Odd Friends: In Memory of Artist Barry Brickell

Perhaps I am odd? Close friends and family often tell me so - I remember the names of so many people I met 50 plus years ago, but regularly forget the names of people I met five minutes ago or worse, of people I work with on a daily basis!
Barry at work.

Barry at work.

I’m Ok with being odd, being able to remember so many people from my journey. On Saturday night a man who has been intermittently part of my journey passed away.  He was 80. People say Barry was ‘odd’ too. Barry Brickell, the amazing dreamer, visionary, potter from Driving Creek.

I first met him on his Coromandel property.  He wanted to show me the ‘hulk’, his dream boat ‘Presto’.  She was a bare hulled aging kauri boat of probably 100 years.  She was part of Barry’s dream to get his pots to Auckland by sea, rather than the expensive and laborious journey by road.  The Presto part of Barry’s dream didn’t end up working out, and he was then open to exchanging Presto for railway lines and steam pipes.  I had neither to offer at the time (not for lack of trying) but I loved Presto!

I next visited Barry when he was a parishioner of mine.  Not that Barry would have considered himself such, but he was in the Coromandel and the Coromandel was my parish for a short time.  I would visit Driving Creek and love its earthiness, it’s almost tidiness, its beautiful people usually caked in clay rather than clothing.

And then from time to time I would visit Driving Creek with friends who visited from around the world.  They have been contacting me over the last couple of days, remembering their encounter with Driving Creek, sometimes Barry, but always the interesting people who worked there.  There are more than shards of his pottery to be found all around the world.

And then, just a couple of months ago, I turned to walk up Clarence Street in Devonport behind a ploddingly paced figure, jerkin, shorts and sandals, and the most memorably distinctive home cut hair. Like a bowl firmly placed on his head.

I skipped a couple of paces, coming alongside this icon of creativity, I introduced myself.  As the conversation went on Barry remembered me wanting his boat.  My excursions into his world meant much more to me than being of any consequence to him.

The boat, Presto, was our connection.  He was pleased that I had kept track of her.  He wasn’t impressed with the design of the rebuild that Presto had been subject to all those years ago when he had released her to sail the waters of the Tauranga Harbour.

Barry was in Devonport to deliver two carry bags of pottery to the Depot.  Small pieces, unlike his historically huge sculptural ones, wrapped in newspaper.  He had travelled up on the ‘service car’ and then ferry.  He recalled taking his parents from Devonport to Coromandel to live twenty years ago.  He was able to look after them there. This was a pilgrimage home with gifts for the city.

If I could only be more like Dreamer Barry, Visionary Barry, Artist Barry, Writer Barry. He had so many friends who understood him and loved his way. Many more with whom he never passed the time of day.  Focused, sometimes unable to spare time or words with you, but always crafting something with a future that will continue to be a presence for good in the world with us.  The legacy will only continue to grow. 

Arohanui Barry.

- John MacDonald