Collector Simon Manchester had an unbridled passion for ceramics Found in: Stuff by Bess Manson - 3 August 2019
Simon Paul Manchester, ceramics collector, 18 March, 1958 - 18 July, 2019
When an earthquake destroyed many thousands of dollars worth of his precious ceramics, collector Simon Manchester closed the door and sat with the shards of broken pots for a week.
He recalled at the time lunging across the shaking room to catch a pot by prominent Taranaki potter Paul Maseyk in each of his big hands, saving another with his foot. He rescued $30,000 worth of pottery with that swoop.
But in his apartment on the fifth floor of the building on the corner of Wakefield and Victoria streets, above the Lido Cafe, in Wellington, another $50,000 worth of his collection was damaged or destroyed during the Seddon earthquake of 2013.
He described it as a "personal calamity" and for about a week after the earthquake, he closed the door and mourned his shattered loss.
But the event wasn't enough to deter him from living in the shaky capital.
"I love Wellington, and we have earthquakes. Stuff happens; we are not bullet-proof in life," he said at the time.
The collection, which will be donated to the Rick Rudd Foundation in Whanganui, was liberally scattered with nationally significant pieces – from Doreen Blumhardt to Len Castle.
Visitors had to be careful where they stood or sat because every horizontal surface, including most of the floor, was covered with pots. He even hung pieces on the walls when he ran out of floor space.
"I know each piece and there's something about the . . . accumulation and richness that sustains me," Manchester said in 2013.
"For people coming in it's a problem, a kind of organised clutter I find nourishing. I like having it here. It feeds me . . ."
Manchester had been a dedicated collector of New Zealand studio ceramics since the 1980s. Nothing could quench his passion for the art form, according to Rick Rudd, friend and ceramic artist.
His knowledge of the history of New Zealand studio ceramics was encyclopaedic and his collection became perhaps the most important in the country.
He collected paintings and classic New Zealand tourism posters as well, but pottery was his great love. He had more than 2000 pieces in his collection.
Len Castle was his favourite potter.
While he continuously edited his vast collection, he never sold a Castle till 2014, saying once: "I've never outgrown him. I don't believe I could, he's so good."
The son of two senior civil servants, Manchester grew up in Lower Hutt with younger sister Brenda.
The pair were close, leaning on one another when their parents separated when he was 6. Brenda recalled him taking her hand when things were tough as they navigated the loss of their tight family unit.
At Porirua College he excelled at all subjects despite long periods of ill health due to asthma.
The affliction made it difficult for him to sleep at night so he would read. As a result he was enormously well read and developed the ability to absorb huge amounts of information.
Exceptionally bright, Manchester was expected to have an academic career. He was a young chess champion and accomplished debater, but despite winning a university scholarship he went off on his own trajectory.
He moved to Christchurch after high school and worked in retail before returning to Wellington, where he started up EX23, a leather goods business making and selling belts and bags.
His entrepreneurial spirit sent him into the property market in the 1980s when he bought two old buildings in a central lane in Wellington, converting them into loft-style apartments.
He had an eye for beautiful things, things that others didn't necessarily see as beautiful.
His interest in pottery began in 1987, when he was given a couple of boxes containing 15 pieces of Crown Lynn pottery as a sort of surety for a loan to a mate who couldn't pay his drink-drive fine.
The collection also featured pots by Roy Cowan, Muriel Moodie, Chester Nealie, Richard Stratton, John Parker, Katherine Smyth, Doreen Blumhardt, Jim Greig, Barry Brickell, Paul Maseyk and Raewyn Atkinson, among others.
Manchester began going to pottery shows, which he found an exciting world when he was a self-confessed "snotty-nosed punk in black leather".
"It's like you open a door and look in and there's a whole world you didn't know existed. That's what pots were to me. It was a doorway to New Zealand history and culture," he enthused.
He collected for his own enjoyment but also for the benefit of others. He wanted to share the beauty of the art. There can have been few major curated historical ceramic exhibitions organised by museums or galleries that have not included works borrowed from his collection.
Manchester started work as an applied arts and studio ceramics consultant at Dunbar Sloane auction house in 2006, but he had already had a long association with the firm, both as a buyer and seller across all collecting fields
He had an unbridled passion for ceramics and his knowledge was unmatched, which made him perfect for this role.
Manchester didn't believe in going into anything half pie, whether that was collecting ceramics or indulging in his other interests. His love of music could be seen in the huge record and CD collection in his apartment, along with the massive 'Dolly Parton' speakers hanging from the ceiling.
His interest in four-wheel drives vehicles inspired him to invest in a collection of them. A daredevil cyclist, he could often be seen riding in the slipstream of a Wellington bus.
This extreme trait extended to a darker side for Manchester, who struggled, on and off, with addiction issues.
But those dark periods also allowed him to understand other people's struggles.
He became more compassionate towards others. Seeing his own fallibilities opened his heart to others, his sister Brenda says.
"He could be quite a hard man but he was a loving brother with an amazing empathy and compassion."
During his illness she would walk with him to the hospital, hand in hand, just like when they were children.
"When you held his big beautiful hand you felt, for that moment, that everything was all right."
Sources: The Dominion Post (Diana Dekker), Manchester family, Helena Walker (Dunbar Sloane), Rick Rudd, David Adamson.