Karel Jungvirt, a sculptor and artist who had escaped the 1948 Communist takeover in Czechoslovakia, arrived in Australia in late 1951. His pottery career in Australia began in 1952 when, initially employed as a mould maker with Diana Pottery in Marrickville, he was soon designing and making models there. It was during his stint with Diana that he met Toni Coles, an East Sydney Technical College graduate who had previously been working in commercial advertising, illustrating catalogues. Coles had started working as a ceramic decorator at Diana pottery for what she thought would just be a temporary diversion. But she enjoyed the work so much that she decided to stay on - Jungvirt and Coles were married in 1953 and their partnership also became a business one when Jungvirt set up a small pottery in the basement of their flat in Neutral Bay.
When it came to registering their pottery - Studio Anna - as a business, local council restrictions meant that they had to find premises in an industrial zone in order to operate. Thus in April 1954 they moved to Shepherd Street, Marrickville, which was to be the home of Studio Anna until its closure in 1999. During its period of operation the business would expand to include the 2 adjoining properties.
From around 1954, orders came to Studio Anna as a result of its displays within the Ceramic Art and Fine Ware Association exhibitions. These were held at Anthony Horderns' Fine Art Gallery in Anthony Horderns' Department Store. A major exhibition of Australian ceramics by a number of potteries at Proud's store in Sydney to coincide with the Melbourne Olympics, also generated healthy sales for Studio Anna.
Following World War 2, Sydney had become a popular holiday destination, particularly for American and European tourists. Karel Jungvirt capitalised on the resulting demand for souvenirs with an Australian theme by creating slipcast decorated earthenware ceramics designed specifically for this market. Ceramics decorated with local scenes and Aboriginal themes were particularly sought after by both tourists and locals - thus adaptations of Aboriginal cave and bark paintings as well as images of Aboriginal people became popular (for Studio Anna and a number of other commercial potteries) throughout the 1950s and 60s. Souvenir shops as such did not exist in Sydney in the 1950s, so Jungvirt approached Swain's Newsagency as a potential stockist for Studio Anna ware. This was a smart move because the extended trading hours allowed to a small number of businesses - including newsagencies - at this time meant that Studio Anna ceramics would be available to the tourist market when department stores and gift shops were closed. At this time Studio Anna was employing a number of skilled artists as decorators. Several of these artists would make personal appearances in department stores, demonstrating their decorating skills and generating further interest in Studio Anna ceramics. Toni Jungvirt in particular travelled as far afield as Tasmania and Queensland making well publicised instore appearances, often over the period of a week.
At its peak, Studio Anna employed over 30 staff and by 1957 their ceramic ware was not only distributed widely in Australia, but was also being exported to such places as Tahiti, New Zealand, Fiji, the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States. But 1957 also saw a major blow dealt to Studio Anna and other commercial potteries in the form of the Australia-Japan Agreement on Commerce negotiated by Australian Trade Minister in the Menzies government, John 'Black Jack' McEwan. This agreement opened the doors for a mass of cheap Japanese ceramics to enter the Australian market.
Although many local commercial potteries producing hand decorated ware, were forced out of business by this competition, Studio Anna's decorating department, with a reduced staff, managed to survive.
In the late 1960s, with public demand for Studio Anna's range of souvenirs increasing, Karel Jungvirt took the step of opening his own souvenir shop, which he named Australiana, in Sydney's newly-built Australia Square. Such was the popularity of this store, which in addition to ceramics also carried craftwork made by an Aboriginal mission station and tea towels designed by Studio Anna artists (along with toy koalas and kangaroos), that eventually a total of five Australiana stores were operating in the Sydney area, including one in the MLC centre.
In addition to its decorative souvenirs, Studio Anna was also catering for the cookware market. Introduced around the early 1960s, possibly as an Australian answer to Corning Ware (which came out in 1958), a range of decorated cookware called Pyro-Ceracraft was developed. Available in a wide selection of designs and described as oven tableware, this range of heat resistant ceramics included casserole dishes, pie dishes and ramekins and was designed to be attractive enough to be brought straight from the oven to the dinner table. As such, matching salt and pepper shakers, table heaters and candle holders also formed part of the range.
With hand decorated ceramics becoming less and less cost effective for Studio Anna, Jungvirt's next innovation was Fiana ware. Appearing in about the mid 1970s, Fiana ware was a range of glazed kitchen storage canisters with matching salt and pepper shakers, cruet sets, jugs and sugar bowls available in such contemporary colours as antique orange, citrus yellow, olive gold and orange red. Instead of hand painted decoration though, decals (transfers) were now used. Studio Anna's decorating department still continued to operate, however, only closing in 1982 when Toni Coles left the business.
When kitchenware was no longer in demand and with the introduction of duty free shops taking the tourist market from Australiana stores, Jungvirt decided to diversify once more. Catering to the hotel and serviced apartment market in Sydney, Studio Anna started producing glazed lamp bases, even exporting them to Japan. They also took one-off commissions, which included tiled panels and a jug and decanter set commemorating the centenary of the NSW Government Expedition to Lord Howe Island in 1882.
In 1999 after many years of illness, during which time he still managed to run the business, Karel Jungvirt finally sold the pottery, returning to Czechoslovakia where he died the following year.
This history was compiled with reference to information contained in the Studio Anna archives and The People's Potteries: Stories of the art potteries of Sydney - post World War II by Dorothy Johnston, Sydney, 2002