Aalto residents get gift fired from the dirt beneath their feet

The 39 new owners of Ockham Residential’s latest development, Aalto, have received a unique housewarming gift – a special limited edition vase made by New Lynn designer and ceramicist Ben Pyne, forged from the very earth El Aalto is built upon.

The idea came to the Ockham team when they noticed the unusually beautiful clay at Aalt0 during the excavation of the basement. This was no ordinary earth – this is Morningside clay, a theatrical fandango of reds, roses,  stunning Saharan pinks and gold.  God's own paint palette.  This clay was far too beautiful to dig up and then dump.  Surely we could fashion it into something.

And so Ockham teamster Pippa Howells went and picked the brains of our partners Objectspace. Do you know of an artist she asked? Not just any old dabbler – they had to be a genius, a virtuoso, ideally someone who understood the man for whom the building was named: Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto.

There was a standout: New Lynn-based designer and ceramicist Ben Pyne. Quiet, thoughtful and extremely diligent, Potter Pyne has reputation for precision and artistry. He hauled away sacks and sacks of clay – samples – and began experimenting with different firing temperatures, glazes and mixes and all the alchemy that transmogrifies dirt into art.

And he came up with an idea.

“To build upon Aalto's eclectic mix-match of brick stuff,” Pyne says, “I've designed the vase as a singular module, capable of endless variations merely through rotation. So, you get something entirely unique, just like the clay it was formed from." 

Ah, but what are secrets of Pyne’s alchemy. “It's a little bit of a process,” he continues. “Once we've shaped and etched our marks, we apply the glaze. It's a powder – elemental glass, really – with some other things added to bring down the melting temperature.”

Then he's ready to fire. “The bisque firing is to get it to a stage where it's porous – where it absorbs water still. It means that the glaze on the inside sort of seeps in and marries the clay as the water evaporates.”

Sounds technical, esoteric, magical? All of it, and then some.

An Objectspace Epic

Earlier this month, Pyne was one of five artists selected by Objectspace for their Weekly Objects Limited Editions series. “We commissioned five great makers to create their own unique series of Objectspace limited editions," explains Objectspace Queen, Kim Paton.

Potter Pyne contributed 16 vases in four designs, all finished with his coveted Aotearoa glazes.

“If you hold one of Ben Pyne’s works in the palm of your hand you feel it’s life force quietly rumbling against your skin," Paton continues. “It’s earthly matter, eons old, fired and glazed in geologic tones of russet and amber.

“Pyne makes objects rendered to an architecture of the home and the body. Humane, useful and worthy of living with for a lifetime.

“For Objectspace, a vase, “ Paton concludes. “Only big enough for a small clutch of stems. Dare I say it... some rare things are perfectly made. Of a scale and intention that requires nothing more and nothing less. A simple thing, worthy of wanting.”

His 16 jewels went like hotcakes. Gone, not in sixty seconds, but a couple of hours. 

But our Aalto residents have their piece of Pyne. There, amidst the hum and hustle of Morningside, stand these earthen vases, testament to a fine collaboration of construction and craft, of form and function.

Ben Pyne has transformed the ordinary into the sublime, using not just his skill but the ancient wisdom of the earth itself.  His vases serve as a reminder of the ground beneath the modern behemoth, the tactile, living clay that once rolled under the wheels of bulldozers but now stands, fired and sacred, in the heart of 39 homes.