Patricia Charlotte Perrin was born at her family’s home in Arthur Street, Ellerslie, Auckland, on 11 July 1921, the daughter of Ruby Elizabeth Bennett and her husband, Huntly Percy Perrin, a dentist. Her mother died when she was 10. Pat had two elder sisters, Phyllis and Yvonne; a brother had died in infancy. The three sisters never married and were to live with their father in the family home until his death in 1979.
Pat received her secondary school education at St Cuthbert’s College. During the Second World War she joined the Women’s Royal New Zealand Naval Service (Wrens), and in her spare time took a course in sculpture at Elam School of Art. After the war she studied pottery under Robert Field at Avondale College. She held her first exhibition in 1948, and the following year returned to the college to teach pottery; in 1956 a young Barry Brickell was one of her students.
Perrin’s first kiln was a coke-fired, updraught muffle kiln, in which she fired lead-glazed earthenware. An electric kiln, imported from England in 1952, enabled her to obtain the higher temperatures needed to fire stoneware. Her final kiln, designed in 1965 by Christchurch potter Yvonne Rust, had two chambers and was natural-draught, drip-fed and oil-fired, with two louvred fire boxes. Pat always fired it together with her sister Yvonne, competitively coaxing one chamber each to 1,300°C.
In the mid 1970s Perrin was still teaching at Avondale College twice a week, as well as at Otahuhu College and in Pakuranga. She conducted many summer schools and university extension courses, and also taught at Auckland Teachers’ College. In the late 1970s she tutored at the Auckland Studio Potters Centre at Onehunga.
A warm, passionate woman with a great sense of humour, Pat Perrin was a free thinker and an inspiring teacher. The door of her Arthur Street home was always open to young pottery enthusiasts. Nestled in a conservative suburban street, the large, decaying Victorian villa was set back from the road and surrounded by high bamboo thickets, palms, trees and other untamed vegetation. There was an old orchard with beehives, pet sheep, wandering poultry, always at least four cats, 30 South African lovebirds and the odd recuperating seagull with a wounded wing. Each of the family had their own out-building: studios for Phyllis to make enamel and copper jewellery and prints and for Yvonne to make ceramic jewellery and pots, and Huntly Perrin’s dental surgery.
The Perrin sisters were brought up to value handmade objects and natural foods, later using their own hand-crafted pottery for their mostly vegetarian meals. Pat loved gadgets and embraced modern appliances such as food dehydrators, mixers, televisions and stereos. Music, especially the Beatles, was another passion, and visitors who arrived clutching the latest album would usually hear it already playing as they walked up the drive.
As part of the post-war craft revival in New Zealand, Pat Perrin, with her love of simple, domestic earthenware, formed a link between colonial traditions and the modern studio pottery movement. Her own work, however, was highly innovative and never influenced by any particular trend. She had a superb sculptural design sense, and believed that form was always more important than function. Her attention to detail included making bamboo spoons, fitted corks, and plaited rope handles for jars. Much of her work remained unglazed, and showed the characteristic effects of heat and the reduction atmosphere of the oil-fired kiln. Rich iron-bearing clays were pushed almost to their melting points and came to life. Her decoration was sparse, random and organic, enhanced by splashes, dribbles and poured overlays of a number of (usually matt) glazes.
Perrin’s work was selected for Expo ’70 in Japan, and is represented in the International Museum of Ceramics in Faenza, Italy. However, for some reason, she stopped making pottery in 1979. The Arthur Street house was sold in the late 1980s, and the sisters moved to the family’s renovated holiday home at Muriwai. Pat Perrin died on 12 November 1988 at Auckland Hospital.