Household B Leach


The permanent collection is housed in the original Leach family home, which was built in the 1920's. It is divided into three sections; 

The first, houses examples of the work of Bernard Leach and his faithful sidekick, Shoji Hamada, from the 1920's through to the 1960's.
The second contains examples of the work by three long-term inmates of the pottery, David Leach (Bernard's sprog), Janet Leach (Bernard's third wife) and the legendary Trevor Corser (neither sprog nor wife, just a damn fine potter!).
The third section contains examples of the work by various artists who studied at the Leach Pottery from 1923 to 1981 (boy, that's a long course!).

Section 1

If you want to chill out with some unearthly earthenware you should check out the permanent expedition in the old Leach house.

Bernard Leach was born and brought up in the Far East way back in 1887. After the usual posting to Blighty for schooling he returned to Hong Kong to work for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (as HSBC were in those days).

However, he jacked it all in, came back to England and enrolled in the London School of Arts where he met arty types like Henry Lamb and Frank Brangwyn. In 1909 he returned to Japan intending to earn a living as a painter. He got a house in north Tokyo, a couple of sprogs, Michael and David and a wife, Muriel  (not necessarily in that order!).

Some time later he went to a wild party one night and got introduced to 'pot'. There were quite a few fellow artists at the do and for a bit of a jape they spent an hour or so painting unfired pots which were then fired. Bernard was so chuffed with the whole experience he got hooked on ceramics and went (to the top of Mount Fuji clad only in a loincloth, no doubt) to study under Kenzan VI, the supreme ceramics sensei.

During this time, Shoji Hamada, a Japanese potter, became fascinated with Leach's work and became the first Leach groupie. When Bernard decided to head back to England in 1920, Hamada concealed himself in Leach's suitcase and made the trip with him!

Together they built the first three-chamber climbing kiln in the West (see page 2 - A Great Wall Of China) and began firing. They produced both stoneware and rakuware using local materials despite difficulties in finding decent clay locally, finding wood to fire the kilns* and finding a way of getting 'rakuware' past the spellchecker!

Despite Hamada doing a runner Leach continued to potter away in St. Ives, taking on his first apprentices, such as Michael Cardew and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie. He regularly visited the Far East in the 20's and 30's, no doubt infuriated that Hamada had become almost instantly famous and successful on his return to Japan!

In 1932 Leach started teaching and doing expeditions at Dartington Hall in Devon. Although he achieved some notable moments there, including giving Austrian refugee Lucie Rie a bit of guidance and encouragement, he was always regarded in St. Ives as being 'a bit dodgy' for having crossed the River Tamar.

With impeccable timing, Leach decided to publish his uber-work, A Potter's Book, in 1940. Unfortunately, a few minor news items elsewhere meant that his work did not quite get the front page exposure he had hoped for. Leach described the event as 'like hatching an egg in a thunderstorm' and although his pottery methods and philosophy described in the book subsequently went on to become massively influential, his egg-laying technique never caught on!

After WW2 Leach kept himself occupied with little projects like holding  the first International Craft Conference of Potters and Weavers at Dartington Hall in 1952. He also went on the road touring Japan and America and it was at a gig in the latter that he met Janet Darnell, who signed up to be Mrs. Leach Mk 3 and would eventually take over the running of the St. Ives Pottery.

During his later years Leach kept touring and found time to belt out a couple of books, 'Kenzan And His Tradition' in 1966 (so we know what he was doing when Geoff Hurst scored THAT goal) and 'Hamada, Potter' in 1975 (the title of which may have later inspired a struggling young writer called J. K. Rowling!**). In 1962 he bagged a CBE and he was made a Companion of Honour in 1973. He pegged it in 1979.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 1

Bernard's beakers get top billing.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 2

There's some of his porcelain work lying around but I much prefer the stoneware.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 3

In the photo Bernard paints pots, around the piccy pots Bernard painted.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 4

Bernard Leach always insisted on working in a black and white studio so that no one could work out what glazes he was using.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 5

Is this a tile wall picture? Or a tile floor stuck on a wall? Answers on the back of a postcard to ...

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 6

Not sure what this is. It looks like a ceramic footstool. Whatever it is it's pretty snazzy.

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 7

Like Alphaville, Bernard Leach was Big In Japan ...

Bernard leach's work in the permanent collection at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives, Cornwall 8

... whereas in St. Ives he was so impoverished he was forced to earn money during the tourist season as a candyfloss maker!

* The tin miners had got there first and swiped most of it, which is why for the last couple of centuries you had more chance of finding El Dorado than you did of finding a tree in St. Ives!

** Or, then again, maybe that is just wild supposition!

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