Ethel Sets the Table

Edwin Beer Fishley bowl

The third and last of the books I ordered from Cotswolds Living in the UK is Michael Cardew, Ethel Mairet and the New Handworkers Gallery: The Hill Collection, again by John Edgeler. In this monograph, Edgeler looks at the collection of pots, originally amassed by Ethel Mairet but passed into the hands of her heirs the Hill family, residents of New Zealand.

Mairet was a weaver. She married Ananda Coomaraswamy, an art historian and philosopher but the union was short lived. She then married Philip Mairet, a draughtsman, and together the couple built a comfortable Arts and Crafts style house called Gospels. She was an excellent weaver, studied the weaving of many other cultures, and wrote articles and books.

What makes her interesting to us is she was deeply appreciative of not only her own craft, weaving and spinning, but in everything handmade. She had an eye for excellence. She set up a gallery in her home and sought out talented craftspeople. She was particularly interested in pottery, and ended up deeply influencing three of the most influential potters of the twentieth century; Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada and Michael Cardew. She did this by serving dinner.

The country potter Edwin Beer Fishley, whose shop was nearby, was one of Mairet’s friends. She collected and used his pottery and, when she later became friends with Leach and Hamada and Cardew she introduced them to his work. She invited Hamada and Leach to dinner at her house. She set her large oak table with pitchers of various sizes, oval dishes, and green plates, all made by her friend, the slipware potter E.B.Fishley. It was a table setting the men never forgot and which Hamada still exclaimed over years later. When Hamada was about to return to Japan, she gave him a woolen suit she’d sewn from cloth she’d woven, seen in many subsequent photos of him. And he brought English slipware to Japan so he could continue look at it.

Leach declared Fishely the “last peasant potter” and praised him in his books. Cardew wanted to make pots that were as strong, and asked Fishley’s grandson, William Fishely Holland to teach him to throw.

The book is actually a catalog. Many of the photos are of early Cardew pots, which dominate the collection. The Cotswolds Living books are small, nicely produced affairs with good quality photos. Reading the book, I liked being reminded what an impact a table set with beautiful handmade dishes can have on the dinner guests.

The Craft and Art of Clay

In 2009, when the legendary ceramic artist, educator, champion of the pottery of Native American potters, and writer Susan Peterson died, she and her daughter Jan Peterson were revising and updating her classic text The Craft and Art of Clay. After her death, Jan Peterson continued on alone, and now we have the results, the almost encyclopedic fifth edition. As with previous editions, this one will surely be widely adopted as a textbook in ceramic programs throughout the country.

Susan loved the technology of ceramics; all the possibilities; all the things to know; all the things to try, and, as in the previous editions, it shows in the choice of works illustrated. There is a nice history timeline, but if you are looking for lots of images of domestic ware, this is not the book for you. The images here are largely of sculptural work, or non-functional vessels. She is fascinated with innovation though in other books, she describes deep tradition as in her books on Maria Martinez and Shoji Hamada.

What she, and now her daughter, write about, is how to mix glaze tests, throw a bowl, build a wall of clay, create a giant sculpture, use decals, make flameware, construct a mold, stack a kiln, decorate with texture and more. There are few glaze recipes but a new section on shino glazes is included, plus data about glaze materials, including photos. Her extensive charts and compendiums are worth the price of the book.

In the preface, Jan Peterson writes about her mom but –personal lament — not enough.  Reading the book, I wanted more evidence of her mother. In the earlier editions, the senior Peterson perhaps thought it untoward to include much about herself, but here her daughter and descendant potter had the opportunity to add a bit more ceramic biography of her famous mom had she chosen. Give me some story. Show me her pots.

In sections like Susan’s short essay on Toshiko Tokaezu, which is very beautiful, it would have been nice to make it clear that at the time of writing, both artists were in their late years. Poignantly she tells us that Tokaezu was, “Still working and exhibiting in her eighties.”

This is a reference book first and foremost. You can take it off your shelf and look things up. There is a wonderfully extensive bibliography and a separate poster of 50/50 blends of glaze materials at cone 10 reduction and cone 5 oxidation that you can hang on your studio wall. My complaints are small, and honestly, irrelevant if what you want is a good reference book. This is it. It belongs in the library of anyone serious about working with clay.