Conversations in Clay by Head of Collections & Interpretation Mark Themann

March 2, 2023

Left: Conversations in Clay #1, Marian Bosch (Earthenware bowl) Right: Conversations in Clay #1, Manfred Klein (Earthenware). Donated by Marien Bosch. Jewish Museum of Australia Collection.

Stories connect us in myriads of ways, in the ways they are told, in how and when they come to us, in how they are stored, shared, retold and absorbed. An object in our Collection starts to slip out of mystery’s grasp and become alive to us, when an account – better still, when multiple stories – can be paired to it.

Recently the Collections & Interpretation team encountered a new set of stories which augment the collection holdings on Manfred (Mike) Klein, one of the Dunera Boys. The Jewish Museum is privileged to hold many Klein related objects and documents in our Collection.

Last week, artist Marian Bosch delivered her donated objects into the collection office, objects which showcased her collaborations with Manfred Klein. As we were unpacking the works, Marian unpacked her stories with immense sensitivity and enthusiasm. Her firsthand accounts opened to us, her connection to and encounters with, Manfred.

In 2012 both met at Studio 66, a clay studio operated by Ingrid and Klaus Dusselberg, located in the Melbourne suburb of Camberwell. For years Manfred had attended the studio, largely working alone and happily so. Once Marian discovered Studio 66, also preferring a quiet concentration when working, began to seat herself alongside this quiet elderly man. Both worked in silence, and over years, something rare and unique was established in this silence.

Manfred was 88 years old at the time – someone who was in the process of losing his place in this world.  My elderly friend and I both moulded clay. I pinched bowls repetitively from a ball of porcelain clay, while my friend’s mouldings took on different forms. I seemed to involve myself in compulsive making, smoothing out the harshness of my own memories in the soft porcelain clay and the smudginess of the charcoal, while for my elderly friend the moulding and making processes were more fragmented and interrupted.—MARIAN BOSCH

When the studio owners took a holiday and with Manfred being beset by growing stages of dementia, Marian realised that he would be on his own during this period. That is when she invited him into her own ceramics studio, to continue this silent connection. Concerned to keep his memories alive, as much as possible, she wondered, what was the best way to start communicating?

Knowing that dementia sufferers often prefer round or spherical objects, she placed a ball of raw clay in front of him and demonstrated the use of making a ‘pinch-pot’. A new door was opened, as Manfred dove deeper into the freedoms that handmade expressions offered, to speak in a different way, away from the difficulties in using the spoken word and sequential memory.

For Marian the bowl might function as a metaphor for the storage of trauma and memory. Untrained in art, Manfred quickly took his own non-verbal path, working the clay into figurative representations instead, one of which we present in this photo.

In a beautiful long-term and deepening exchange, Marian and Manfred, started to create ‘conversations in clay’. Working with representatives of Manfred’s family and working alongside and beyond his challenges with strokes and his increasingly troubled mind, both Manfred and Marian created a large body of work – a decade long conversation in clay – of which this is just a small sample.

We present two objects from the “Conversations in Clay” series, so generously gifted to us by Marian Bosch. Equally as precious, the Museum is thrilled to have added a significant untold story alongside these objects, both of which connects us to a remarkable man and enriches other Manfred (Mike) Klein materials, in our wonderful Collection.