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Melis Van der Sluis

(b. 1931) born in Bolsward, Friesland, the Netherlands, lives in Hamilton, New Zealand
Japanese Show Lantern, 1973
clay, 9 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches, 93.39.21

When Nazi Germany occupied his hometown of Bolsward in the Netherlands, Melis Van der Sluis was only nine. Even after WWII finished, it was still difficult to make a life there, and prospects for the future looked bleak. The Van der Sluis family decided to migrate to New Zealand, and in 1952 sent 20-year-old Melis and his sister Gretha to go ahead of them and find jobs for the whole family. The siblings settled down in the small town of Hamilton, found jobs and started learning English. They were finally able to bring the rest of their family over two and a half years later. In 1953 Van der Sluis was accepted to attend the Ardmore Teachers College where two important things happened: he was introduced to ceramics by the art department, and he met his future wife Ruth. After graduating in 1955 he taught for twelve years in the local Waikato school district.


Left: Van der Sluis with ceramic work, Center: Footed Pot, 1973, stoneware, 15.5 x 10.5 x 5.5 inches, 93.39.158, Right: Large Bowl, 1973, clay, 3 x 15.5 x 15.5 inches, 93.39.4 Additional images below

While working as a teacher, Van der Sluis started leading night classes on pottery, and became more involved in New Zealand’s pottery community. In 1968 he became a full time potter, and together with Ruth opened the Van der Sluis Pottery Studio in Hamilton. The studio, which has run for 50 years, has trained a number of aspiring potters, hosted community-wide pottery-based events, as well as promoted and sold much work from its gallery space. In the studio’s early years, Van der Sluis mainly produced functional pottery, which were coated in a specially developed “river glaze” that incorporates the volcanic ash gathered from the nearby Waikato River.

In the spring of 1971, under the auspices of the International Academy of Ceramics, the Tennessee Arts Commission pledged its support for the promotion and establishment of the U.S. International Ceramic Symposiums. The Symposium’s mission to help develop a worldwide network of support for ceramic art was achieved by bringing together top ceramic artists from around the world for a month-long sharing of ideas and creation of innovative ceramics.


Left: Lidded Pot, 1973, stoneware, 7.75 x 4.75 x 5.5 inches, 93.39.73ab, L. Center: Footed Vase, 1973, stoneware, 16 x 11.5 x 4.25 inches, 93.39.159, R. Center: Coffee Set, Pitcher (13 pieces), 1973, stoneware, 8.5 x 7 x 3.5 inches, 93.39.163a, Right: Bamboo-Wrapped Vase, 1973, clay, bamboo, 6.75 x 5.75 x 6.5 inches, 93.39.267

Van der Sluis represented New Zealand at the First U.S. International Ceramic Symposium, which consisted of twenty-five artists from thirteen different countries, and was hosted in the summer of 1973 at the Memphis Academy of Art. While at the symposium, he produced a large portfolio of functional wares that includes cups, vases, casseroles, plates, and even a complete coffee set. The forms are typical of what Van der Sluis made in his Hamilton studio at the time, but instead of using his own river glazes he mainly used earthy reduction fire glazes.


Left: Wine Set, 1973, stoneware, 6.25 x 3.25 inches, 93.39.317, Center: Coffee Set Sugar Bowl (13 pieces), 1973, stoneware, 6 x 4 x 3.5  inches, 93.39.163d, Right: Casserole, 1973, stoneware, 10 x 8 x 4.5 inches, 93.39.160

Following the symposium, Van der Sluis continued to operate his studio and exhibit his work throughout New Zealand and the Netherlands. In 1988 he was appointed as the Head of Art at St. Paul’s Collegiate School in Hamilton, where he taught art and ceramics until 1994.

From the 1990s onward Van der Sluis gradually stopped focusing on producing wheel-thrown pottery and began devoting his efforts to creating highly textured sculptural work out of clay slabs. This development is inspired by the patterns, colors, and textures of the geological strata found on New Zealand’s’ North Island.

Written by Aiden Layer, TN Arts Intern