Old-Fashioned Education of a Young Potter

Cover By My HandsOrdinarily, one writes a memoir after reaching middle or old age, but Florian Gadsby, the author of By My Hands: A Potter’s Apprenticeship  is young. Almost 900,000 fans follow his daily posts on Instagram. He has 1.45 million subscribers on YouTube. He  is widely renowned for his crisp, thinly potted tableware. That is enough to get a publisher’s attention, but it is not what makes the book interesting or sets it apart. What By My Hands does, is give us a deep look at a potter’s – Gadsby’s – education.

Gadsby’s serious ceramics education began at the Waldorf Steiner school in Kings Langley. He makes it clear that he is not a disciple of Rudolf Steiner or adherent of anthroposophy, but says he likely would not have become a potter had it not been for the school.  M.C. Richards, the influential potter/philosopher,  was interested in  Steiner’s thinking, especially his thoughts on agriculture. Guy Wolff attended High Mowing, a  Waldorf secondary school based on Steiner’s thinking. where he too became a potter. There is a thread here.

Gadsby shares with us what he is learning,  his questions and observations, his various mishaps. He is writing for his customers as much or more than for other potters, so he explains processes as he goes.

Next, he attends The Design and Crafts Council of Ireland’s Ceramic Skills and Design Training Course, in the Irish village of Thomastown. This is a rigorous two-year program. “The course was focused entirely on teaching practical skills,” he writes, “and taught potters to a very high level, providing them with kilns galore, a glaze laboratory and as much throwing tuition as you could dream of.” There is no room for slacking, and in fact, students who cannot keep up are sent home.  He learns to throw multiple identical  pots to specified shapes, to make glazes, and, ultimately, to fire kilns.

Afterwards he apprentices with Lisa Hammond at Maze Hill in London. In this section of the book, we get an intimate look at this great potter and the inner workings of her studio. We see her soda kilns and how she fires them. She is an exacting task master with high expectations of her apprentices, yet she is also generous with her knowledge and support. Her gift to Gadsby after his three years with her, is a six-month apprenticeship with Ken Matsuzaki in Japan.

Gadsby spends most of his time in Moshiko with Doi, Matsuzaki’s apprentice who was seven years into a ten-year apprenticeship. They begin their days raking leaves in the cold morning hours. Gadsby learns to use a kick wheel, grinds pots, wedges clay, and observes. The days are long. At the end of his apprenticeship, he, happily using an electric wheel,  makes and fires two kiln loads of work for an exhibition. One is filled with Oribe glaze, the other shino. And then, exhausted but elated,  he returns to London to begin work on pots of his own in a studio of his own.

If Gadsby’s goal in writing this book was to impress his customers with how much goes into the education of a potter, how hard he worked to acquire his skills, it succeeds. I think it also succeeds as a deeply personal look at the potter’s craft. And, best of all, it offers wonderful and intimate portraits of two very different – and legendary – potters, Lisa Hammond and Ken Matsuzaki.

 

By My Hands: A Potter’s Apprenticeship, Ten Speed Press 978-1-9848-6358-4

Richard Batterham: A Potter’s Potter

Richard Batterham booksI am looking at two complimentary books that celebrate the work of Richard Batterham, the quiet and deeply revered UK potter who passed in 2021 at the age of 85. I like them both and think that if you are a potter, or a lover of handmade pottery, you will too.

Richard Batterham: 1936-2021 is the Goldmark exhibition catalog by Mike Dodd that accompanied the show and sale of Dodd’s personal collection of Batterham pots. It is illustrated with the richly evocative Jay Goldmark photographs we have come to expect from Goldmark catalogs plus some wonderful Ben Boswell portraits of Batterham at work in his shop. I so enjoy photos of potters at work.

The second, Richard Batterham: Studio Potter is a lavish hardcover from the Victoria & Albert Museum that also accompanied an exhibition. It begins with an early essay Batterham wrote about his work (writing about his work was something he seldom did). Thoughtful essays by Sarah Griffin, Tanya Harrod, Nigel Wood, Garry Fabian Miller, George Young and Rebecca Knott and Rebecca Luffman follow. Full and half page photos of individual pots and small groups of pots fill more than half the book.

Batterham made jars, boxes, caddies, bowls, tazzas, jugs, bottles, teapots and what he called “everyday pots” such as soup bowls and mugs. He made his glazes from various wood ashes and feldspars and fired in a three-chambered combination wood and oil kiln that he built. When asked why he used a kick wheel, he said, “…all the best pots were made on wheels such as this, why should I want anything else?”

When he was 13, his father sent him to Bryanston School in Dorset where he was introduced to pottery. His teacher, the aptly named Donald “Don” Potter, did not teach in the do this, do that manner, but  encouraged and urged and drew out the best in his students. He was a huge influence on Batterham, who spent most of his last two years at the school in the pot shop.

Later, National Service, he joined the Leach Pottery as an unpaid apprentice. Here he met Dinah Dunn, whom he married, and Atsuya Hamada, the son of Shoji Hamada, who became a lifelong friend. Batterham’s kick wheel was modeled after Atsuya’s.

Batterham worked slowly and quietly, and paid no attention to trends, contemporary art criticism or the buzz of the gallery world. He believed that this quiet, focused life was important to his work. Outside his workshop, he kept vats for drying clay and grew fruits and vegetables for Dinah and their five children. Inside, he paid close attention to the details of his pots. His handles were unparalleled. He made his signature split or double rim jug repeatedly, in various sizes and glazes but always with the same form. His caddies could be massive. He limited his decoration to a few simple incised or raised lines. It was the shape and feel of his pots that interested him most. They did not require ornamentation.

Despite his lack of interest in the competitive show world that defined much of 20th  and now 21sr century ceramics, Batterham did agree to show, setting his very best pots aside for these occasions. Other potters admired his work. Unable to pot after 2019 due to failing health, he participated in the making of Richard Batterham: Studio Potter.

Mike Dodd book and jugMIKE DODD

Mike Dodd attended Bryanston seven years after Batterham and was also deeply influenced by Don Potter. Later he periodically visited Batterham and collected his pots,  a collection that was the basis of the Goldmark exhibit. So, it seems appropriate to include Sebastian Blackie’s catalog for Goldmark, Mike Dodd: Shaping the Land, here. I do not own any Batterham pots but I do have a small jug by Dodd that I treasure. This is the fifth little book on Mike Dodd that Goldmark has produced.

Dodd is a classic potter. He embraces tradition as inspiration, as a starting point for his work but not as an end. His pots are deeply rooted in their origins. He gathers his own materials: clays, feldspars, granites, basalt, river iron and silicas from the landscape that surrounds his studio. He uses ashes from local trees and plants. Dodd is a master of his materials. He is known for his large covered jars, vases, bowls, jugs and platters all made with materials he has sourced himself.

These books have been on my shelves for a year now. I pick them up and look at them in free moments and wish I could actually lift the pots off the pages and hold them. I recommend each of these books to potters and connoisseurs everywhere. Even a potter who buys glazes in jars and perhaps spends hours in intricate decoration, will be moved by the honest beauty of the pots of these two potters.

Richard Batterhan 1936-2021, Mike Dodd, Goldmark Gallery

Richard Batterham: Studio Potter 978-1-83851-028-2, V&A Publishing

Mike Dodd, Sebastian Blackie, Goldmark Gallery

Design and Create Tableware

Cover Contemporary Tableware In the mid-nineties, Sue Pryke, a recent graduate of the Royal College of Art, designed the bestselling Ikea 365+ range of dinnerware. Sleek and simple, with square plates and rounded corners Ikea 365+ is still in production today and is considered the “largest selling tableware range in the world.” Linda Bloomfield is known for her expertise in glaze chemistry, and the author of several books on the topic. Both women design and make tableware for restaurants and shops. The two joined to write Design and Create Contemporary Tableware: Making Pottery You Can Use.

 Bloomfield tells us that in Japan “different tableware is used for each season – cherry blossoms might feature as decoration on spring tableware and maple leaves in autumn.” Pryke discusses inspiration and the wisdom she received as a young potter: take note of how a twig joins a branch…to think about how a handle can naturally protrude from a mug. We learn that Professor Charles Spence of Oxford University has been studying the effect of color on flavor perception. Indeed, he cites studies that show that popcorn tastes saltier in a blue bowl than a white bowl!

 The sensibility of the book is, as they say in their title, contemporary. There Place settingare no seventies style stony matte casseroles or rustic country platters or flowery china sets. However, despite their aesthetic, Pryke and Bloomfield are careful not to give design rules. Instead they suggest facets to consider: functionality, intended setting, and inspiration. They discuss considerations such as the rim of a mug and the need for some but not too much cohesiveness in the pieces of a dinner set.

 There are sections on throwing, hand building, safety, glazing and firing plus extensive coverage of more industrial methods such as mold and model making, which Pryke in particular, uses. They look at combining clay with metal or wood and other materials.

 The photography is lovely. We see potters at work, their processes, and, best of all, the finished pots. The shots are interesting. The authors thank Henry Bloomfeld, Ben Boswell, and Yeshen Venema for the photos though there is no indication of who took which.

  I longed to read Bloomfeld’s and Pryke’s opinions. Surely two such accomplished makers of tableware, do what they do in the way they do, because they have opinions about it. I think of Georg Simmel’s famous 1958 essay “The Handle.” He railed against handles that do not protrude from the vessel calling them “discordant” and a “relief ornament.” Looking at early American crocks, the handles pressed against the sides, I disagree with him. I love those handles. Yet, I am grateful for his opinion and I would have been grateful for theirs. Their opinions would stimulate us to think about ours. Oh well, this is a small complaint of an otherwise pleasing book. It could be just me.

Design and Create Contemporary Tableware: Making Pottery You Can Use
Linda Bloomfield and Sue Pryke
Herbert Press, Bloomsbury Publishing, 978-1-78994-073-2

Commeraw’s Stoneware

           If you read one book on ceramics history this year, or even just one book on ceramics, make it A. Brandt Zipp’s densely researched and richly illustrated book about Thomas W. Commeraw, Commeraw’s Stoneware: The Life and Work of the First African-American Pottery Owner. Commeraw’s robust stoneware, his jugs and jars, the sure-handed cobalt decorations, have long been esteemed by collectors and connoisseurs of early American pottery, but little was known about the potter himself. It was assumed that, like his contemporaries working in the late 18th and early 19th century Lower East Side of Manhattan, he was white. The well-known ceramic historian William Ketchum even argued that he was of French extraction, a misconception that grew into myth and stuck for years.

            Zipp, is a founding partner of Crocker Farm, the premier auction house specializing in historic, utilitarian American ceramics. He grew up steeped in knowledge and appreciation of early American pottery. While researching another potter, Henry Remmey, a contemporary and neighbor of Commeraw’s, he saw a B after Commeraw’s name in the 1810 census.  At first perplexed, but looking further in the census records, he discovered that the B was for black.  Commeraw was listed as black in the 1800 census with a household consisting of 6 people of color. Thomas Commeraw, the famous stoneware potter favored by collectors and museums, was not a white man of French heritage, but a free African-American.

            After this startling and important discovery, Zipp spent almost two decades researching Commeraw’s life, sharing what he learned in lectures and essays. I believe there were some university presses who were interested in publishing the results of his work. However, Crocker Farm publishes wonderful catalogs of their auctions and so brought that sensibility to this project. They published the book with an astonishing wealth of illustrations. Turning the pages, looking at pot after pot, you feel an intimacy with the work. With Zipp’s guidance, we see Commeraw’s handles change, his efficiencies evolve. Zipp also shares his research journey, how and where he learned various details and facts. He includes illustrations of the primary sources he relied upon. The book is well documented with notes and, always a criterion for me, a good index

            Even without Zipp’s research, Commeraw was known as an extraordinary and influential potter. He was one of the first, if not the first, to stamp his brand on his pots. He sold his wares well beyond New York. Other potters imitated him. But now we know that as a child he was enslaved by the potter William Crolius and received his freedom upon Crolius’ death. We know about his leadership roles in his community and his church, his abolitionist activism at a time when most blacks in this country were enslaved, his singing, his optimism when he and his family left to found Liberia, only to return to the US disappointed. And now we know that this enterprising potter, long assumed to be a white craftsman, was a free black man who made magnificent pots working for himself.

            Do yourself a favor: Read this book. I will reread it before the year is out.

Commeraw’s Stoneware: The Life and Work of the First African-American Pottey Owner by A. Brandt Zipp (979-8-218-00290-9)

The Yorkshire Tea Ceremony

Yorkshire Tea Ceremony

Yorkshire Tea CeremonyWow! A book person obsessed with functional studio pottery! We are talking about W.A. Ismay (1910-2001) the noted Yorkshire collector of post-war British studio pottery. Eccentric perhaps. Deeply knowledgeable. Passionate, passionate, passionate about pots.

Helen Walsh brings Ismay to life in her vivid biography, The Yorkshire Tea Ceremony: W.A. Ismay and his Collection of British Studio Pottery. Though the book began as her doctoral dissertation, it succeeds as a lively read as well as scholarship. I like that Walsh actually tells us what was going on in Ismay’s life as well has the story of his extraordinary collection.

Ismay brought his librarian’s training and sensibilities to his collections and thus kept careful records of his acquisitions. Alas, his handwriting is notoriously difficult to read and Walsh tells us it was a challenge. He typed some records but he could only type with one finger as he had poor eyesight and needed to hold a magnifying glass in his other hand. In addition to written records, he learned photography and photographed the pots and sometimes the potters.

Over a collecting life of 46 years, Ismay gathered 3,600 pots from more than 500 potters. He filled his house with these pieces. More importantly, he used them every day.

He often visited potters in their workshops. Michael Cardew became a friend and correspondent. He visited Lucie Rie. Potters and other collectors angled to visit him and see his collection. Notoriously, he covered with pottery except for a band at the end which he kept clear for eating and writing. Here he served visitors tea, which friends affectionately called The Yorkshire Tea, hence the title of the book.

There are photos of the collection and historic photos of Ismay and various potters throughout the book. My one complaint is that there are several two-page spreads with pots split in half between two pages. What was the designer thinking? But if you are interested in British studio pottery, this book is a must, and lots of fun.

Today, Ismay’s collection – all of it intact – is held by the Yorkshire Museum. There is an exhibit at the York Art Gallery through April 30, 2023

The Yorkshire Tea Ceremony, 978-1-913645-15-1York Museum Trust, Paul Holberton Publishing

Fayoum Pottery

Fayoum Pottery book coverFayoum Pottery: Ceramic Arts and Crafts in an Egyptian Oasis by R. Neil Hewison celebrates three pottery villages in the Fayoum, a fertile depression in Egypt’s northwestern desert. After discussing Egypt’s rich and ancient ceramic history, Hewison takes us to Al-Nazla. Here, outside the busy village itself, we come to “the potteries – a jumble of simple workshop huts and brick kilns that seem to rise organically out of the earth, interspersed with ranks of hundreds of raw pots, dark brown or gray-black, set out on the ground to dry before firing, and stacks of finished ones, light pink or rust-red ready for sale…” The potters who work here are all related. They produce fat, spherical water jars using techniques passed down through generations. You can see the kilns and pots in a video promoting the 2019 hit, “Bint akaabir” by the popular Syrian artist Asala. Worth a look whether the music is to your taste or not.

Next, we travel to Kom Oshim. Here too, skills have been passed down through generations, but the potters now make enormous garden pots rather than traditional water jars. They make the largest pots in Egypt, some over six feet tall! They are sold throughout the country and internationally including “Belgium, France, Italy and Cyprus, where it is said that one enterprising importer … re-exports them for sale in Greece, marked “Made in Cyprus.'” Who knows? Surely, a Kom Oshim pot would look wonderful in my garden, but alas, I am thousands of miles away in a too cold climate.

Tunis, the last potters’ village Hewison shares with us, became a lively center for pottery after an idealistic Swiss couple set up the Pottery School in 1990 and offered free classes to local children. Today there are more than twenty-five workshops and show rooms. The pottery is dazzling with glazed plates, bowls, animals and tiles. Shops in Cairo and faraway London and New York sell pots from Tunis.

The book then turns to profiles of individual potters and their work. Fayoum Pottery is profusely illustrated with color photos of the kilns, potters at work, and many pots. It is impossible to read it without wishing to hop a plane immediately and visit the potteries for oneself. With all that ails the world right now, few, if any of us, can do so. The book is a gift then, giving us a close look at such an important pottery center.

 

Fayoum Pottery by R. Neil Hewison, Published by The American University in Cairo Press. 978-1-649-03132-7

Note: I have read a number of interesting books on pottery in the past year, but somehow have not shared them with you here. What is it about the Pandemic that makes everything so crazy? My plan is to share at least the best with you in the next few weeks, but omicron rages and I have a long list of pots to make, so, well, we will see. Happy New Year though. Good Health to us all.

Creativity in the Late Years

The life so short, the craft so long to learn.

Geoffrey Chaucer opening lines, The Parliament of Fowls

Two books, Uprooted: A Gardener Reflects on Beginning Again by Paige Dickey, and The Age of Creativity: Art, Memory, My Father and Me by Emily Urquhart have had an unexpected impact on me as we enter the second year of the Pandemic. They reflect deeply on creativity and old age. Can you still make meaningful art when your body and perhaps your mind begin to falter?

Neither of these books discusses pottery or ceramics yet they have something to say to anyone who is a maker. Dickey is a renowned garden designer and writer whose showcase garden, Duck Hill, won accolades. Faced with strained finances, and a seventy something body that could not easily do the intensive and meticulous maintenance her garden required, she and her eighty-year-old fellow gardener and husband decided to move and start anew.

The book is about leaving behind a decades in the making achievement. It is about uncertainty and change. This is not about moving to a condo or senior living facility. No, Dickey boldly moved to a seventeen-acre property in Northwestern Connecticut. She makes paths through the woods and fields and plants perennial borders close to the house.  Informality and nature reign, a stunning departure from Duck Hill with its crisply clipped hedges and traditional English garden style rooms, what she called “embroidered ground.”  She throws herself wholeheartedly into this new aesthetic. More importantly she discovers the pleasure of slowing down enough to savor what she has wrought, creating for herself rather than show.

Urquhart’s book more deliberately focuses on questions of age and creativity. She reads, does research, travels and conducts interviews. She tells us that the year Willem de Kooning was diagnosed with dementia, he made more paintings than any other year of his life. Claude Monet was in his sixties and suffering from cataracts when he painted his water lily series. Contemporary critics were harsh on both artists but today we know better.

Urquhart describes her poignant visit to Bruce McCall ‘s studio. McCall, eighty-four and suffering from Parkinson’s, showed her that he could not hold a brush and so could not finish The New Yorker cover he was working on. Unable to paint or draw, but also a writer, he left the unfinished cover on his easel, and instead worked on a memoir ten hours a day. He told Urquhart that he would have nothing left to do if he could not write. Write he did.  How Did I Get Here? came out around the same time as her book.

She tells us that Alice Neel painted her most important works in her seventies and eighties. At the age of eighty, she painted a startling portrait of herself – old and nude. Forty years later, this piece is still radical.

The thread that stitches The Age of Creativity together, the reason for the book, is Urquhart’s father, Tony Urquhart, the Canadian painter and sculptor (her mother is the novelist Jane Urquhart). He draws every day, nearly all day. He works in series. Even while seated at the table for a family meal, he faces a cork board pinned with his sketches and ideas. His knowledge of the work of other artists is vast and intimate. In his eighties, he is diagnosed with dementia. Yet, he continues to make art, to look at art. When he sketches, he is “transported to that unreachable place, the landscape of his imagination, as life carried on all around him.”

Old Potters

Not everyone gets to be old, let alone do one’s work into old age. Luck is a factor. I do not have statistics, but it seems to me that potters who live into their eighties and beyond, usually continue to create.  Many of our legends worked well into their late years: Lucie Rie, Warren MacKenzie, Michael Cardew, Karen Karnes to name a few. Some mastered a new art form, like Beatrice Wood who picked up the pen at ninety, or MC Richards who produced large paintings in her late years. As these two books show, what one does with one’s art late in life varies with the artist, but there is no reason to believe that creativity wanes.

 

The Age of Creativity by Emily Urquhart, 978-1-4870-0531-3, Walrus Books

Uprooted by Page Dickey, 978-1-60469-957-9, Timber Press

Mary Fox Memoir

Canadian potter Mary Fox shares her professional and personal experiences and insights in her memoir, Mary Fox, My Life as a Potter published by Harbour Publishing. Fox is known for two astonishingly different bodies of work; her elegantly simple functional ware, and her sculptural chalices with soaring stems mounted in found rocks.   She began her life in clay as a teen. During her early years, she focused on production pottery, masterfully throwing matching mugs, bowls, dinner plates and earning a living.

Tragedy struck when she was just thirty and coming into her own creatively. She and her beloved partner Heather were incapacitated with a debilitating disease, later diagnosed as myalgic encephalomyelitis (sometimes called chronic fatigue syndrome). Fox was unable to work for five years. Gradually, she regained much of her health and could make pots again but Heather’s  decline required hours of draining care- giving. Heather died in 2007.

The pain of illness and loss had a profound impact on Fox, which she frankly discusses and confronts in the book. Her focus though, is sharing with the reader what she was making, what she was thinking about in the studio, the various processes she was experimenting with, and the risks she was taking. We see her build her studios, raise her house to two floors, add a gallery space, and buy and learn to fire a computerized Blaauw gas kiln. She frees herself from decorating her tableware, even though it is popular, falls in love with lithium glazes, shifts her selling strategy, and collects interesting rocks to use as pedestals. She pushes both herself and her clay to make ever taller and thinner stems for her sculptural chalices. Eventually, she collaborates with glass blowers. Committed to giving younger potters and future generations of potters time, space and a good footing, she has begun The Legacy Project. Her home, equipped studio and gallery, supported by an endowment she is working to fund, will be a place where young potters can come and work for a few months unencumbered and undistracted.

Fox calls this book My Life as a Potter but she could easily have called it Adventures in Clay. It is a  chronicle of her artistic journey. We have too few potter’s memoirs, I think. This is a good start.

 

Mary Fox: My Life As A Potter, Stories and Techniques

978-1-55017-938-5

 

Life in the Studio

Frances Palmer’s work has been featured in numerous design publications such as T, The New York Times style magazine, Elle Decor, Martha Stewart Living, and others. Bergdorf Goodman, Barney’s of New York and other high end have carried her pieces. This month, Artisan published her lavishly illustrated memoir, Life in the Studio: Inspiration and Lessons in Creativity.

I love to read memoirs, especially memoirs of potters and gardeners. This is both. Palmer, who lives in a rural town in what we in Connecticut call the Gold Coast, home to many affluent residents with jobsin New York City, has a beautiful purpose-built barn for a studio.  Actually, she and her husband did not initially build it with the intention that she take over the whole thing, but you know how potters are. She makes her pots, mostly vases, on the first floor. She uses the second floor to pack and ship them and more importantly photograph them.  She stores her dahlia tubers in the cool basement.

Palmer’s cutting garden.

Outside the studio, on an old fenced-in tennis court, she grows masses of flowers in raised beds. She cuts and gathers the flowers and uses them to create extravagant arrangements in her vases. She photographs these tableaus in the natural light of an east window of the barn in the morning and a west window in the afternoon.

Palmer thinks of herself as primarily a potter, and it is pots that she sells. However, it’s her dramatic photos that have brought her 72,100 followers on Instagram. She also has a horticultural reputation and teaches a class on growing dahlias at the New York Botanical Garden.

In addition to vases, Palmer makes cake stands, fruit bowls with pedestals, pitchers, and planters embellished with fluting, sprigs, and beading. She works on the wheel, hand builds and uses her own drape molds. She works primarily with porcelain but also uses a red earthenware clay which she glazes only on the inside. Recently she added a wood burning kiln to her studio.

In Life in the Studio, Palmer shares her methods of making, tips on growing flowers, and a few favorite recipes. She tells us how she and her work have grown and evolved through the years, how she came to photography, and what her hopes are for the future. If that isn’t enough, the book is nicely laid out and seductively pretty.

A delightful memoir

978-1-57965-905-9

 

Making Emmanuel Cooper

  I think I have more books by Emmanuel Cooper in my ceramic book collection than by any other writer on pottery. I have read and re-read the various editions of his book on ceramic history, culminating with the magnificently illustrated tour de force, 10,000 Years of Pottery. I pored over his books on glaze making. I have his very early Handbook on Pottery Making and of course his biography on Bernard Leach. And then, his last book, his opus, the thoughtful biography, Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter.

In Making Emmanuel Cooper: Life and Work from his Memoirs, Letters, Diaries and Interviews, edited by his longtime partner David Horbury, we learn that in his last days – he died in 2012 of prostate cancer at the age of 74 – Cooper was thinking of such projects as a biography of Hans Coper, this memoir, and was “fired” about writing a book on Josiah Wedgewood “from a maker’s perspective.” Oh, how I would love to read the Wedgewood book. The Coper too. What we do have, thanks to Horbury, is this fascinating memoir.

Cooper was first a potter. There were challenges. Gwyn Hanssen gave him an early position in her studio, then “let him go.” When he applied to become a member of the Craftsmen Potters Association (CPA), he was rejected because his work did not form a “coherent group” Fortunately, six months later he reapplied and was accepted.  His studios were always in urban spaces, necessitating electric kilns which he decided to embrace. He became a skilled production potter, making tableware for London restaurants, including relish dishes for the Hard Rock Café. The trays were eight and a half inches across with a rim to keep the five individual relish pots from slipping and a central thrown handle for carrying. “The staff – or the customers – broke them all the time so they regularly reordered and it was a very good earner,” he tells us. In his later years, after the recession when the restaurant business dried up, he reinvented his work and focused on one of a kind bowls and mugs in series of nine at most. Towards the end of his life, he made coiled goblets.

In 1969, Cooper proposed that the CPA publish a magazine on ceramics. He tells us, “it seemed to me that the craft pottery world was expanding and changing at an extraordinary rate…and nothing was being written down or recorded.”  Despite the CPA’s skepticism, Cooper founded Ceramic Review with fellow member Eileen Lowenstein, publishing the first edition in 1970. He served as editor until 2010. He writes, ” …we nurtured relatively new writers such as makers Claudia Clare and Emma Clegg and managed to persuade more established voices such as Edmund de Waal, Alison Britton, Martina Margetts and Tanya Harrod.” From the beginning, Cooper and Lowenstein were committed to including “strong practical content” and “developed the idea of using a sequence of photographs to demonstrate a particular process or technique,” a feature which continues to this day.

The book chronicles Cooper’s life as a gay man. Though at first closeted (homosexuality was illegal), he came to be a leading voice for Gay Liberation, and with a group of friends launched the journal Gay Left. He wrote The Sexual Perspective: Homosexuality and Art in the Last 100 Years in the West and Male Bodies: A Photographic History of the Nude, both groundbreaking at the time, and highly acclaimed.

Cooper was a potter, a writer, an editor, and an activist. He taught throughout his life, and served as visiting Professor at the Royal College of Art. He championed and curated exhibits such as People’s Art: Working Class from 1750 to the Present Day.  A scholar, thinker and maker, his contributions to ceramics were enormous and long lasting.

Making Emmanuel Cooper is intensely personal, describing Cooper’s mining family roots, the butcher shop his parents ran, and his years in the RAF and in theater. It is also a social and cultural history. Cooper deserves a biography such as the one he wrote of Rie or Tonya Harrod’s biography of Michael Cardew. Meanwhile, read this book. It is a treasure.

 

Unicorn Press

978-1-912690-41-1

150 color plates