Born in Wellington in 1945, ceramicist Bronwynne Cornish initially studied industrial design at Wellington Polytechnic before moving to Wellington College of Education where she was introduced to clay. After becoming acquainted with leading NZ potter Helen Mason, she started experimenting with clay, later becoming Mason’s apprentice. Cornish moved to Auckland in 1969, making ceramics at Nihotipu Pottery before relocating to Waiheke Island where she continued making primarily porcelain works. Her first significant solo exhibition, China Cabinet Curiosities, was held at New Vision Gallery, Auckland (1971).
Following a research trip to the west coast of America (1973), Cornish relocated to Auckland. Transitioning to earthenware clay, she began creating chunky, honest works sometimes painted rather than glazed. This style of work placed her among a small group of ceramicists challenging the status quo of NZ pottery.
Wanting to increase the scale of her works, Cornish explored what she termed ‘floor works’ - installations of multiple objects linked with natural materials. Her first work of this type, Cactus Bay, exhibited at Peter Webb’s gallery in 1978 signalled that the Auckland art world was convinced by Cornish’s vision. She went on to create significant installations in all major NZ museums and galleries.
In 1996 Cornish was one of a group of artists selected to represent NZ at the Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Brisbane. In 2014 MTG Hawke’s Bay organised a major survey show of her work. Titled Mudlark, the exhibition was also shown at Gus Fisher Gallery, Akl and The Dowse Art Museum, Wgtn (2015).
With a career spanning over fifty years, Cornish has become one of NZ’s best known makers of sculptural ceramics. Her works are held in major public collections throughout NZ and overseas, including The Auckland War Memorial Museum; the Dowse Art Museum, Wellington; The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wellington; The Wallace Collection, Auckland and the Kobayashi Collection, Tokyo.