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

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

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.

 

 

Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery

Rose Bowl Things of Beauty Growing
Rose Bowl Things of Beauty Growing
Michael Cardew’s rose bowl.

Things of Beauty Growing: British Studio Pottery is both an exhibit and a book that if you are in any way involved with clay, you must not miss. The exhibit is currently at the Yale Center for British Art in New Haven, CT where it remains through December 3. It moves to the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, UK where it can be seen March 20 through June 18, 2018. Really, you must go see this.

The book, a hefty tome, edited by Glenn Adamson, Martina Droth and Simon Olding contains thoughtful and provocative essays, splendid photos of the works on exhibit, a timeline, and, of particular delight, photos of potters by Ben Boswell. No, you cannot curl up with Things of Beauty Growing. It is too heavy and too large. Find yourself a comfortable chair where you can open it across both your thighs, or read it at a table. And you probably shouldn’t eat or drink while you are reading because if you spill on one of the pages, you will cry.

Glenn Adamson tells us that the title Things of Beauty Growing is taken from a Michael Cardew quote: “If you are lucky, and if you live long enough, and if you trust your materials and you trust your instincts, you will see things of beauty growing up in front of you, without you having anything to do with it.” He explains that the curators wanted to show “the sense that pottery has a life of its own.” He goes on to say that the “exhibition takes typologies of the vessel as its organizing structure. It shows that archetypal ceramic forms mark out their own internal chronology, as well as stages in trajectory thinking.” The focus is on the twentieth-century.

The first half of the book includes essays on such topics as exhibits, the factory, pottery in popular culture (love the record album covers!), origins, and what Edward S Cooke, Jr. calls “The Ideology of the Wheel.” This is followed by the catalog itself which is divided into thematic sections: Moon Jar, Vase, Bowl, Charger, Set, Vessel, Pot, and Monument. This is also how the exhibit itself is arranged.

Things of Beauty Growing Bernard Leach
Tree of Life charger by Bernard Leach

Neither the exhibit nor the book is a survey of British studio ceramics or a history, or even a “best of.” Potters you love and admire, potters I love and admire, are missing. Nevertheless, collectors and potters will recognize all the names, and will be familiar with most if not all of the works, if only from years of looking at photos in books and magazines. I was glad that I had read the book before attending the exhibit. Still, I was not prepared to see “in person” pots I had seen as images all my potting life. Even after looking at them portrayed in highly professional photographs in the book, I was stunned.

We begin with the story of the 18th century Korean moon jar that Bernard Leach shipped home to England in 1935 and which eventually became Lucie’ Rie’s and now resides in the British Museum in London. There are two photos of this legendary jar in the book: the jar itself, and a photograph of Lucie Rie seated next to it in her London studio. The exhibit opens with Adam Buick’s interpretation of the moon jar followed by the moon jars of Akiko Hirai and Gareth Mason. From the moon jars we move onto Vase. We see not only Bernard Leach’s interpretations, but also a few of the Song Dynasty vases that inspired him.

These were under glass, but the two-handled jar made by Edwin Beer Fishley in Devon about 1900 was out in the open on a pedestal. I had all I could do to keep from running my hands up the walls to feel Fishley’s throwing. Of course, I knew better, and the guard, probably reading my body language as I peered inside the pot, kept her eyes on me. This pot is beautifully photographed in the book but no photograph can completely convey the power of the volume of this pot, the strength and rigor of the throwing lines, and the incredible dark green glaze breaking to deep purple.

Lucie Rie in Things of Beauty Growing
Breakfast set by Lucie Rie

I will not list all the names – Shoji Hamada, Michael Cardew, Alison Britton, William Staite Murray, Hans Coper, Lady Kwali, Magdalene Odundo – and on and on, that you encounter walking through the exhibit or turning the pages of the book, as that is not the point, though it was dazzling to see their works all together. No the point is to see the sets made by Lucie Rie and Ruth Duckworth and the chargers made by Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew and Ralph Toft and the bowls, and vessels and pots. Topology!

My bias is towards traditional, functional wares but that is not the bias of the book or the exhibit. We see Julian Stair’s monumental jars that can hold a person’s body, and Grayson Perry’s decaled and gilded urns. We see Edmund de Waal’s a place made fast (dare I say it? – I love his books but was disappointed in his installation but glad to see it for myself after seeing photos of it). The exhibit and book close with Halima Cassell’s installation of vessels made from clay she has collected from around the world.

Clare Twomey Things of Beauty Growing
Made in China by Clare Twomey

And then there is Clare Twomey’s Made in China installation, which includes 80 vases, 79 made in Jingdezhen, China and one in Stoke-on-Trent in Staffordshire, England. The 79 are decorated with decals and identical. The one from England is hand-decorated with eighteen-karat-gold. Of course, you must find the one, not an easy task when they are all the same size and shape and red and gold. Happily, I did find it, and immediately realized that one of the amusements for the guards is watching people search for the 80th jar. The guard knew as soon as I had found it, and came over and chatted, a light-hearted way to end a museum tour, though I realize Twomey’s installation is political and not light-hearted.

Exhibits are ephemeral but books last. With Things of Beauty Growing, the book/catalog brings depth, discussion, and insight. The essayists do not all share a point of view; they have different opinions and outlooks, which is enriching. This is a book you might talk back to. Even if you can’t get to the exhibit, though I strongly urge you to see it if at all possible, the book is an excellent addition to a potter’s library and education, a book to return to again and again.

Lovely New Editions of Two Leach Books

Unicorn Press has reissued the classic A Potter’s Book by Bernard Leach and his lesser-known travelogue, A Potter in Japan. Both have been newly typeset, printed on heavy, coated paper and bound in linen and paper over board, with satin ribbon bookmarks and gold stamping. Even if you already own copies, and think you have read each enough times, these editions are objects of beauty in their own right. They are worth having for the visual and tactile pleasures they offer, much like a good pot. They have a heft to them yet are a nice size for holding.

All the original drawings have been kept in A Potter’s Book. The publisher has found many color versions of the photos from the first edition. Where this was not possible, color photos of Leach’s pots have been used. In addition, other pertinent photos have been added “for clarity.” But don’t think this is a glossy coffee table version. This is a serious republication, done with respect.

A Potter in Japan has not been given color photos, but it is still a handsome book. Written during Leach’s sojourn in Japan 1953 -1954, it is a travel memoir filled with descriptions and impressions and most of all, opinions. During his stay, he makes many pots and pictures, holds exhibitions, gives talks, and, in addition to writing this book, works on another, all of which he discusses. The book has a feel of immediacy. Describing Hamada’s workshop after earthquake jolts and rain, he writes, “Yesterday about 1,000 pots were carried in and out, three times for sun and shower. Today the pots stayed out until 4 p.m., then the whole lot, 2,000, were carried on boards down the muddy slippery path to the smaller kiln beyond the lower house, 250 yards away, and massed around the long shed on the ground. After tea, the biscuit-firing kiln-packing was started and was nearly complete by supper time. Finished afterwards by candlelight and the fire started, I have never seen anything like it. Everybody, except Richard and I, knew their jobs and had a deft control of their bodies.”

I congratulate Unicorn Press. I wonder if they might consider giving Michael Cardew’s books the same lavish treatment?

Amanda Fielding on Gillian Lowndes

Gillian Lowndes by Amanda Fielding marks the ends of the lives of both women. Lowndes, the radical ceramic artist died from cancer at the age of 74 in 2010. Fielding, known for her work as a writer and critic, died, also from cancer, in 2012 after completing this, her last book at the age of 55. This illustrated volume from the Ruthin Craft Center is a fitting tribute to both women.

Lowndes, who trained as a potter, began her career making coiled pots and wall pieces. She was never interested in domestic ware however, and after an extended stay in Nigeria with her partner Ian Auld, she turned to bricolage. She gathered discarded materials: old bricks, nails, fiberglass tissue, and wire together with luffa, sometimes called the sponge gourd. These finds she subjected to the intense heat of her electric kiln (one wonders how the kiln elements withstood such rigors). The fiberglass tissue and luffa she coated with slip before firing. The other finds she fired on their own before adding to her ceramics. She was one of the first artists working in clay who glued parts together post-firing, rather than having her work emerge whole from the kiln.

Auld, her partner, amassed a large collection of primarily African objects. These pieces, woodcarvings, pottery jars, textiles, jewelry, filled their home and influenced the spirit of Lowndes’ work. She made a series of ‘hooks,” long pieces of slip-coated luffa, fired and wired together, and brick bags, with actual old-bricks fired into distortion. Throughout her career, she taught and exhibited, though critics were not always receptive to her innovations.

Except that her work centered on clay and her kiln, she had little in common with other ceramists. Still, she saw herself and her work, as being part of the ceramic milieu. “I’ve always been involved in the craft world rather than the art world because I work in ceramic,” she told Fielding. “because I put things in the kiln. I always felt I was in a strange area, not one or the other. I was always quite interested in making things in different materials, but because I was so involved with ceramics naturally my understanding of ceramic materials and what would fire in a kiln was something which drove my art more than anything else. And it happened that I cold get exhibited in craft galleries. I’ve never been a great self-promoter, so I didn’t go out and search for fine art galleries. I waited for things to come to me and just made the work.”

I would have liked more photos of Auld’s collection of pots, textiles and carvings because I love these objects, but of course that’s not what the book is about except as inspiration for Lowndes.  As readers know, I am a lover primarily of functional pots and not particularly drawn to Lowndes’ sort of work. But she led an interesting life, took risks in her art, was wiling to explore and experiment. She makes a good subject to read about, regardless of your ceramic bent. And there is something primal about her hooks that resonate, even with a stubborn vessel woman like me.