OW: I always wonder whether you should actually ever meet the artist or the potters who make things, because you meet people you like and you like their work more than people you don't like, [whose work] you don't like so much. I first really got into these Cardew earthenwares when he came to the V&A to choose some pieces for the Craftsman's Eye show at the Crafts Council Galleries. And he was such a fantastic, wonderful man, like your favourite uncle straight away. And it was also particularly exciting because we opened our cupboards and we had quite a lot of pre-war Winchcombe stone, earthenware like this piece of his, and his jaw positively dropped when he saw the condition of them. And he said, 'I've forgotten what they look like when they're new.' Because he of course had dozens of pieces back home, but he'd been using them solidly for all that period and, as earthenware does, they were cracked and stained, and all our ones are still as they were when they came out of the kiln.
I love Michael Cardew, and I loved what he did because he was the upper middle class lad who went and reconstructed and worked as a country potter to produce country pots, buying Winchcombe Pottery that had been a traditional pottery and setting out to become a country potter. And the things he made [have] wonderful, flowing, bold decoration. [There are] many, many qualities that I find in here which I find in the writings of Bernard Leach, but not actually in his practice. Of course, when I say he reconstructed the country pottery, the country pottery was actually performing a real, economic function in the country for local people. And we're not at all sure that this stuff was made for urban people coming to rediscover the country, or particularly... I think, if you really want to know where a pot like this would have sat, you go and look at the entry 'The Country Cottage' in ... I'm going to embarrass myself now ... I've forgotten the man's name ...
RP: Let's go to a close up.
OW: [video clip starts] There was a great cottage movement between the wars, [when] all sorts of artistic types and intellectuals would go out into the country, buy cottages and then furnish them in an appropriate way. I think that's just the sort of situation [in which you] would have found [this piece]. As to whether it was actually ever used for cider, I very much doubt it - this one certainly wasn't, as it came straight to the Museum. There's something else in this particular piece that suddenly strikes me. It's thinking that he was very much just about the English tradition, and not Chinese and all the rest of it, when actually the dark, black glaze with the incised decoration through it is a Chinese stoneware technique, and not one that you find in the old English tradition. [video clip ends]
What else to say about it? [It's a] very good piece of throwing, whether it's actually him or Elijah Comfort who did the throwing. When he came, and unfortunately I didn't note [it] down precisely, he used to pick up the pieces and feel them and he'd say, 'Oh yes, that's me' or 'No, that was Elijah.' And he'd be able to tell. One of the phrases he used about Elijah's throwing was that it was lazy. He said, 'Oh, that's a lazy way, that's Elijah.' And I think what he meant by that was [that] the real professional had found the short cuts to doing the rim on the lid, or something like that. And this piece has his personal stamp on the bottom end, because you're not often likely to pick it up, I suppose, and look at the bottom; on the side, as well, Winchcombe Pottery seal and Michael Cardew piece. [It's] a grand pot, and really remarkably well made, like a lot of these things were. And he'd actually struggled with an original kiln that was vast that he only used to fire once every couple of months and filled with several thousand pieces. And he managed to sell them, but lived in penury [as a] self-inflicted country potter.
MP: Okay, brilliant.
OW: The quote I was looking for, of course, is Osbert Lancaster in 'Home Sweet Homes', published in 1939, where there's a section on something called 'The Cultured Cottage', and there he says that nine out of ten cottages in the countryside - the most comfortable and hygenic nine, that is - are now occupied by film stars, barristers, artists and BBC announcers, and that they totally changed the décor. He mentions that the plastic souvenirs have gone, and they've brought in Czechoslovakian handicrafts bought from an interesting shop run by gentle folk in the Brompton Road, you know, almost certainly the place that we, we bought this. And that the family bible would have gone and there in its place would be 'The Shropshire Lad' hand printed on a stained oak table in an artist design, and so forth. And that is absolutely the context in which Michael Cardew's work finds its real place.
You may not have thought of including a gift to a museum in your will, but the V&A is a charity and legacies form an important source of funding for our work. It is not just the great collectors and the wealthy who leave legacies to the V&A. Legacies of all sizes, large and small, make a real difference to what we can do and your support can help ensure that future generations enjoy the V&A as much as you have.