Potter & Soldier
Merric was born on 24 June 1888 at Glenfern – Hotham Street, East St. Kilda, home of his paternal grandfather John Theodore Boyd (St. Kilda Cemetery); described as a “difficult child…a regular dunce” his childhood was in contrast to the idealised Gilbert (d 1896) (Berwick Cemetery) (“the radiant, irreplaceable, perfect child”) and Penleigh (q.v.) (“brilliant beloved Penleigh”). He was educated at Haileybury College and Dookie Agricultural College (1906-07) and by the age of eighteen while “handsome and vigorous” he had “no liking for study and no fixed ambition”; his parents purchased Tralee – a 143 acre farm at Yarra Glen in the hope of providing a future but it “turned out to be well for everyone except for Merric”.
An epileptic, it wasn’t until the age of twenty-two that he found the creative outlet natural to the Boyd dynasty and went on to study drawing for a term at the National Gallery School (1910) under McCubbin (q.v.). It was while a student at the Gallery School that he met Doris née Gough (q.v.); they married in October 1915 and produced five talented offspring of artists, potters and sculptors including Arthur (q.v.), Guy (q.v.) and Mary (later Lady Nolan) who married John Perceval (q.v.). “Idiosyncratic, mostly self-taught”, Merric was the first of the Boyds to undertake a career as a sculptor and potter which provided a creative outlet to his unpredictable and intense personality and though his life was eccentric it was “emotionally and artistically fulfilling”.
Even though he struggled financially for most of his adult life and relying on a small stipend from his parents (“where Merric was concerned, nothing was too much”), he was able create an extraordinary home in Open Country – 8 Wahroonga Crescent, Murrumbeena (1913-64) (“indefinable, vaguely Bohemian style of aristocratic poverty”) that became a creative haven for the wider family. Merric is somewhat of a paradox: a pacifist who enlisted for active overseas service (1917-19); he would allow the children to dress untidy with long unbrushed hair yet insisted on politeness and rounded vowels; and while he detested making money out of art, successful expeditions to the city to sell his pottery were remembered with the happiness it would bring. Yet Boyd can lay claim to being the first person in Australia to produce hand-made pieces; he is rightly credited as the father of studio pottery for his highly acclaimed decorative household pieces who strove to “merge the technical and domestic aspects of pottery with the sculptural”.
His health went into slow decline from the onset of the Second World War (“very frail and vague…an invalid”) and he died on 9 September 1959 aged 71.
Niall, B., “The Boyds” (2002).
ADB Volume 7 1891-1939 (A-Ch).
The Age 28 November 1984.
(Image copyright Estate of Albert Tucker. Courtesy Lauraine Diggins Fine Art. By permission of the National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23605138)