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Learning to Throw at The Leach Pottery

The Leach Pottery at St Ives
The Leach Pottery offers a wide range of courses for adults and children

If you'd asked me a few years ago whether I was interested in pottery the answer would have been a definite no. Sure, I was quite partial to drinking my tea from a nice hand-thrown mug but my curiosity didn't go beyond that. I certainly didn't think I'd ever find myself sitting at a pottery wheel but then I discovered The Leach Pottery.

Situated on the outskirts of St Ives, it was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada and from humble beginnings went on to become one of the most influential potteries in the world. When I first visited I was simply fascinated by the old studio where Bernard and his apprentices worked and which feels almost frozen in time but the Leach is very much a working pottery with its own team of studio potters.

Over the next few years I became more and more curious about the Leach tradition and pottery in general. I interviewed lead potter Roelof Uys for a magazine article and began to attend exhibition openings and throwing demonstrations. My friend Helen and I bought ourselves an old Leach kick wheel from Gumtree for £50 and taught ourselves the basics from books and YouTube videos. By the beginning of this year we'd reached the point where we needed some proper instruction and signed ourselves up for a throwing course at The Leach.

The pottery has a comprehensive education programme which caters for children and adults whether you're an absolute beginner working with clay for the first time or an experienced potter looking to hone your skills.

We signed up for an eight-week evening course. There is currently major redevelopment work going on to improve the site for future potters. Some of the courses are taking place at The Newlyn School of Art but we were lucky enough to be based in what was once Bernard's personal studio.

There were just five of us on the course: Sarah, who like Helen and me, had done a bit of dabbling, Ally who had been on a previous course and wanted to perfect her mug throwing and Nick who had never thrown a pot before. We began with an exploration of the basics by learning how to throw some of the Leach Standard Ware forms - mugs, bowls and jugs. After that we were free to branch out and try our own forms under the watchful eye of our very patient tutor, John Mackenzie.

Despite our varied experience, we all learned a huge amount. Obviously there were technical aspects like how to turn a pot properly or attach a handle but because the group was small we each received plenty of individual tuition and it was that which transformed my throwing. John was able to spot in seconds where I'd been going wrong and suddenly I found I could make the clay do what I wanted. Sometimes, anyway. By the end of the eight weeks, we'd all produced some pretty decent pots and found it difficult to choose which ones to have fired in the Leach kiln.

My only gripe was that eight weeks wasn't long enough. By the time we'd really got hang of things it was time to take off our aprons. For now it's all about practising at home what we learned in class but I'm already eyeing up my next course, glazing or perhaps the kick wheel course.

Middle Colenso Farm is just a 20-minute drive away from The Leach Pottery so it makes an ideal base for anyone who would like to do a course. A mother and daughter stayed in Carter's Croft last month, spending the first three days of their holiday learning to throw and the last four exploring West Cornwall. They had a wonderful time. The Bell Tower is even handier for any classes taking place in Newlyn.

The eight-week course was perfect for me but for those you who are just visiting, there are one-day throwing tasters, three and five-day intensives and various specialist courses which focus on particular skills of forms. There are also plenty of workshops and activities for families and children during the school holidays so if you're planning on visiting do have a look at what's on offer.

The courses are understandably very popular so you need to book well in advance. For more information visit The Leach Pottery website.

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