Bernard Leach is considered the father of studio pottery but it was pure chance, or perhaps fate, that led him to ceramics. Living in Japan, where he was working as an artist, he was invited to a raku party where guests painted and then fired earthenware pots. As he handled his pot, still warm from the kiln, he experienced an artistic epiphany. His ambitions, which had previously been directed towards etching, now became focused on pottery.
Leach studied for several years with Japanese potters and in 1919 he met the celebrated young potter, Shoji Hamada, who would become a lifelong friend. In 1920 the pair travelled to England where they established a small pottery on the outskirts of St Ives.
From humble beginnings, the Leach Pottery became one of the most influential studio potteries in the world. Visitors today can still see the historic workshop and climbing kiln (the first in the West) built by Leach and Hamada in what was originally a cowshed. It’s a wonderful space, full of history and atmosphere but it’s much more than a museum. The Leach Pottery is a working pottery with a team of in-house potters. There’s an exhibition space and gallery displaying work by national and international artists, not to mention a shop where it’s almost impossible to leave without buying something.
Bernard Leach was born in Hong Kong in 1887 and spent his childhood in the Far East including several years in Japan. In later life he attributed his artistic vision to his sense of having been born in an “old culture.’
He moved to England aged 10 and, on leaving school six years later, enrolled at The Slade School of Art. In 1908, following the death of his father and a short-lived career in banking, he moved to Japan where originally intended to paint and teach etching.
After founding the pottery in St Ives it took Leach several years to achieve recognition. His work, with its simple, utilitarian forms didn’t fit the aesthetic of the time but as well as being a prolific potter, he was a teacher, writer and great traveller, lecturing across the world and promoting his ideas about the importance of both function and form.
It is perhaps his Standard Ware which best embodies his thinking. Still produced today, it’s a high quality range intended for domestic use. It’s solid and reassuringly weighty, practical yet very beautiful and quite obviously hand made.
Potters from all over the world have trained at the studio including Leach’s sons, David and Michael, as well as his grandsons and other celebrated ceramicists such as Bill Marshall and Michael Cardew. Their work, and that of later generations, ensures the Bernard Leach’s legacy continues to thrive.
The Leach Pottery is situated on the outskirts of St Ives, just a short drive away from our holiday cottages here at Middle Colenso Farm. It's about a 20-minute walk from the town centre and the hill is quite steep but there is parking on site if you prefer to drive.
For more information visit the website at www.leachpottery.com