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

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.

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

 

Don Potter Master of Many Crafts

Mixed wood ash glazed pot by Don Potter.

How could a potter with such a perfect name as Don Potter have left my consciousness? I know I had read briefly about Don Potter in Phil Rogers’ book Ash Glazes because I have two well-read editions the book on my shelves. Yet but despite his perfect name, he slipped my mind completely, until I read about him in Mike Dodd’s autobiography. Dodd not only praised Potter profusely, but recommended Vivienne Light’s book about him, Don Potter: an inspiring centurypublished by Canterton Books in 2002. Only a thousand copies were printed, but I was able to get a nice clean copy.

The man was a genius. He was a master of many crafts: metalwork, woodcarving, stone carving, lettering, and pottery. In addition, he was a talented cellist and expert lassoist. And an inspiring teacher.

He had studied direct carving with the great sculptor Eric Gill but knew nothing of pottery when he accepted a teaching position at Bryanston School where he would be teaching ceramics as well metal and wood.  He turned first to Amy Krauss for instruction, so that he could stay ahead of the pottery students. Once the first year was over, he sought out Michael Cardew and Ray Finch quickly becoming highly skilled and a master of form. He dug clay and mixed glazes for himself and the students and became a fierce advocate of using local materials. The only thing he purchased was sand!

The pottery workshop at Bryanston was in the dark and dusty basement. Potter tore down the old coal fired earthenware kiln, and built a wood-fired stoneware kiln. Students recalled that he “lugged a great oxygen cylinder from the metalwork department” (which he also taught) and the “temperature soared.” Indeed, more than once the walls of the stairwell glowed when the he was firing the kiln!

Potter would take small groups of students to visit Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie where they could watch her work and look at her collection of pots. He invited Ladi Kwali to come to the school and demonstrate. He encouraged his students to look at pots wherever they went. In each of the disciplines he taught, there were students who went on to make it their life’s work and who achieved greatness. In pottery, in addition to Mike Dodd, Richard Batterham credits him as the inspiration for his career in clay. Other of his pottery students who went on to great success include Rodney Lawrence, Kit Opie, Michael Gill, and Terrance Conran who made a career in design and as a tastemaker.

Of course, I wished there were more pages devoted to Potter’s pottery – and more photos – but the chapters on metal, wood, stone and lettering are interesting also, if not quite as engrossing to me personally as the clay chapter. By the end of the book though, I was glad to have met this man, if only on the printed page: a man who could do almost anything with his hands. He was a maker and an artist, yet, as Light makes clear, he also thought deeply about the work he was doing.

Mike Dodd at the Goldmark Gallery

I love the books and videos the Goldmark Gallery creates for their pottery exhibits. I very much love Mike Dodd by David Whiting which they published to coincide with last fall’s exhibit.

The book, like all Goldmark’s books, has elegant French flaps and is printed on satiny paper. It is an object of beauty, a pleasure to hold in your hands.

The cover, a photo of Dodd in his workshop, viewed through an open door is enticing. We see a tall vase on an old woodstove, a workbench, clay spattered chairs and a row of ladles (for glazing?) hung across the top of a window. Dodd is holding a vase. Immediately, you want to visit. Does every potter who shows at Goldmark live surrounded by pastural countryside and work in an enchanting, rustic shop? Feeling a tinge of envy…

Whiting’s essay, an appreciation, touches on Dodd’s life, his thoughts on potting, and, of course, his pots. Like all of Goldmark’s’ books, many of which Whiting has written, it is refreshingly jargon free. Jay Goldmark’s luscious photos show Dodd’s work in situ – in the garden, surrounded by grasses and ivy, on old wooden boards, by a pond. The photos and essay bring us into momentarily inside Dodd’s world.

Dodd, a potter’s potter, is known for his deep understanding of local materials. He makes glazes of ash and granite and iron that he gathers and processes. His pots are robust, known for the strength of their forms.

I read Mike Doddwith Dodd’s own book, An Autobiography of Sorts, also available from Goldmark though not published by them. This is a longer, more

Peat clay and ash over garden clay slip.

in depth look at Dodd’s potting life. It includes articles that he has written and published over the years, essays and interviews that others have written, in addition to some material that he wrote specifically for this volume. He describes the various workshops and studios that he has inhabited, the kilns he has built, and his thoughts about pot-making. There are many pages of formal photos of his work, allowing us to study them closely.

An Autobiography of Sortsis not as beautifully designed as Mike Dodd, but the two books taken together give us a nice look at Dodd and his work. They are the next best thing to owning one of his pots.

Alan Caiger-Smith and the Legacy of Aldermaston Pottery

Book cover“First experiments involved rolling mothballs down a slide into the saggar, and also inserting oily rags at the ends of sticks, but neither were successful, with Caiger-Smith nearly losing his eyebrows in the process. Then he had a brainwave and inserted pieces of fudge on a long metal rod, these melted as soon as they started to burn, enabling more fudge to be immediately inserted, so keeping up the reduction without the risk of being gassed. At last there was success,” Jane White writes in her brilliant new book, Alan Caiger-Smith and the Legacy of Aldermaston Potter

Caiger-Smith spent years perfecting his highly prized lustreware inspired by the luminous pots made in 800 CE in what is now Iraq and later in Spain and

Lustre pitcher by Alan Caiger-Smith

Italy during the Middle Ages. By the twentieth century though fine examples of lustreware could be seen in museums and mosques, knowledge of how to achieve this effect were forgotten.

From his earliest potting years, Caiger-Smith was intrigued with the beauty of

lustre, preferring it to the Chinese and Japanese inspired pots of Leach and his followers. Through trial and error, (at times disastrous), extensive research, and by translating Ciprian Piccolpasso’sThe Three Books of the Potter’s Art,published in 1557, he at last mastered lustre and gained a wide audience for his work.

Caiger-Smith also specialized in tin-glazed maiolica and is known for his brushwork. He wrote two definitive books, Tin-Glaze Pottery in Europe and the Islamic World: The Tradition of 1000 Years in Maiolica, Faience and DelftwareandLustre Pottery: Technique, Tradition and Innovation in Islam and the Western Worldas well as numerous essays and articles.

White’s approach is particularly interesting and lively. Rather than write a conventional biography of Caiger-Smith, or a typical monograph with appreciative essays by various authors, she focusses on his workshop, Aldermaston Pottery, and the potters who worked there. At Aldermaston, individual potters saw their pots from start to finish; throwing, glazing, decorating and firing, to the shop’s standard designs. Other workshops operating at the time separated tasks with different people working as throwers, glazers, decorators or kiln men and women. Caiger-Smith also believed that it was crucial to bring in people who fit well with one another and after that, everything would follow. Sometimes he took on potters with no skills whatsoever because he liked them and then taught them all they needed to know to take a pot from start to finish.

White tracked down numerous potters who worked at Aldermaston Pottery and sprinkles quotes and old photos from them throughout the book, giving us vivid descriptions of life in the workshop. Caiger-Smith not only trained and paid his potters but provided them with housing in the village. They had parties, worked together, took on difficult challenges such as making very large exhibition pots, and became friends. Many went on to open their own potteries after they left.

The book concludes with a warm postscript from Alan Caiger-Smith, now almost 90, in which he shares a few memories and gives generous thanks to the many involved in the book and in his life and work. Those who read this blog, know I have a fondness for biographies and profiles of potters (and wrote a couple myself including Guy Wolff: Master Potter in the Garden). Alan Caiger-Smith and the Legacy of Aldermaston Potteryranks amongst the best.

 

 

An Unexpected Appreciation of Early American Redware Potters

Redware pots Fisher

Before the holidays, my good friend NIkki Mutch gave me a copy of Leonard Everett Fisher’s The Pottersthat she rediscovered amidst the many children’s books in her collection. Lucky for me, she thought it belonged in my book collection. And belong it does. What a little treasure!

During the sixties and seventies Fisher wrote and illustrated a series of books on colonial American crafts for Franklin Watts.  The Pottersis part of that series. It is illustrated with detailed, powerful scratchboard illustrations, a technique for which he became famous. We see a potter digging clay, wedging, throwing at the wheel. Best of all, there are images of pots–a beautiful slip trailed plate, jugs and crocks.

This is a children’s book meant for the middle grades.  Nevertheless, it is clear Fisher did considerable research. He includes a map of New York showing the location of the (now revered) Remney-Crolius Pottery as well as Pott Baker’s Hill and the Corselius Pottery. He discusses Andrew Duché, the Savannah potter who learned from the Cherokees of a pure white clay which he (correctly) thought could be used for porcelain. Unfortunately, this enterprise failed due to a lack of funding. Most of all, Fisher celebrates the many redware potters making sturdy domestic pots before the Revolutionary War. To me, reading it as an adult, I see the book as an appreciation.

Fisher, born in 1924, has illustrated over 250 children’s books, 88 of which he wrote. He studied with such luminaries as Reginald Marsh and Serge Chermayeff, and has won numerous awards. After the series on American crafts workers, he illustrated most of his books with vibrant paintings yet his scratch board illustrations, even in this age of color, still speak to us.

During my bookselling and Connecticut Children’s Book Fair years, I had the honor of meeting and hosting Fisher, and even tried to convince his publisherRedware pots Fisher to make a Cyclops costume based on his book of that name. Nevertheless, somehow, I knew nothing of this delightful early book, The Potters. How wonderful to have it in my hands now.

Reissued a few times by various publishers, The Pottersis now out of print. If you are seeking a copy, look for the original Franklin Watts edition from 1969.

 

Map potteris New York City
Fisher’s map of potteries in 18th century Manhattan.