there.”
I personally love Gunda because it’s a reflection of the period. It was the epitome of modern ceramic design from the 1950’s, 60s and 70s. It was unique, special and beautiful.
His designs spoke for each decade. Each era produced different wares that were ahead of the time!
Different styles produced over the years include: Brownware, Blackware, Earthware, Lusterware and Caramelware.
When I was dealing in vintage and sold Gunda pieces, I would often hear remarks from people calling it junk, saying they used to “leave them in opshops for $2 all the time.”
This is because a lot of Gunda’s works were souvenier wares.
Often an Australian location was inscribed into the piece making it appear ‘tacky’ or ‘cheap’ in many people’s eyes.
Despite this, these pieces are what have become the most collectable of the entire range.
Gunda died in 1996, Waterman says that his “premature death in 1996 could be attributed to lead glazes and an asbestos lined kiln used at the Gunda pottery.”