Roy Cowan

b. 1918d. 2006

Also known as:

  • James Robson Cowan

Roy Cowan was a potter, illustrator, sculptor and printmaker. Born in Wellington, he trained as a teacher, and was also a pilot in WWII.

He studied teaching at the Wellington Teachers College, where he specialised in art. In 1953 he was awarded the Association of Art Societies Scholarship and studied at the Slade School in London, where he developed his passion for lithography and pottery.

He worked in the Publications Branch of the Department of Education before becoming self-employed in arts and crafts from 1959.

Much of Cowan's art explored the nature of oppositions, juxtaposing binary images to form a harmonious work: nature and technology; interior and exterior; momentous and minor.

He created a large-scale ceramic wall mural for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, and a mural for the foyer of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand in Wellington. Another mural, 'Modern Madonna', was commissioned for the Wellington Cathedral of Saint Paul.

Cowan was made a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to pottery in the 2000 New Year Honours. His work is held in the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa, The Dowse Art Museum, and the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu.

Cowan recognised his Ngāpuhi and Te Atiawa decent through his mother's family. Eileen Stowell was the daughter of renowned Ngāpuhi interpreter, scholar and genealogist Henry Stowell (Hāre Hongi). Roy's father, author James Cowan, was also fluent in Te Reo. Many of James Cowan's popular accounts of local histories were based on interviews with elders including the most authoritative, early twentieth century account of the The New Zealand wars: a history of the Māori campaigns and the pioneering period (1922–23).

See also:

Roy Cowan (Ngāpuhi, Te Atiawa), Untitled [Europa House] (1972), currently behind a wall at 109 Featherston St, CBD, Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington

Image: New Zealand Potters: Roy Cowan. Mural, circa 1975, New Zealand, by Brian Brake. Gift of Mr Raymond Wai-Man Lau, 2001. Te Papa (B.070910)