In 1909, at the age of twenty-one, Bernard LEACH travelled back to Japan where he discovered the wealth of art forms and philosophies that influenced the direction of the rest of his life (see his individual entry for personal details). After eleven years in China and Japan, Leach returned to England with Shoji HAMADA and established the St Ives Pottery in 1920 along Japanese lines. His benefactor and patron was Frances HORNE who was gathering craftworkers to develop the St Ives Guild of Handicraft.
This initiative became the ‘starting point of modern ceramics’ (British Studio Ceramics p22). The relative isolation of St Ives, and the brief length of the summer tourist season affected the sales of his products, and at one point he was saved from bankruptcy by the Elmhirsts of Dartington. He and his assistants began to exhibit in London and Japan, and also in Cornwall at Newlyn from 1924 when crafts became a part of the exhibition programme.
The Leach Pottery has been renovated and re-opened by the Leach Pottery Trust, and is open to visitors at hours specified on its website. An excellent museum and bookshop runs in tandem with the pottery, which continues through its team to educate the public as well as the professional ceramist.
Penlee House Gallery and Museum, Penzance West Cornwall Studio Pottery January - March 2010
misc further info
MR LEACH’S POTTERY SHOW 21 Mar 1924
Mr Bernard Leach had a happy inspiration when he arranged for a special show of his work at the Drill Hall this week, and it is interesting to know that he intends to repeat the experiment during the summer, at his own pottery works. It is a matter of congratulation that so many people have accepted his invitation to be present at his demonstrations, and it has been especially gratifying to see so many school children looking on eagerly at all there was to be seen. Artistic handicrafts are coming more and more to the front now-a-days, and the oftener the rising generation can be made interested in such things, the better for them and the world.
At the Drill Hall this week it has been possible to see the whole process of pottery making, to the finished article. Mr Leach has lectured briefly on the proper sort of clay to be used and where that clay is to be found and has described all the processes in the making of his wares, which are by this time famous all the world over. Mr Leach has had in the hall a small portable kiln in which pots have been actually and quickly baked. At his works the kilns are of course much larger; a new one just being installed is some 20 ft in length with three chambers. In the small portable kiln referred to above, a batch of ten pots can be baked in an hour, after having first gone through the process of biscuit firing. This kind of low temperature, quickly made, ware is called in Japan, its home, ‘Raku’ which means ‘delightful’. It is an exhibition of pottery-making in a nutshell—while you wait! In Japan these kilns are fed with charcoal; in this country it is found feasible to use coke.
Visitors have been shown how the clay is kneaded, and built up or ‘coiled’ by hand into comely shapes: how the clay is dealt with on the wheel: how handles or spouts are pulled out. They have witnessed the deft decoration of the pots, by the slip method, whereby another coloured clay of a cream consistency is used—a method traditional in England till the year 1820. They have seen pots engraved as soon as the clay is hard enough for this process. Great care has to be exercised in the drying and firing, so as to allow the water both chemically and naturally combined in the clay to escape. A pot not properly dried, will sometimes burst like a bomb. The pots when properly fired and cooled can be painted—as shown by Mr Leach and his able assistants—and are then dipped in the glaze.
Mr Leach’s enterprise has deserved the greatest success. It has been a most admirable object lesson to St Ives and to all the visitors who have come in from the immediate neighbourhood, and there is no doubt that any future exhibitions of the same nature should attract numerous visitors during the summer….M A H
Cornishman 3 Dec 1924, 2 Dec 1925, 3 Dec 1926 (as quoted in Hardie 1995)
Cross (2002) Catching the Wave: Contemporary Art & Artists in Cornwall 1975-present day (pp16-17)
de Waal (1999), Bernard Leach in the St Ives Artists series, Tate Publications (Select bibliography and exhibition record)
Edgeler (2010) Slipware and St Ives
Hardie (1995) 100 Years in Newlyn: Diary of a Gallery
(2009) Artists in Newlyn and West Cornwall (See Miscellaneous below, rep p129)
Marriott (1948, revised from 1943) British Handicrafts British Life & Thought series, No 13
Marion Whybrow (2006) The Leach Legacy, St Ives Pottery and its influence
www.cornishceramics.com (The Digital Museum of Cornish Ceramics 2004)