Q What are 'ceramics from New Zealand'? Maori art? Are they worth collecting? WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS: For many years, ceramic artists from New Zealand have picked up international awards for their exquisite, original pieces. A recent exhibition brought a selection of New Zealand's finest to Hong Kong. One such artist is Darryl Robertson, whose work has been bought by museums and collectors around the world. He says New Zealand has a history of ceramics dating from the early European settlement of New Zealand more than 150 years ago. 'However the period most people talk about is from the 1950s to now,' says the Nelson-based artist. MIXED TRADITIONS: Robertson says that there is a difference between the contemporary and traditional arts of New Zealand. 'Many New Zealand artists are influenced in spirit by the Maori tradition, but unless you are a Maori person most people stay away from copying the art forms,' he says. 'You have to totally understand the culture first.' Nonetheless, Robertson says many New Zealand ceramic artists depend on materials native to the land: 'New Zealand materials are used in most cases, especially the clays, with about 30 to 40 blends being produced. We have great clay deposits here. 'Many of the techniques and skills came from England and Japan, but also from a huge interest in the ancient ceramics of China. In the 80s the US was becoming a big influence as well.' The artist also credits his local audience and their love of originality for the development of ceramic art in New Zealand. Uses of the craft vary widely from domestic pottery to sculptural, painted and glazed artworks. If there is one quality to describe New Zealand ceramics that Robertson has heard repeatedly, it is 'freshness'. 'I think they are saying this about many Kiwi artists and I feel it means the works are not bound by strict traditions, making it easier to be free and unlimited,' he says. NEW COLLECTOR TIPS Robertson recommends looking for pieces from the early movement of the 50s and 60s, especially Harry and May Davis' high-quality tableware; Len Castle's innovative pottery and ceramic art produced over the past 50 years; Barry Brickell's wood-fired terracotta forms and pottery; and Peter Stichbury's hand-crafted tableware and wheel-thrown pieces. Others include: Mirek Smizak, Jim Greig, Doreen Blumhardt and Jack Laird. Prices vary considerably. His own creations range from about NZ$500 (HK$2,281) to NZ$15,000. 'Really there is no upper limit depending on the work, size, etcetera,' he says. 'Be prepared to pay more than you really want to; good art does cost money, bad art usually does not.' Most artists 'sign' each piece, usually with a stamp, and dealers should provide a certificate of authenticity. Robertson warns people to avoid galleries that cannot give information on the artist. In Hong Kong, modern ceramics by a group of artists that includes Robertson may be viewed and bought through Koru Contemporary New Zealand Arts (tel: 2541 6126, web: www.koru-hk.com ). The artist's website is: www.BronteGallery.co.nz . Robertson also recommends: Craft New Zealand at www.craftinfo.org.nz and NZ Potters at www.nzpotters.com . Auction houses in New Zealand are Dunbar Sloane in Wellington and Auckland ( www.dunbarsloane.com ) and Webbs in Auckland ( www.webbs.co.nz ).