Exciting plans are laid to celebrate a century at the forefront of studio pottery.
When we first piloted Drift, we featured the iconic Leach Pottery in St Ives. We learned of its philosophy – that studio pottery ‘transcends mere functionality’ – and explored its lucrative history. We gained an insight into why Leach Pottery truly sets the bar in its field, and learned that pieces that come out of the St Ives studio are some of the most highly coveted in the world of functional ceramics. We also learned that the pottery was just months away from marking its 100th anniversary, so now that time is finally here, it seems only right that we return once again to this Cornish icon and learn what the team has planned to celebrate this landmark occasion.
Top left: Rosanna Martin, image by Karen Scott
Top right: Amy Hughes, image by Ester Segarra
Bottom left: David A. Paton, image by Stephane Rouget
Bottom right: Steven Claydon, image by Lucy Stein
With such a rich history of creative innovation, celebrating the Leach Pottery’s 100-year anniversary was never destined to be a simple case of hanging out the bunting. Indeed, how better to celebrate a century of studio pottery and ceramics, than by celebrating the very subtleties and nuances of this globally loved craft?
Left: Shoji Hamada (BHL/13300) | Right: Bearnard Leach working (BHL/6690)
Introducing Leach 100. Over the course of a year-long programme of activity from Cornwall, Leach 100 is commissioning five talented and emerging artists with a grant of £5,750 per project, to undertake research, create a body of work, and present their final pieces for potential display at the Leach Pottery.
Back in the 1920s, Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada collaborated to establish a pottery studio that would forge new connections across countries and traditions. Between them, they broke fresh ground and repositioned the importance of pottery in our culture. A century later, their vision is still going strong – their values and passion still at the beating heart of the Leach Pottery. It’s in this spirit that the five ‘Leach 100’ artists have been commissioned. Each now has the opportunity to help celebrate these values; to explore the vital, illuminative role that pottery and ceramics play in the modern world.
Bernard Leach talking with students in the old pottery (BHL/8999A)
The selection process invited responses to a creative brief from a wide range of practitioners, including potters and ceramicists, as well as mixed media artists who shared an interest in clay, pottery and ceramics, and each proposal was required to include a clay-based fire element. Let’s meet the five successful candidates, and the four projects being undertaken between them.
Steven Claydon, who hails from St Just, Cornwall, has already exhibited extensively around the globe, having curated a number of high-profile exhibitions. Steve has also shown with commercial galleries in London, Milan, New York, Los Angeles, Berlin and Munich, and was even included in the British Art Show, 7. His current work explores the past, present and future of the cultural identity of objects within global ceramic traditions, focussing predominantly on tiles and historical artefacts. In a similar vein to Bernard Leach himself, Steve has formed lasting professional relationships in Korea and Japan, which he’s keen to develop through this commission by producing a sculpture based on the traditional architectural Shoji sliding screen. Steven’s goal is to reflect on the contemporary cultural exchange between East Asia and Britain.
Bearnard Leach’s work desk (BHL/8170)
Also from Cornwall are David A. Paton and Rosanna Martin. Working together to bring to life their collaborative brief, ‘Mythical Taxonomies – A Cornish Recombinant Geology’, David and Rosanna aim to unlock the mineral energy embedded in materials, and explore how this force relates to specific places, people and landscapes across Cornwall. Together, they intend to visit a number of Cornish sites – chosen for their specific geology and history – and produce a range of kiln fired sculptures, drawings, film, photographs and text, exploring how humans connect and interact with the landscapes they inhabit. This collaboration is an interesting one; in 2017 Rosanna established Brickworks in Penryn – a centre for education, experimentation and creativity in clay, providing the space and facilities for those new to clay, as well as anyone pursuing professional careers as artists and makers. David, meanwhile, is a lecturer in Fine Art, an artist-researcher, and a craftsperson with a specialism in Cornish granite. Growing up, David was surrounded by his father’s quarries in remote locations on the east and west coasts of Africa – early experiences that would profoundly impact upon the trajectory of his work, binding him to a life-long exploration of the geologic.
Living and working in London as a ceramic artist, the fourth artist is Amy Hughes. A graduate of the School of Material, and a founding member of the east London multi-disciplinary art and design studio, Manifold, Amy has worked and exhibited around the world. Her talent really needs no introduction, having been nominated for several major awards, including her selection for the prestigious Perrier-Jouet Arts Salon prize by Barney Hare Duke. “As a ceramicist,” explains Amy, “being given the opportunity to work with the Leach Pottery is a huge honour, and I’m so pleased to have the chance to pay homage to Bernard Leach’s innovation and teachings.
“The Leach Pottery is an institution, a legacy I first encountered on entering the world of studio ceramics on my university degree. Lessons I learned then are still relevant to my practice some 16 years later.”
Amy’s successful brief proposes the creation of a collection of large, hand-built ceramic vessels, demonstrating a fresh and dynamic use of ‘brushwork’. Presented on both 2- and 3D mixed media, Amy promises to take audiences on a journey from concept development and material experimentation, all the way through to the final pieces, including paper studies, crafted tools and ceramic test pieces. The finished project will welcome touch, leading learning through sensory engagement.
The final Leach 100 artist is Aaron Angell. Also from London, Aaron studied at the Slade School of Fine Art. Now, he primarily works with ceramic material and reverse-painted glass. Aaron seeks to encourage new ways of thinking about the history of ceramics, as is evident at his ‘radical and psychedelic’ London studio, Troy Town Art Pottery. Through his teaching (and the hosting of scores of free artist residences), he has been deeply influential on a number of other artists working with ceramics today. Aaron proposes to build a ‘Firebox’ style woodfired kiln, which he then intends to use to produce a collection of works, including large sculptures with ash-encrustation effects prominent in works from the ceramic traditions of Japan.
The selection of these five individuals follows a rigorous selection process conducted by FEAST Cornwall – an initiative that invests in community and artist-led projects and events that break new ground. And it’s fair to say that Leach 100 promises to do just that. Libby Buckley, Director at Leach Pottery, tells us: “Since the 1920s, the Leach Pottery has championed the creative development of potters.
“We are very pleased to announce these Leach 100 commissions and are delighted to support these talented artists in their fascinating endeavours, whilst continuing the legacies of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada in fresh and exciting modern ways.”
The Leach Pottery stands at the forefront of artistic-pottery innovation, and has done for the last century. A working studio in the very heart of St Ives’ renowned artistic community, to this day, it continues to embody the pioneering nature of the artist-craftsman.
The Leach Pottery will also mark the centenary celebrations with its ‘Pottery and People’ exhibition, next year (or when safe to do so). Currently launched as an online exhibition by Bernard Leach’s grand, great and great-great grandchildren, the exhibition links people around the world via their favourite pieces of pottery or ceramic art.
Image courtesy of Matthew Tyas
All historic images of the Leach Pottery are kindly provided by the Crafts Study Centre, University for the Creative Arts.