Emmanuel Cooper, one of the leading figures in British studio pottery, died recently at the age of 73. He was the founding editor of Ceramic Review in 1970 and continued editing it until 2010. He was a writer, teacher and curator as well as a potter and served the Craft Potters Association and the Crafts Council.
I first met him in the late 1960s at the Fonthill Pottery in Finsbury Park. Later he moved to Primrose Hill, where the Fonthill Pottery has a shop front in a good position. The last time I passed it, the window showed recent pottery, work in progress and his motorbike.
His pottery was urban and modernist, but functional rather than conceptual. He became a fantastic innovator in brilliantly coloured glazes with textured surfaces.
He was one of the potters I approached for advice and to ask if he would take me on as an assistant. Although he couldn’t take on anyone at that time, he was one of the most helpful and encouraging potters I met. Later he was an external examiner at the University of Westminster when I studied ceramics at Harrow. Our interviews there were more formal than our first one, but he was good at putting students at ease. I was very critical of the work I showed. Emmanuel didn’t tell me to relax my standards but reminded me that when one stops being self-critical it’s time to stop making.
Yesterday I went to a party to say farewell to Kyra Kane, (above centre) head of ceramics at Harrow, the University of Westminster. She is leaving following the University’s decision to close the Harrow course in 2013. The Harrow course is one of the leading ceramics courses in Britain and is respected throughout the world. The accountants have decided it costs too much. Of course, it always cost too much, but in past decades it was worth paying for; closing it means the University does not value it.
Kyra was one of my teachers on the BA Ceramics course. We also said farewell to Richard Phethean, Carina Ciscato and Daphne Carnegy, who taught on the first year of the course. There will be no more first year intake. Kyra, Richard, Carina and Daphne were important in my ceramics education, especially as they are all throwers and I am a thrower.
The Harrow closure is the latest in a series of closures of ceramics courses. There is no ceramics BA anywhere in Scotland now. The extraordinary thing is that the market for ceramics seems to be bigger than ever. The best data on this is in the Crafts Council’s survey of crafts activity in England and Wales, which found about 6,700 people working in craft ceramics in England and Wales. (Making It in the 21st Century, London, Crafts Council, 2004) From their data, I estimate that the annual sales of studio ceramics is about £114m. They say that, “During the 1980s there was an overall growth in the domestic market for crafts and an associated increase in the number of craft fairs and specialist shops,” and that the output of the crafts sector has more doubled since in 1994.
So why is a leading course training ceramic artists closing down? There is no national planning of vocational education and the universities can make their own decisions. There was a huge outcry from major figures in the crafts and education and I understand that there is concern at a senior level about the future of education for the crafts. Education in all crafts is expensive, because of capital costs and space requirements. If this is not squarely faced and adequately funded, training for this important industry will continue to decline.
Fortunately there is an imaginative initiative to provide another training route, complementary to university education. Lisa Hammond of Maze Hill Pottery is putting tremendous energy into a campaign to re-introduce pottery apprenticeships. Her Adopt-a-Potter scheme has a lot of support among ceramists and it deserves even more.