A fascinating and most probably unique creation is also the most modern item in stock at Moorabool – dating to the 1960’s, it is an Australian Pottery ‘Medieval’ chess set, by David & Hermia Boyd, members of the remarkably artistic Boyd family.
David Boyd (1924-2011) was born in Murrumbeena, Victoria, the third son of Merric and Doris Boyd. He met Hermia when she was decorating pots for his brother Guy Boyd in his Sydney studio. Married in 1948, they headed over to London in 1950, where they potted & painted for the next 5 years. After returning to Australia for a few years, they were off to Europe again in 1961, where they lived & worked in Rome and London, returning to Australia in 1975. It was probably during this trip they created the chess set, perhaps as a personal piece or a special commission. Certainly, it was not a commercial production and appears to have been only on the market once before, at Christie’s, Melbourne, in the 1980’s.
The board has wonderful mottled glazes, giving it an ancient feel, and is made up of four ’tiles’; these have firing fissures and cracks, and are mounted on a wooden backing with beading edge, all finished with a limewash. This work is probably by the hand of David, and is reminiscent of his other ‘Medieval’ sgraffito wares.
The set is very reminiscent of the ‘Lewis Chessmen’, a part set of 12th century Norwegian game pieces made from Walrus Ivory, discovered in the Outer Hebrides in 1831. Some of these would have been on show in the British Museum in the 1960’s when David & Hermia were in London.
The pieces are all individual creations, and are probably the work of Hermia. It may just be my imagination, but one of the knights appears to have disguised initials…. ‘H / B’.