Mike's Pots

 Berkeley Galleries, London - Bernard Leach Exhibition 1946

Berkeley Galleries, London
Bernard Leach Exhibition 1946

Recently I came across an original street photograph of a crowd of people including Bernard Leach, from memory I think David Leach gave it to me when I visited him many years ago. The image has appeared in Emmanuel Cooper's biography of Bernard Leach and also in Marion Whybrow's book on the Leach Pottery but I thought I would do a high resolution scan and give you the chance to see more detail.

The Berkeley Galleries was a prestigeous venue in London's Mayfair. Opened by William Ohly in 1942 the galleries concentrated on African and Oceanic artefacts and were open until 1977. After the Second World War when the Leach Pottery had returned to full production Ohly invited Bernard Leach to hold his first postwar exhibition at the galleries in 1946.

The Bernard Leach 26th Anniversary Exhibition ran from June 3rd to June 29th 1946, marking 26 years of the Leach Pottery in St. Ives. 22 packing cases containing 500 pieces of standard ware, tiles and individual pots plus 30 Bernard Leach drawings were sent up to London by the Leach Pottery.

The exhibition invitation card stated that Bernard Leach would give an introductory talk on the situation facing craftsmen, especially potters, at the end of the war and that he would be present at the galleries during the first week of the exhibition.

An illustrated booklet commemorating 26 years of the Leach Pottery was available priced at 2/6d (12½p). It included this historical essay :


Bernard Leach drawing

THE LEACH POTTERY 1920 - 1946

THE LEACH POTTERY
1920 - 1946

It is twenty-six years since Hamada and I mixed the mortar for the brickwork of the first St. Ives kiln, clumsily trying to use the long-handled Cornish shovel to the kindly amusement of the builders who were completing the roof over our heads.

Where is Hamada now? He and all those other fellow-craftsmen in Japan with their love of beauty and truth? There is still a curtain of silence I do not know. No better humans exist on earth, as I assert from long and varied experience, and none more naturally bent towards creative peace - the bitter irony of war!

When we started in Cornwall with the helpful understanding of my partner Mrs. Horne, who a year or two earlier had founded the St. Ives Handicraft Guild, we neither of us had any experience or knowledge of crafts in England. Our ideas were more or less bounded by conditions of craftsmanship in Japan, whether of the traditional countryside, or of the individual art trained variety, which it so happened that I as a foreigner inaugurated.

There were highly trained craftsmen in Japan - some of them even attached to the Court, but not one was aesthetically conscious in the international and contemporary sense. Thus when they, and still more the peasant weavers, lacquerers, potters, etc., attempted to graft foreign ideas onto an already weakened national stem, the results were disastrous.

This is not so much an insistence upon intellectual information and self-consciousness as essentials to the production of fine living crafts, for that claim would be easy to demolish with historic example, as a realization that all over the world the arts of pre-industrial man - the distilled virtue of milleniums are being destroyed, almost over night, for lack of breadth of vision.

The conclusion we subsequently came to was that making and planning round the individuality of the artist was a necessary step in the evolution of the crafts. So at St. Ives, at the outset, we based our economics on the studio and not on the country workshop or the factory.

Hamada and I regarded ourselves as being on the same basis as Murray in London, Decoeur in Paris and Tomimoto in Japan.

For some years our main revenue came from enthusiasts and collectors in London and Tokyo. We worked hard, but with the irregularity of mood. We destroyed pots, as artists do paintings and drawings, when they exhibited shortcomings to our own eyes (what Hamada called "tail"). We only turned out 2,000 to 3,000 pots a year between four or five of us and of these not more than 10 per cent. passed muster for shows. Kiln losses in those days were high - quite 20 per cent.The best pots had to be fairly expensive. What was left over was either sold here or went out on that usually unsatisfactory arrangement of "sale and return" to Craft Shops up and down the country. Nevertheless our work became known, students arrived, critics were kind, my Japanese friends held repeated exhibitions of my pots and drawings and sent all the proceeds to help establish this pottery in my own country. Neither Hamada nor I, nor Edmund Skinner our first Secretary, ever took more than £100 a year and George Dunn, our clay-worker and wood-cutter, to within a year of his death was easily the best paid at unskilled rates. Without private funds, however, and help from Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst we would not have reached security. Strange as it may seem that only came with the close of the war.

In 1920 Hamada was 28, I think, and I was 33; he had not yet exhibited whilst I had been launched in his country as an artist and as a potter for ten years. He had had a scientific training whilst I had made a lot of mistakes and gained thereby some experience. Like his own pots he was well ballasted. For three years we had a good partnership. The background of thought which we brought to the undertaking was that of the artist turned craftsman; or at least of the educated and thinking man perceiving the largely unconscious beauty of material, workmanship and general approach which preceded the industrial revolution, and his desire to recapture some of the lost values through the work of his own hands. So it was with Morris, Gimson and Edward Johnston. East or West this is the counter-revolution, the refusal of the slavery of the machine. Both movements started here in England - the return wave of artist-craftsmanship from Japan has a character of its own - it gained richness, a reflection of other and different philosophy and culture. Behind the failure of arms, competition and politics, the world shrinks towards unity and cohesion.

In 1922 we were joined by the late T. Matsubayashi, engineer, chemist and craftsman-potter of the 39th generation of a well-known family of potters. He it was who designed and rebuilt our present, traditional, three-chambered, down draught "climbing kiln". Hamada returned in 1923 and Matsubayashi in the following year.

At this early stage we were making a lot of rather uneconomic experiments in the Japanese low temperature faience called "Raku", in middle temperature English slip-ware and in high temperature, Oriental stoneware and hard porcelain. The Raku technique was used for Thursday afternoon demonstrations during summer months at which we allowed visitors to paint their own pots which we glazed and fired before their eyes. We were still using wood, and there were not a few occasions when the beginner's struggle with the unforseen, without the experience and advice of old hands, made me realise the truth behind the friendly warning that in Japan 20 years were regarded as about the time requisite for the establishment of a new pottery. There was one firing about 1924 which lasted twice as long as usual - 72 hours. I had two hours off during that time and could hardly stand up at the end. The fire-bars below the mass of white-hot ember became choked with a treacly mass of mixed ash and a flux from salt with which, unknown to us, some of the wood had been saturated. Eventually, raking desparately at the fire-mouth I drew out long streamers of slag-glass and freed the air passages once more and the temperature soared.

About this date Mr. and Mrs. Elmhirst came to see me and made the suggestion that we should transfer the pottery to Dartington Hall, near Totnes, where they had bought a great medieaval estate and were starting a progressive school and round it a community engaged in rural crafts. At that time I did not see my way to uproot here and I suggested, as an alternative, Sylvia Fox-Strangways, who had been at the pottery a short time.

Between 1920 and 1931 we had "one-man" shows, first at the Cotswold Gallery in Soho, then at Patterson's Gallery, Old Bond Street, then at the Beaux Arts in Bruton Street. About seven altogether. They were moderately successfull, but it became gradually clear to me that the solution to the underlying problems of craftsmanship, or at any rate those which presented themselves to my mind most forcibly, were not likely to be discovered in the expensive precincts of Bond Street - that springboard of virtuoso and showman.

So we made an experiment in Church Street, at the "Three Shields", and again as a group of our own at the New Handworkers' Gallery in Bloomsbury. From there we published a small series of craft pamphlets printed by Pepler at the St. Dominics Press, Ditchling. Mine "A Potter's Outlook" - was my first attempt in England to formulate faith and ideas. That was in 1928.

Meanwhile our pots had been shown at various national and international exhibitions, Wembley, Paris, Milan, Leipsic, etc. At the invitation of a group of students of Harvard University I joined with Murray, Cardew, Bouverie and Braden in a combined Anglo-Japanese individual potter's exhibition. It was spoiled, however, by delays and by rough handling in the Customs, but I think it worthy of mention because of the newness and breadth of the idea.

When the remnants of this show went to Japan, rather hidden amongst the bouquets, I found one penetrating, disconcerting, criticism: "We admire your stoneware (in the Oriental mode) but we love your English Slip-ware - born not made." That sank home, and together with the growing conviction that pots must be made in answer to outward as well as inward need, determined us to counterbalance the exhibition of expensive personal pottery by a basic production of what we called domestic ware.

Student apprentices followed one another at intervals of about a year apiece. After Michael Cardew, Katharine Pleydell Bouverie, then Norah Braden, most sensitive of all who have worked here. They combined and made fine pots at Coleshill. Muriel Bell who set up at Malvern; William Worrall and John Coney who ran a kiln together behind Glastonbury Tor, until Worrall's premature death in 1940. Charlotte Epton, Barbara Millard who was thrown from a horse and killed in South Africa, and about a dozen other preceding the war. In 1930 my eldest son, David, decided against University and for a potter's life. My second son, Michael, also worked with me for a time.

Besides long-term apprenticeship, which is the only real way of learning a craft, we did have short courses which more than 100 must have attended at one time or another a few repeatedly, such as Kenneth Murray who has had much to do with native crafts in Nigeria.

Plain and decorated stoneware tiles were developed from 1930 onward. The quiet variations in broken colours yielded by open firing at high temperatures are admirably suited to this purpose, and of course the tiles themselves are very durable. Later experience has led to the conclusion that the scale of production would have to be greater to bring adequate profits, and that much of the work is only suitable for mechanical reproduction. Experiments have been our danger, we have made enough to start a dozen potteries each on different lines. During the six years preceding the war we exhibited at Muriel Rose's delightful "Little Gallery" off Sloane St. together with our English and Japanese craftsmen friends.

In 1933 I went to teach, part-time, at Dartington School, leaving David in charge for a month or two at a time. The Elmhirsts built a small pottery unit for me at Shinner's Bridge in which I developed the English slip-ware technique, using the chocolate-coloured Fremington clay from North Devon, which is the same as that used at Lake's Pottery, Truro, the last of the traditional Cornish kilns. But I vitrified the body by taking the temperature to over 1000°C. and used an excellent black engobe or slip - often trailing white over black and dipping into transparent iron glaze so that the effect was yellow on shot black.

Life at Dartington was enriched with personal and artistic contacts and the intermingling of nationalities: Joos Ballet, Tchehov drama, music under Hans Oppenheim, drawing, painting, sculpture and exhibitions of living art.

My closest friend was the American artist Mark Tobey with whom I travelled to the Far East in 1934. My old companions of art in Japan, particularly those associated with what had become a national craft movement, had invited me to revisit them and work in their several centres for a year. Leonard and Dorothy Elmhirst felt that such an invitation should not be refused and they not only financed me but also Mark, who accompanied me to Shanghai, and whom I met again for a short time in Tokyo. This is no place in which to attempt to describe the happenings of that amazing year. As far as work was concerned it was the fullest in my life and humanly in sharpest possible contrast to the terrible apparition of Japan which war has brought to the mind of the West. With Hamada in Mashiko, Tomimoto in Tokyo, Kawai in Kyoto, and Funaki in Matsue, and in three other potteries, the pots and drawings were done for eleven exhibitions. Besides that, with Yanagi as leader, we travelled 4,000 miles collecting examples of folk art, planning, lecturing, criticising. This work was rewarded by the promise of adequate funds for the building and maintenance of a beautiful National Museum of "people's art", which I desparately hope was not destroyed by Allied bombers.

Whilst I was in the East David was sent to Stoke Technical College for a two-year Course (Bernard Forrester went to Dartington to teach), and St. Ives was left in charge of Laurie Cookes and Harry Davis, who carried on the production of domestic slip-ware with great energy. Samples were taken by car far afield, personal contacts made and the orders were carried out forthwith, involving sometimes half a dozen kiln-firings without a break.

Some time after I got back I decided to leave David in charge once more. Laurie and I bought a car and caravan in which we lived for a time at Ditchling, then at Winchcombe near Michael Cardew, and finally at Dartington. There I began to write "A Potter's Book" for Richard de la Mare of Fabers. At the same time I resumed potting and a little teaching of adults besides making periodic visits to St. Ives where David was making a number of technical improvements, including the successful installation of an oil-burner and air-blower in 1937. Then we gave up slip-ware in favour of stoneware because it suits the conditions of modern life better and offers a wider field of suggestion and experiment.

Dear old George Dunn died in 1940, but his son Horatio had taken over the job in 1937. The following year we engaged our first two local apprentice lads.

In 1940 my book was published. Despite the war it has sold well, both here and in the U.S.A., and it has brought me friends and contacts with potters far and near. The first edition was curtailed by bombing, but a second has appeared and has been twice re-printed.

Late in 1940 I made St. Ives my headquarters once more in response to my son's appeal. Not only did he anticipate his "call up", but he was also feeling at a loss in interpreting my shapes and patterns at a distance of a hundred miles. By this time we had issued our first catalogue of domestic stoneware and ovenware as well as a tile catalogue.

One night in January 1941 the pottery had the bad luck to get in the way of a parachuted land-mine intended for the nearest air-field, ten miles away. It fell in the garden, blew down George Dunn's old cottage and shook or sucked off slate roofs, glass, doors, etc., and broke pots, etc., to the tune of £2,000. Personal injury was light - what to do next was the problem. With difficulty we hired canvas to cover the pottery proper, but the house was condemned by St. Ives, Plymouth and Bristol (three times). Not only that, but we were blamed for the happening by the local people, and we were not permitted to explain in the press that the pottery had not been signalling to German planes by kiln-fires. (They had been unused for two months!) Eventually our Member of Parliament took the case up and it was fairly and sympathetically reviewed by the Board of Trade, after three years' uncertainty. Repairs were thorough and we were even granted a Special Licence to make and sell outside "Utility" regulations, and to employ seven workers-if we could find them We did twelve in all at different times-but only two or three partially trained, so production lagged.

We were granted David's release 6 months ago, old hands are returning and new ones want to come in unprecedented numbers. We are fortunate, but the war hit British Craftsmanship hard. Out of the 2,000 or so craftsmen of peace time (excluding rural crafts) there were fewer than 20 workshops left. The thread of continuity upon which traditions of right making depend has worn very thin during these six years.

Crafts such as pottery depend, as it were, upon a slow passage of time: the gradual transfer of the bodily knowledge of the right usage of material and the intimate co-operation of small groups of workers. Break those threads and disperse the men and their tools, and an heritage is lost for ever. This is one of the contingent tragedies of total war and it is the more poignant because craftsmanship in its essence is the antidote of mass-production and the craftsman is the residual type of fully responsible workman.

This responsibility comes to its maturity with conscious knowledge. At that stage the artist-craftsman can inaugurate experiments in group craftsmanship such as ours at St. Ives.

We have aimed at a high common denominator of belief and in the sharing of responsibility and profits. By accepting the Cornish motto "one and all", and by making the workshop a "we job" instead of an "I job" we appear to have solved our main economic problem as handworkers in a machine age and to have found out that it is still possible for a varied group of people to find and give real satisfaction because they believe in their work and in each other.

To me the most surprising part of the experience, which now covers about ten years, is the realization that - given a reasonable degree of unselfishness, divergence of aesthetic judgment has not wrecked this effort. When it comes to the appraisal of various attempts to put a handle on a jug, for example, right in line and volume and apt for purpose, unity of common assent is far less difficult to obtain than might have been expected.

During the war representatives of the two principal craft societies constantly met to investigate, and argue, and to supplicate the government through the Joint Committee of the Central Institute of Art and Design, under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Tennyson.

Through it some relief has been granted in individual cases and a modicum of raw materials released, but so far we have not been able to obtain any recognition of the function of craftsmanship in the social order, nor any general protection from regulations governing industry, which are crippling to craftsmen. Even now it is exceedingly difficult to obtain licences to make and sell crafts. The craftsman's contribution to national life requires the protection of the Government: without it, the continued existence of free craftsmanship, with all its implications, is at stake.

At the end of the exhibition David Leach took a group photograph before the invitees were treated to lunch at a Soho Chinese restaurant. The St. Ives printer Guido Morris designed the invitation card for the celebratory meal, it was printed in capitals and read ...

Exhibition invitation text

As this second private view was at the end of the exhibition Mr Ohly will have decreed that the exhibition to remain intact with purchases being collected after closure.


Berkeley Galleries, Bernard Leach 26th Anniversary Exhibition 1946

Group photo outside the Berkeley Galleries at the closure of the Bernard Leach 26th Anniversary Exhibition, June 1946


Standing, left to right:

Lucie Rie/Annemarie Fernbach   Marion Whybrow says Lucie Rie, Emmanuel Cooper Annemarie Fernbach a Bernard Leach Dartington student
Unknown personAlmost hidden lady in glasses
Margery HorneDaughter of Frances Horne who bought the land for and paid for the construction of the Leach Pottery in 1920
Sam HaileArtist and potter, husband of Marianne de Trey
Unknown personAlmost hidden hatted lady
William OhlyBerkeley Galleries owner
Marianne de TreyPotter (almost hidden), wife of Sam Haile
Jean SmithNo further information
Laurie LeachBernard Leach's wife (née Cookes)
Unknown personMan in glasses
Patrick HeronArtist, worked at the Leach Pottery in WW2 when a Concientious Objector
Bunty SmithBoth Whybrow and Cooper say Bunty Smith for this dapper gentleman?
Dorothy KempLeach Pottery potter
Aileen NewtonLeach Pottery potter
Delia HeronPatrick's wife
Jessamine KendalLeach Pottery potter, married Dick Kendall in 1948
Sylvia Fox-StrangewaysArtist and poet, Ex-Leach Pottery potter (late 1920s)
Harry DavisPotter, ex-Leach Pottery (1933-37)
Bernard LeachPotter, artist, writer, teacher


Sitting, left to right:


Dicon NanceCabinet maker, made potter's wheels and other wooden items for the Leach Pottery
Dick KendallWorked at the Leach Pottery in WW2 when a Concientious Objector
Frank VibertLeach Pottery secretary
Margaret LeachPotter, ex-Leach Pottery (1942-45), no relation to Bernard
Mariel CardewMichael Cardew's wife
Unknown person
Valerie BondLeach Pottery potter
Michael LeachLeach Pottery potter, in a corporal's uniform as on National Service


Notes

David Leach took the photograph
At the time Michael Cardew was away working in Africa at Vume, Ghana


Standing, L to R:

Lucie Rie/Annemarie Fernbach   Marion Whybrow says Lucie Rie, Emmanuel Cooper Annemarie Fernbach a Bernard Leach Dartington student
Unknown personAlmost hidden lady in glasses
Margery HorneDaughter of Frances Horne who bought the land for and paid for the construction of the Leach Pottery in 1920
Sam HaileArtist and potter, husband of Marianne de Trey
Unknown personAlmost hidden hatted lady
William OhlyBerkeley Galleries owner
Marianne de TreyPotter (almost hidden), wife of Sam Haile
Jean SmithNo further information
Laurie LeachBernard Leach's wife (née Cookes)
Unknown personMan in glasses
Patrick HeronArtist, worked at the Leach Pottery in WW2 when a Concientious Objector
Bunty SmithBoth Whybrow and Cooper say Bunty Smith for this dapper gentleman?
Dorothy KempLeach Pottery potter
Aileen NewtonLeach Pottery potter
Delia HeronPatrick's wife
Jessamine KendalLeach Pottery potter, married Dick Kendall in 1948
Sylvia Fox-StrangewaysArtist and poet, Ex-Leach Pottery potter (late 1920s)
Harry DavisPotter, ex-Leach Pottery (1933-37)
Bernard LeachPotter, artist, writer, teacher


Sitting, L to R:


Dicon NanceCabinet maker, made potter's wheels and other wooden items for the Leach Pottery
Dick KendallWorked at the Leach Pottery in WW2 when a Concientious Objector
Frank VibertLeach Pottery secretary
Margaret LeachPotter, ex-Leach Pottery (1942-45), no relation to Bernard
Mariel CardewMichael Cardew's wife
Unknown person
Valerie BondLeach Pottery potter
Michael LeachLeach Pottery potter, in a corporal's uniform as on National Service


Notes

David Leach took the photograph
At the time Michael Cardew was away working in Africa at Vume, Ghana


The site of the Berkeley Galleries now, via Google Streetview



References:

Emmanuel Cooper    Bernard Leach: Life and Work, Yale, 2003
Marion Whybrow    Leach Pottery St. Ives The Legacy of Bernard Leach, Imago, 2006