Ceramic Artist - Vladimir Tichy


Interviewee: Vladimir Tichy, Born 1926         

Interviewer: Frank Heimans,
            for The Hills Shire Council

Date of Interview: 12 March 2013

Transcription: Frank Heimans, March, 2013

This interview represents the personal recollections, views and opinions of the interviewee

What are some of your earliest memories, what sort of things do you remember about growing up in Prague?

I remember when I was about two and a half that I was going with my father to some restaurant for lunch and also I remember that I was probably three years old when we were leaving Czechoslovakia to Buenos Aires, and I remember when I was in the train going to Paris and afterwards I have no idea anymore. Afterwards I remember when I arrived to Buenos Aires.

Why were you going to Buenos Aires?

Because my father made hams and all these things, like chorizos and things like that and he had a brother who arrived in Buenos Aires before him and he started the production of that meat, and things like that. He needed help and he rang my father to see if he could come and help him. My father sold his shop that he had in Prague and took another apprentice with him, and workers with him, about five people and we went to Buenos Aires to start bigger production. It was ham from Prague, it was very special and he was advertising going around Buenos Aires about production. And my mother was opening restaurants with European cuisine because in Buenos Aires there were a lot of German people and people from Europe, that meant we had a lot of customers who came to my mother's restaurant

What year was that then, that you went to Buenos Airest?

It was, I think, 1929 I was there only one year and my mother had to bring me back to Czechoslovakia because the hot weather was not good for me. That meant I was another two years in Prague, living with my grandmother, and after two years my mother came back for me and that was, I think, in 1933 and took me back to Buenos Aires. I was I think, about seven years old. It was a big problem because I didn't speak Spanish, but funny thing, after half a year suddently I understood. It was like 'I get it' and suddenly I was able to speak Spanish. The funny thing is after I arrived here I was forty-two years old and I thought, alright, I will have some problems with English but after half a year I will be able to speak perfect English, like in Buenos Aires, but it never happened again. Children are really good in their learning, and things like that.

That's right, kids can mange to pick up two or three languages.

IMG_7498.jpg   IMG_7544.jpg
Vladimir Tichy created the mural and ceramic wall designs in the foyer of The Hills Centre. The overall design spans multiple floors.

Give me a bit of background about your parents, say, your mother, what is her background?

She was very active. She always had three restaurants. One was running very good, one was nearly dying after, I would say three years and another was just opening. That meant she was running three restaurants, when one finished she opened another one, she was very good in business. My father was not a good businessman, he was just good in production. They worked together, my mother was in business and my father in production. Also, what my father was producing we sold in my mother's shops.

How did the business go in Buenos Aires, was it successful?

Yes it was very successful but my father was sick and tired after ten years living in Buenos Aires and because he was already quite old he was always thinking to go back to his country and to Prague. It was in 1937, already everybody was telling him 'Don't go back because it looks like we will have a war and everything' but my father didn't listen and in 1938 we arrived to Czechoslovakia. My father sold the business and everything, and my mother also, and with lots of money we arrived in Prague. After one year Hitler came and everything disappeared, money, nothing, and we were stuck in Prague under the Hitler occupation, but that was not so bad. After two years of freedom, after Hitler collapsed, what happened was that the Communists arrived and that was the finish. We lived twenty years under the Communist regime and because we were capitalists, because my father had a little factory, it was pretty bad. They didn't like me very much.

Let's talk about the Communist era later and take you back to Prague in March of 1939 when the Germans invaded, do you remember that?

Yes, we were in Prague in when they came, that was terrible and everybody was crying, the tanks came into our street and everything. What happened afterwards was another tragedy, when Heydrich was killed by parachutists from England and the town of Lidice was destroyed. I remember we were living close to that church where the parachutists were hiding. From our balcony we were looking at the back of the church and suddenly hundreds and hundreds of soldiers arrived, they were going through our homes, they were inspecting everything. One soldier was there at all hours, standing in front of our flat, and also the people. Afterwards we heard some shooting and things like that and it was I think about four o'clock in the afternoon when they finally killed the parachutists and the German soldiers left. Afterwards another very bad thing happened, they started killing the people who were helping the parachutists, it was really a very difficult time for our Czech people living under the Germans.

Also I started going to ceramic school in 1942 and in 1944 the Germans closed down all special schools and that meant I was put into a factory. The factory was producing some motors for aeroplanes and because my mother was very progressive she got to the government, a German place, where they were putting people in different jobs and she told them, 'Look, this is stupid that my son is producing some motor things when he is a ceramist.' She told them, 'There are a lot of ceramics factories in Prague, you can shift him in there,' and they thought that was a very good idea. That was in, I think, November 1944 and they told me that I can go out of that factory and wait, and the office would call me and tell me in which ceramic factory I would start working. I was waiting, waiting and nothing came because they were so busy. I was out of that factory's problems until May and then Hitler was finished and the Russian Army arrived.

Unfortunately it was a problem because I remember, I was eighteen years old and I was with the guards who started fighting against the Germans and we were going in some place where the army was, and they gave us some revolvers and things like that. We discovered that already the American tanks were close to Prague but unfortunately because there was some stupid agreement between Russia and Roosevelt it meant that the Russian Army must come first. That meant the American tanks went back to Pilsen, that was the border between the Americans and the Russians and we waited two days before the Russian army arrived from Berlin to Prague.

How large was your family - how many brothers or sisters did you have?

I was alone.

Vladimir's style is inspired by Egyptian and African artwork

Do you remember life as a boy in Czechoslovakia, just before the war broke out?

Only what I remember was that I had to go to school. In Buenos Aires I was going to spanish schools, but fortunately my grandmother sent me a lot of Czech books and I was reading, reading, reading in Czech, that meant that I was speaking quite alright. When I arrived at the school they were having examinations and they gave me a dictation and I was absolutely perfect because visually, I knew immediately if I have made a mistake or not. Afterwards they gave me a speech exam, they were asking me different things, and that I didn't know, I only knew visually. They put me in Grade 4 and after half a year they put me in Grade 5 and then I went to a higher school, but still I was 1 year behind because of the change from Spanish to the Czech language.

So after the Germans came did anything change at school for you?

The only change was that we got the German language, every day we had one hour of German language and we were very bad. Everybody got the worst possible mark in German because our teachers, they were also Czechs, were against Germany.

Now you started in 1941 in a technical college in Prague, how were those years for you?

From my young years I always liked drawing and things like that but still I was very interested in Medicine. When I was about eleven years old I thought that I will go to university and I will study Medicine. But when Hitler came he closed all universities, they were closed; only the low schools were running. That meant I was not able to go to university to study Medicine, but because I like drawing and things like that I chose the ceramic school.

They taught you ceramics at that technical college?

That school was three years, I think, and it was very, very good because we had modelling, sculpture, we had drawing, we had chemistry all these things necessary to know in ceramic work. During these two years the professors decided in which of three ways you would go. If you were good in art you would go to art for three years for art study. If you were good in chemistry it was a specialist three years for chemistry. That meant the chemistry people, they were going afterwards into factories and we, who were working in the art department, we were going into university. That meant when I finished ceramic school I applied to be in a university and I was accepted.

When did you actually get married? Was that in Czechoslovakia?

First I married a girl whom I met in the porcelain factory when I was doing work for Brussels, that was the first exhibition in Brussels in 1958, I think it was. I had a lot of work accepted in that exhibition but I was not allowed to go there because I was not in the Communist Party. I married that young girl and unfortunately it didn't work properly because she was too young. We discovered after a few years that it doesn't work and I got a divorce, and afterwards I married my second wife, that was in 1963.

And she was Czechoslovakian?

Yes, actually what happened was she was working in the institute where I was working, she was a secretary and I was making designs for factories and we met in that institute. Artists who were interested to exhibit in Brussels had to make first the sketches and things like that and the jury decided whether you will do something or not. That means I was chosen that I will make my designs for Brussels. That meant I spent half a year in a porcelein factory in Duchcov doing these originals. Vases, plates, some of them I have here. When my work was finished all my work was again presented to the jury and they decided which pieces will be exhibited. I had quite a lot of pieces, I don't remember how many, and that is why I had the exhibition there but was not allowed, unfortunately, to go to Brussels.

A section of the mural depicting the ballet Swan Lake


What got you interested in ceramics in the first place?

I told you in the beginning, when I was a young child I liked drawing and when I came Buenos Aires to Czechoslovakia I visited a lot of museums and things like that and I discovered when I was not able to go to medicine, I discovered that I liked very much the ceramic work, china, porcelein, all the pottery, what was made for a hundred years in Czechoslovakia and I like that very, very much. That is why I decided to study ceramics.

Well the Czechs are famous for their glasswork, aren't they - you didn't ever go into glass?

Actually, they are not only in glass but in textiles and all these craft things. The funny thing is, when I arrived in Australia I got a job at Crown Crystal and I was making designs for glass because in Czechoslovakia I was also making designs for the decoration of porcelein and its not a big difference to make the designs for glass. That meant I was working about half a year at Crown Crystal, making designs for glass, but I met one Australian potter and we started our studio in Parramatta. That means I was in that glass factory for only six months.

How did you actually get out of Czechoslovakia?

That was quite easy. Actually, when Russia occupied us we were in Poland for a holiday and when we came back Prague was already occupied. Of course, a lot of people were leaving and I knew that the Communists will be back again and stronger, and with my attitude I will be finished as an artist. For a lot of people leaving that was no problem, everybody in the offices everywhere were helping people to go out. That means we got passports and we were leaving for Vienna. It was not so easy to go out of Czechoslovakia because everybody had to have a passport. We got a passport, nobody made a problem, we got a passport in a few days, but it was necessary to have a reason to go out. My wife took some letters of invitation from one of her colleagues because some relations were invited to Vienna. My wife got the letter from her and she made a photocopy and presented that, that we were invited for wedding in Vienna, that is why we got the permissions. I told you, everybody was helping people to get out.

You got the passports because it was still the Dubcek regime, was it?

I don't think that was so important , it was important that during the Dubcek era the Communists were not so hard. We were hoping that we will be able to make the republic democratic again, we were naive. The Russians, they knew what was coming in and that is why they occupied us, but because of that occupation even the Communists were annoyed and were helping everybody to go out. Afterwards a lot of Communists were imprisoned also because a lot of Communists were against that occupation.

It was November that we left Prague to go to Vienna and we were living there about three weeks. I was going to the Australian Embassy with photographs of my work and everything and I was asking, 'Do you have factories of porcelain and ceramics in Australia?' 'Oh yes,' and they showed me the Yellow Pages and stupid me, I didn't understand but when I arrived here I discovered that they are not factories of porcelain, only pipes, bricks, ceramic tiles and all these names in the Yellow Pages, they were the people who were in the garage, making pottery, you know.

Now you came to Australia, did you come by ship?

We came by Qantas, the government paid for our trip, for Marcella, me and my wife. We only had three pieces of luggage and when we arrived we had to buy everything from needle to television, but we were lucky because we arrived in 1968 and it was a very good economic situation in Australia, no unemployment, there was no problem to get work. Also, when we started that ceramic studio a lot of buildings were going up and the architects still had a lot of spare money to make some artwork. From the beginning I was working a lot of murals throughout Sydney and Australia without a problem, and that is why we were able to buy that house.

When you left Czechoslovakia, or Vienna, did you come as a refugee to Australia or did you come as a migrant?

As a refugee. When we arrived to Sydney we thought already it was too late because all these immigration camps were already full, that means that they put us on a bus and shipped us to Bonegilla, that was another camp. It was just before Christmas nobody was able to employ you, that meant that we stayed there up to January and we had learning classes, which was very good because I was able afterwards to learn a bit of English. I remember when we arrived to Melbourne and I was going to the employment office and explaining what I am doing and things like that he was calling the main office and probably they were asking about my English and he told them, 'Yes, his English is very fluent, but very broken.'

Did you come with any money from Czechoslovakia? How did you survive the first six months in Australia?

Everything we had in Czechoslovakia we had to leave there, money and everything. I had the studio there, we had a flat there and were only able to buy a few American dollars. I remember, we bought about four hundred and fifty American dollars on the black market and my wife had a sister and she is a modes [milliner] and she put that money into my wife's hat. We were going to Vienna and if they were looking for money they would not find it because my wife had this money in her hat. That meant we arrived in Australia with four hundred and fifty dollars already.

So after you were at Bonegilla for a couple of months in that migrant camp, did they throw you out after that, what happened?

From Bonegilla we were transferred to Melbourne and again into a camp and we started looking for work. We met one Romanian man was already in Australia for a long time and he liked the Czech very much and he was looking for work for us and I got a job in pottery. But it was difficult, with my four hundred and fifty dollars I spent fifty dollars for a bike, I rode every morning to the pottery on a bike and back. My wife got a job very close to that camp and she was making, I don't know, something.

We were there only a few months to May because through the employment office they also contacted Crown Cystal in Sydney and Crown Crystal paid my airfare to come here and show my work and they decided that they liked it and they employed me. That meant they paid us again the train fare from Melbourne to Sydney and I was employed there. We were still living again in a hostel in Burwood, my wife got employment in some printing company and that is how we started in Sydney.

It is a classic story of migrant survival, fantastic. Tell me, when was Marcella born?

Actually, Marcella is my stepdaughter because when I met my second wife she divorced her husband and I divorced my wife. Marcella was seven years old when we got together.


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