Resilience and adaptability are buzz words right now, as much of the world struggles to cope with a changed existence and a new reality. There are limits and roadblocks, and familiar old ways are often no longer acceptable.
In a way, this need to adapt is nothing new to the team behind iconic Matakana pottery Morris & James. Although they are currently wrestling with how to navigate an unprecendented lockdown roadmap so they can still run their hugely popular annual Labour Weekend sale, dealing with change is pretty much a constant challenge for the 20-strong workforce, as the business has to adjust to ever-changing tastes in garden fashion and home decor.
When Morris & James was established in 1977, the pottery produced terracotta tiles and then moved into large, distinctive pots. Although these were, and remain, popular, it was introducing vivid, brightly coloured glazes in the 1980s that caught the public imagination and made the business famous.
But what happens when the taste for jewel colours and primary hues fades, and home and garden design shifts into decidedly neutral gear, as has happened in recent years?
Design head Nick Charlton says that while balancing the pottery’s traditional eclectic range with changes in fashion can be difficult, the team strives to keep a foot in both camps and provide products to suit the broadest range of tastes.
“One of the things that attracts people to Morris & James is that they are going to find the unexpected, and the design range reflects that,” he says. “We want to continue to produce the things that are design representative of Morris & James’ history, but also in the style of housing and decoration that people are following.”
Nick says the move in recent years to neutral shades and the widespread use of black and white in housing and landscape design actually works well for the pottery’s distinctive bright colours.
“Things have got more monochromatic, but that’s quite good because it provides a more neutral environment for feature pieces in a garden. It allows people to decorate their homes in neutral colours and introduce striking things that have quite a presence.”
A visit to the bright and airy Morris & James showrooms confirms what Nick means. A dazzling array of pots, planters and other decorative items in a veritable rainbow of colours are on display, inside and out. Huge pots, some well over one metre high, are displayed in striking arrangements – bright orange with brilliant white, lime green next to black, deep sea blue and bronze.
Showroom manager Rowan Halkyard-Mills says these big, bold and beautiful pieces that are Morris & James’ signature style remain popular.
“We’re one of the rare places you can go and get a bolt of colour – it’s good for the soul,” she says. “Our design process is very collaborative. We meet about once a month and we have lots of trials. It’s our artists who have a real feel for what’s going to work.”
Throughout the process, the legacy of pottery founder Ant Morris is always remembered, even as styles and products have evolved, according to Nick Charlton.
“We acknowledge and value the unique character of the man who set this place up. There’s no desire to lose sight of that, but we also have to accept that things have changed and fashions have changed, so the whole process is one of trying to make the best possible use of what we’re really good at, but to reshape them, reform them, re-articulate them – to replicate traditional styles in a slightly different way.”
A potted history …
Morris & James was founded in 1977 by artisan potter Anthony Morris and his wife Sue James, using clay from the Matakana River at Tongue Farm Road.
Starting with terracotta tiles and giant pots, the pottery’s distinctive style, shapes and vivid glazes soon found favour and boomed through the 1980s and beyond.
As a result of a stroke and after his 70th birthday in 2008, Ant Morris retired from the pottery and sold the business to general manager Keiran Rice and a group of long-standing staff.