OW: Yes, it's rather a funny thing to start with really, because it's not the sort of thing of Bernard's we would have bought at that time, and in fact we didn't buy it at that time. This came to us much later from somebody who'd bought it from him from St Ives. [video clip starts] Red earthenware, lead glaze, slip painted. It's an example of the indigenous tradition that Bernard Leach came back to rediscover after he'd spent his ten years in Japan. It's rather a modest example and I suppose that's part of its interest, just being a cup and saucer, because at that time he wasn't really wanting to do domestic wares, earning his money by making tea sets and things, and he used to complain about that in his writings. What he really wanted to do were the stonewares which were the real essence, the real ceramics that he'd been learning about in Japan. He did the big slipware dishes for a few years which are very grand, dramatic things, and I think he even got a bit bored of those, because those were very successful in Japan. [video clip ends] The sort of thing that Yanagi said about them being born not made.. and after the first few years you felt he went back and had to do a few more to send back to Japan for sales to satisfy customers out there. But I always feel he never really got on that well with earthenware, he didn't particularly warm to it. It was more a notional thing about having to rediscover British roots.
What else to say about it? [It] shows all the disadvantages of earthenware, [it's] chipped around the rim [and] stained. In some of these blackened and matt areas it shows the defects that he had in his kiln at that time. [It was] very difficult to control, particularly for the earthenwares. The wear on the saucer shows the general dangerousness of this kind of thing, you can see the glaze coming off and poisoning you. But it's got some of that rich colouring that they look to. Of course, what's interesting in this is that you know all of Leach's coming back to rediscover the old traditions, those old traditions actually still happening, and if he wanted he could have gone around the country and found old country potteries still making earthenwares in a traditional manner. The one visit we do know of is recorded with a famous photograph with Hamada at Lakes Pottery where he learned the pulling of a handle, which was the great thing he went on to teach the rest of the world and Japan and so forth. But actually he wasn't really very interested. He didn't set out to go and find what was still left of old traditions and preserve them in any way. He was an artist craftsman who came in. What he wanted was the spirit of it rather than the actuality.
MP: What do you think of it technically?
OW: Well, difficult bloke Bernard, I've worked on him quite a lot. I suppose he did make this himself, if one can judge by the brushwork of something so simple, he did this. It's not actually got his personal mark on it, it's only got the St Ives stamp. It could well be by him. Of course, even at this time there is the popular notion that he was completely trained as a master potter in Japan and came back to practise his craft. Of course he wasn't, he was an amateur dilettante with a group of amateur dilettantes in Japan and struggling. You can see other parallels in the Arts and Crafts movement and other earlier studio potters in Britain. They didn't want to be professionals because that was trade, that was working class stuff and it would somehow undermine the artistic endeavour they were doing if they were associated with that. He actually wasn't a very good thrower. You don't see it so much in this piece, this is fine. I think tutors these days would like to complain a bit about the thinness of the rim, and the slip decoration's very, very simple. Not perhaps his best piece of slipware to judge him on, but interesting enough. And the other issue, of course, is who bought these? It certainly wasn't the same market as the country potteries who had been supplying this before. This in fact was bought by a nice lady in St Ives supporting the local artist.
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