Pioneers: 101 years of the Leach Pottery is on view at Court Barn
July 10 – September 25, 2021
An exhibition of work by some of the UK’s leading potters of the 20th-century is on display this summer at the Court Barn in Chipping Campden.
The renaissance of the British love of ceramics can arguably be traced back to 2003, when Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize with a selection of his Grecian urn-like pots from his show, Guerrilla Tactics – the first time it was awarded to a ceramic artist.
As Perry’s fame grew to the status of ‘National Treasure’, in 2015 Channel 4 launched its hit show The Great Pottery Throw Down, doing for ceramics what Master Chef and Bake Off had done for cookery and baking respectively.
With this ongoing and heightened interest in pottery as an artform in its own right, the announcement of a major survey of the work of Bernard Leach (1887-1979) alongside several of his contemporaries at Court Barn in Chipping Campden, is sure to draw visitors.
Ceramic art flourished in Britain during the 20th-century, with pioneering potters beginning to work independently, using an ancient craft to create cutting-edge art and design.
As a young man, Bernard Leach spent 11 formative years in Japan and the Far East, where he was introduced to the art and craft of oriental ceramics. With a burgeoning international reputation, he was invited by Frances Horne, founder of the St Ives Handcraft Guild, to return back to Britain and work alongside the existing artists’ colony in Cornwall. At that time the Cornish fishing towns of St Ives and Newlyn had both began begun to attract artists, drawn by the beauty of the scenery, quality of light, simplicity of life and drama of the sea.
Accepting her offer, Leach returned to Britain in 1920, accompanied by Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), a young Japanese colleague, and settled in Cornwall. They established a pottery near St Ives, making functional wares with a strong oriental sensibility in terms of form, decoration and glazing. Together, they certainly captured the spirit of the moment – as the exhibition evocatively shows – with many of their contemporaries, including Edward Baker, Alfred Hopkins, Dora Lunn and Reginald Wells also trying to reproduce the rich glazes they admired on Chinese and Japanese wares.
Leach’s work however, had an authenticity developed during his time in Japan. He wanted to combine the best of both eastern and western traditions and explained his philosophy in his influential publication, A Potter’s Book (1940).
Together with his son, David, he also created a range of standard wares that were sold alongside pots as works of art. He took on pupils and apprentices such as Michael Cardew, Katherine Pleydell Bouverie, Kenneth Quick and William and Scott Marshall, all of whose work is included in this exhibition.
Bernard Leach became the towering figure of the Studio Pottery movement and many potters today still acknowledge his inspiration.
“We have chosen four contemporary potters to bring the exhibition up-to-date; Jack Doherty in Cornwall and John Jelfs at the Cotswold Pottery at Bourton-in-the-Water in Gloucestershire, Matt Foster – former apprentice and now production manager at the Leach Pottery – and Kat Wheeler, formerly at the Leach Pottery but now working independently,” says Sarah McCormick Healy, Curator at Court Barn.
“Their contribution to the exhibition effectively completes a circle, as Bernard Leach and the studio pottery tradition are relevant to Court Barn and the Cotswolds, as it was a visit with Leach to Russell & Sons at Broadway in 1926 that led to Michael Cardew setting up the Winchcombe Pottery, now represented in the museum’s permanent collection.
Pioneers is a celebratory exhibition, that provides a thorough insight into the 100-year history of the Leach Pottery, from its precursors to its impact on contemporary makers. Most of the work on show has been borrowed from private collections or from the potters themselves, having never been seen in public before. A short film of Leach at St Ives in the 1950s will also be screened.”
The exhibition now also includes fifteen outstanding examples of work by Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada, Janet Leach, Michael Cardew and David Leach formerly in the collection of the late Dr John P Driscoll.
Dr Driscoll, who died of coronavirus in April 2020 aged 70, was an influential and highly respected American curator, art historian and gallery owner in New York City. He ran the Babcock Driscoll Galleries in Manhattan, one of the oldest private galleries in the city. He was also a great enthusiast for British studio pottery. This is the first and last time that such a large selection will be available to the general public. The Dr John P Driscoll Collection will be sold at auction by Phillips and Maak Contemporary Ceramics at the end of 2021.
Pioneers: 101 years of the Leach Pottery is presented in partnership with Maak Ceramics.
01386 841 951
Church Street, Chipping Campden
Gloucestershire, GL55 6JE