Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Report from Rosemary Cochrane

Dear CCGG Members,
It is a delight to keep in touch with you and when I heard you were holding your AGM in St Ives, with hot pasties followed by a tour of the Leach Pottery, I couldn’t resist asking if I could “tag along” and make it a weekend break in St Ives! Thank you so much for your group’s friendly company. I hope you will enjoy a short report I have compiled and which will be published in South Wales Potters’ newsletter in the future.

Combine an Indian Summer, B & B with a view of the sea, a plethora of art and craft galleries, exhibitions, paintings and pots to die for, time for the necessary indulgence of endless beach combing and sketching, fish and chips on the harbour wall, a garden haven of wonderful plants and even more wonderful sculptures, a restored museum and working pottery …. you’ve guessed? I could only have been in St Ives in mid October!
The Leach Pottery
It has been well publicised that The Leach Pottery in St Ives was rescued from neglect and semi dereliction by the Bernard Leach (St Ives) Trust. With help from the Penwith District Council they finally secured £1.7m for the restoration project. The original pottery and cottage are now listed buildings and the wood-fired climbing kiln is a scheduled ancient monument. The Old Pottery and Museum, new workshops and exhibition space were officially opened to the public earlier this year.

We were shown round the Old Pottery by Joanna Wason who, together with one of our group, Nic Harrison, reminisced about the days they had worked there. The clay store, throwing room, a small corner where the original Leach kick wheel still stands, seem to be just as they always have been. I could so easily visualize the space alive with turning wheels and wet pots. The old fireplace, where many a philosophy and glaze property would have been discussed, seemed to be whispering tales of some of the most important and influential potters of the 20th century who worked and visited The Leach Pottery. In an adjacent room the climbing kiln, built in 1923 and used until the 1970’s, stood quiet, with the flames and heat of past firings long gone. Imagine
the many thousands of pots which were unpacked from the chambers, many must still be treasured by their owners.

Jack Doherty was appointed Lead Potter at the beginning of the year and he talked to us about his own work in the loft studio. There he has set his wheel in the same place that Bernard Leach worked, under the window that looks down the road towards the town. The sense of part of the continuing tradition of studio pottery at St Ives clearly means a great deal to Jack. He produces his own pieces in porcelain for soda firing and has designed the soda fired standard ware to be sold at the Leach Pottery. The newly built ground floor workshop and studio has space for up to four potters and four MA students who will share their time between working for themselves and making pieces for the standard range. At present two MA students have been taken on.

The main and current Exhibition, The Bernard Leach Story curated by Emmanuel Cooper, was displayed in a new building dedicated to changing exhibitions. Another room was filled with John Leach’s pots, both his individual pieces and the Muchelney Pottery kitchen and table wares. Outside a timber walkway leads to the gallery and shop and it was a delight to linger on the wooden bridge that spans a gravelled space set out with planters and bamboos: a Cornish Japanese garden. In the gallery “Formed in Fire” showed new pots from eight kilns. The outstanding piece for me was a soda fired open form by Gail Nichols, rich with flashes of rich terracotta and tangerine surfaces and brown orange peel drifting into the inside of the bowl where a pitted, soft grey surface coated the concave sides.

Across the car park there are three new kilns: a small soda kiln a much larger one and a good sized kiln for stoneware reduction firings. The first results were, Jack Doherty reported, pleasing and the future results are anticipated with great enthusiasm.

Described as the iconic site for potters all over the world, the Leach Pottery in St Ives has to be on the “must visit “ list of potters and anyone who loves clay. I would have gone even without the temptation of the CCGG and a hot pasty.

Sutton Taylor and Michael Sheppard
The New Millennium Gallery was almost a last minute choice to visit over the weekend. But what a glorious unexpected treat was in store for us. Sutton Taylor’s lustre ceramics are for me the crème de la crème of this wonderful, complex glaze effect. Beautifully displayed in acres of quiet white space on two floors of this gallery, his large bowls, tall bottles and slab containers pulsated with vibrancy that only lustre can bestow. On the walls, near the pots, the paintings of Michael Sheppard hung in symbiotic elegance. As lifelong partners, the common creative inspiration of Sheppard and Taylor has been the love of Cornwall and the ever changing Cornish landscape. The juxta position of the lustre ware and abstract paintings was clearly not contrived in any way but was inspiring beyond description. I have to say that sometimes the amazing visual impact just takes your breath away and words are as impossible as they are superfluous. If I had sent you a post card it would have simply read: “Wish you were here!”
Rosemary Cochrane
Nov. 2008

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