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Defining an era

George and Jean Barsony.
George and Jean Barsony.

George Barsony passed away on the October 7, 2010, just short of his 93rd birthday.

I feel honoured and privileged to have met George and Jean Barsony, the enigmatic couple behind Barsony Ceramics. I cannot think of any name in Australian pottery from the mid 20th century who has as much significance or mystery as George Barsony. The elegant and sophisticated but very edgy Barsony lamps have become very collectible over the past few years. People may know them better as the notorious ‘Black Lady Lamps’. The mystique about the person deepens because there is no other Australian artisan to have an era named after them. The ‘Barsony Era’ is recognised here and internationally, in Europe and America. It has become synonymous for a particular style, design and look that was original and exciting for its time. The Barsony name cuts a very distinguished position in not only Australian pottery, but in European and Australian social history.

The fifties was a time when families painted their homes in ‘gay’ colours, when a black lady lamp/figurine would not be considered ideologically incorrect, although the nudity was considered risqué, a housewife was not yet considered a domestic goddess and ladies had their hair done in a salon. The Barsony era conjures up images of cool sophistication, cocktail parties and a joie de vivre . Many Australian writers and artists left our barren cultural landscape and became expatriates to find what they were looking for overseas, usually in Europe. The strange thing about this phenomenon is that many Europeans were leaving their shores to find peace and tranquillity in a democratic country. To Australia’s advantage, many European migrants came to our shores and without their knowing, enriched our cultural identity. George Barsony was one of these people.

George was born in Pecs, Hungary, on November 15 1917. He completed his first major sculpture when he was just 21years of age. The 2.2 metre high bronze statue of St Francis of Assisi in Pecs was honoured by the city this year.

In 1949, George arrived in Sydney as an assisted refugee. He met and married Jean Bird. In 1955, they settled into a home in Bankstown and set up a small art pottery workshop in the backyard called ‘Barsony Ceramics’. For many years the ‘Ballerina’ with her delicate beauty was the most popular lamp as well as the ‘Little Boys’ and the ‘Little Girls’. Barsony Ceramics ceased trading by 1970.

George Barsony passed away peacefully in Casino. The curtains closed to the sound of the Argentinean tango. A fitting finale to a vibrant, creative and loving personality.

He is survived by his wife Jean and his three children Roger, Elena, and Melanie.


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