A Pottery tankard
Purchased on eBay by Adam Sutherland.
‘I went to school at Dartington Hall where I became obsessed with pottery, I think inspired by visiting The Lakes Pottery in Truro age 4 with my mother and watching them throwing jugs. In the 1920’s Dartington Hall estate financed the school's pottery teacher (Bernard Leach) and drawing master (Mark Tobey) to visit Japan. During my time at the school, pottery teacherColin Kellam, and jewellery teacherBernard Forester were both Leach disciples and we were taught to make pots in the Leach/Japanese style. This tankard reminds me of my aspirations at school to make pots like this and of the quote by Shoji Hamada; ‘A good pot is like walking down a gentle slope in a warm breeze’ being an idea to which I aspired. I look back in some horror and amusement’. Adam Sutherland
Suffers from crawling in the glaze - presumably released from the pottery as a second, but kinda nice and a desirable effect if you are Japanese.
The tankard is an example of Leach’s most successful fusion between the English and Japanese folk traditions, a traditional English form married with a traditional Japanese glaze. There are other versions in the Collection from Winchcombe, Robert Welch, Holkham and Keith Murray, in fact most of A mug's history of design’s category makes reference to the English medieval tankard. It could be argued that Leach popularised the contemporary mug, opening the door to designs that followed, such as Clappison's Worlds Best series, and what a sad claim to fame that must be. Like the character in The Fall, song, “How I Wrote Elastic Man” Leach was doomed to be known for this populist contribution to his art form.
“I’m living a fake
People say, "you are entitled to and great."
But I haven’t wrote for 90 days
I’ll get a good deal and Ill go away
Away from the empty brains that ask
How I wrote ‘elastic man’”
Bernard Leach was born in 1920 in Hong Kong and is perhaps the most significant figure in the revival of pottery in the 20th century. The significant moment in his life was his visit to Japan in 1923. Supported in the trip by his employer Dorothy Elmhirst nee Whitney, he traveled with Mark Tobey, the drawing master at Dartington Hall School where Leach was teaching pottery. For both men the experience was life changing. Tobey returned to America to develop his white writing paintings and contribute to the birth of Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism while Leach returned to England to set up the St Ives pottery and attempt to fuse British folk pottery with traditional Japanese ceramics and sustain a lifetime of infighting over a tiny corner of reductionist culture.
Significantly Leach, while in Japan, became involved and contributed to the Mingei movement; a connoisseurship of folk art and the anonymous hand of the maker. Leach initially tried to identify and develop a British Mingei, his principle source of inspiration being the Lakes Pottery in Truro. The Pottery was a traditional, basic country ware producer where Leach initially learnt how to make handles, a dominate feature in British folk pottery with the multi-handled loving cups etc, which are entirely absent from Japanese tradition; “…his (Leach) handles were very, very poor and he went to a local pottery, and then they started to get better.” Emmanuel Cooper.
The St Ives Pottery became a touchstone for the craft movement being the training ground for practically every British potter of note operating in the second half of the 20th century. The Leach dynasty was also prolific with many descendents still in the business. The style of work fell badly out of fashion in the 1980’s and 1990’s with it catogorised as ‘hairy arsed’ and ‘Brown Brigade’. More recently there has been a thawing of attitude and a new fusion style emerging linking long time adversaries Lucy Rie (who viciously ‘accused’ by Leach of ‘throwing too thin’) and the Leach stoneware and earthenware styles. The Brown Brigade was constantly in conflict internally, with accusations of weight, thinness and other terrible crimes against the misunderstood ideals of Mingei.“As an illustration of this infighting, I remember my own pottery teacher swearing me to absolute secrecy before admitting to me that his apprentice consistently left too much clay in the base.” Adam Sutherland.
The Unknown Craftsmen: Japanese Insight into Beauty, translated by Leach with a foreword by Hamada, 1978, ISBN-10: 0870119486