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Hughan, Harold Randolph (1893–1987)

by Terence Lane

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Harold Randolph Hughan (1893-1987), potter, was born on 11 July 1893 at Mildura, Victoria, second of ten children of Victorian-born Randolph Hughan, gardener, and his English-born wife Emily, née Clayton. Much of Harold’s childhood was spent at Hamilton, Victoria, where—after leaving school in 1906—he completed an apprenticeship as a mechanical engineer. In 1910 he moved to Geelong and retrained, by correspondence, as an electrical engineer. Having served in the Militia for some years, on 27 October 1915 Hughan enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force. He saw action on the Western Front in 1916-18 with the 3rd Divisional Signal Company and the 44th Battalion. In November 1917 he was commissioned and in March 1918 promoted to lieutenant. At the parish church of St James, Toxteth Park, Liverpool, England, on 2 September 1919 he married Lily Booth. They arrived in Melbourne in February 1920 and his AIF appointment terminated on 14 April. He continued to serve in the Militia, rising to major in the Volunteer Defence Corps during World War II.

After several jobs, Hughan moved to Melbourne and joined the firm of Oliver J. Nilsen, for whom he worked as an electrical engineer until his retirement in 1963. Long interested in crafts—including woodwork and weaving—he was introduced to pottery in the early 1940s by his wife and their son, Robert, who had taken it up as a hobby. Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book (1940) attracted him to studio pottery in the Anglo-Japanese tradition; C. F. Binns’s The Potter’s Craft (1910) taught him to throw pots on a wheel he devised from the crankshaft of a motorcar engine. He soon built his own kiln and made stoneware in a workshop behind his Glen Iris home.

Hughan drew inspiration from the Herbert Kent collection of Chinese ceramics at the National Gallery of Victoria: his great love was the pots of the Song and T’ang Dynasties, but his interests encompassed many aspects of historic and contemporary practice. Seeking an `Australian idiom’, he also experimented with new forms. It was important to him that his pots were domestic, functional and affordable; yet they were also distinguished by subtle shapes and beautiful glazes, particularly the Orient-inspired celadons and tenmokus. He gained a devoted following, especially for his large platters, decorated with oriental motifs, native iris or sprays of bamboo. While prolific, he worked at his own pace well into his nineties. `I do not make pottery for a living’, he said in 1984, `it [is] purely for pleasure, and always has been’.

An exhibition of Hughan’s work at Georges Gallery, Melbourne, in 1950, led to his becoming one of the first contemporary studio potters to be represented in the National Gallery of Victoria. Later exhibitions included major retrospectives at the NGV (1969, 1983). His work has also been collected by the National Gallery of Australia, most Australian State and regional galleries, and by the Victoria and Albert Museum, London. A member of the Arts and Crafts Society of Victoria since 1949, he was invited in 1970 to be the patron of the Victorian Ceramic Group, which established an award in his name. In 1978 he was appointed MBE.

Of slight build, and known to close friends simply as `Buzz’, Hughan was described by Kenneth Hood, who had championed his work, as being, like his pots, `reserved and unassuming’. Predeceased by his wife (1966), and survived by his son, he died at Prahran, Melbourne, on 23 October 1987, and was buried in Springvale cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • H. R. Hughan Retrospective Exhibition (1969)
  • K. Fahy et al (eds), Australian Art Pottery 1900-1950 (2004)
  • Craft Australia, winter 1983, p 68
  • H. de Berg, interview with H. R. Hughan (transcript, 1965, National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Terence Lane, 'Hughan, Harold Randolph (1893–1987)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/hughan-harold-randolph-12664/text22823, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 January 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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