BERNARD LEACH

clara grein
Clara Grein

Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book, which has never been out of print in Britain since it was published in 1940, has been translated into Italian for the first time by Clara Grein. The long delay is explicable by Italy’s very different ceramic tradition, into which the Leach style of stoneware has made few inroads. I learned of Il Libro del Ceramista from British potter Terry Davies, who has been making stoneware pottery in Italy for many years.

Emmanuel Cooper’s biography of Leach refers to Leach’s admiration for Ruskin but I looked in vain for any reference to Bergson, whose whose anti-rationalism and philosophy of élan vital pervade A Potter’s Book. Leach regarded “vitality” as a virtue in pottery, talked of “the intuitive craftsman” and used “intellectual” as a term of disapprobation. This short quotation gives a flavour of his thinking:

Judgment in art cannot be other than intuitive and founded upon sense experience, on what Kawai calls ‘the body’. No process of reasoning can be a substitute for or widen the range of our intuitive knowledge. This does not mean that we cannot use our common sense in examining the qualities in a pot which give us its character, such as form, texture, decoration and glaze, for analytic reasoning is important enough as a support to intuition.

It’s hard to know whether Leach ever read Creative Evolution, the book in which Bergson expounded his idea of the vital spirit that drives evolution and that can be interpreted as the source of human creativity, but it was popular in the first half of the twentieth century, was widespread in artistic circles and (as Rachel Gotleib showed) was marshaled in service of the new ceramics.

EMMANUEL COOPER

Emmanuel Cooper (from Online Ceramics)

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.