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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Harris, John Castle (Jack) (1893–1967)

by John McPhee

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

John Castle (Jack) Harris (1893-1967), potter, was born on 13 May 1893 at North Waratah, New South Wales, fourth child of Harry William Harris, a native-born printer, and his wife Lucy Lillian, née Smith, from England. Jack had six years in the volunteer cadets and farmed at Mayfield before enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 19 February 1916. He embarked for England in the Beltana in May, was promoted sergeant in August and served (from November) with the 36th Battalion on the Western Front. Wounded in action (a gunshot wound to the right thigh) on 13 March 1917, he was invalided to England. He returned to Australia in November and was discharged, medically unfit, on 21 December in Sydney. Almost six feet (183 cm) tall, he was fair haired and blue eyed.

Nothing is known about his education or formal training in the arts. In the 1920s he was known professionally as Castle Harris and made a living from the sale of his punched and embossed leather tablecloths, which often incorporated Australian floral motifs. He described himself as an artist living at Coogee when he married a fellow artist Alice Rochfort, sister of Neville William Cayley, at St James's Anglican Church, Sydney, on 31 December 1923.

In the early 1930s Harris had lessons in clay modelling from Una Deerbon (1882-1972); on a visit to Melbourne in 1935, he worked briefly and informally at the Deerbon Pottery School and was employed at the Premier Pottery at Preston. A number of ceramics, elaborately decorated with dragons, lizards and fish, exist with the signatures of both Castle Harris and Alan James, the principal thrower of the pottery's Remued ware; one with a blue-glazed, frill-necked lizard by Harris is held by the Shepparton Art Gallery.

Harris had a studio in Hunter Street, Sydney, in 1939 and 1940, and another at Toongabbie in the mid-1940s. He seems to have had no time for contemporary, earthy, handicraft ideals or for the 'accepted notion that handcrafted objects should be useful', and therefore kept well clear of the Society of Arts and Crafts of New South Wales. His wares were designed for the gift-shop market. Large, heavily decorated and frequently sculptural, his ceramics featured Australian and grotesque animals, and showed a strong Oriental influence. Some large examples were executed in lattice-work.

About 1946 Harris shifted to the Blue Mountains and established a studio at Wentworth Falls. He later moved to Lawson where he continued his work. Predeceased by his wife, he died on 7 April 1967 in hospital at Wahroonga and was cremated. He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • M. Y. Graham, Australian Pottery of the 19th and Early 20th Century (Syd, 1979)
  • J. McPhee, Australian Decorative Arts in the Australian National Gallery (Canb, 1982)
  • P. Timms, Australian Studio Pottery and China Painting (Melb, 1986).

Citation details

John McPhee, 'Harris, John Castle (Jack) (1893–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

View the front pages for Volume 14

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