British Studio Ceramics a Short History

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Shoji Hamada Pottery
Shoji Hamada Pottery

In Britain, the backlash against the highly ornamented machine-made ceramics that were fashionable in the late 1800s gathered steam. Art potteries were founded by a group of creative craftspeople who William Morris inspired. Traditional handcrafted pottery from China and Japan later had a significant influence on studio potters like Bernard Leach.

Fantastic Creatures 

Each brother made a significant contribution to the Martin enterprise. While working as a stone carver at the Houses of Parliament in Londo, Robert Wallace Martin, a professional sculptor, was inspired by neo-gothic iconography he had seen. For example, Walter was in charge of throwing clay shapes, incising ornamentation, and designing coloured glazes. Edwin Bruce Martin, who had worked at Doulton’s of Lambeth with his brother, was a thrower and decorator. Charles Douglas Martin worked as a manager in the business world.

Wally bird jar, 1888 created by R.W Martin and brothers
Wally bird jar, 1888 created by R.W Martin and brothers

The Martin brothers were known for their bizarre, fanciful, and imaginative designs, including a whimsical menagerie of finely modelled birds and parrots, toads, fish, hedgehogs, and armadillos salamanders with grins and sneers, and a bizarre range of menacing goblins and mythological dragons. These were used to embellish a variety of vases.

The art pottery was founded in Smethwick in 1898 as the Birmingham Tile and Pottery Works by William Howson Taylor. His father was renamed Ruskin in 1904 after the 19th-century writer and critic John Ruskin, keeping with their Arts and Crafts beliefs. Howson Taylor shared 

Ruskin’s ideology

Ruskin pottery was known for producing high-quality pieces with a wide range of opulent, brilliantly coloured glazes. Howson Taylor created the glazes, which were inspired by eastern techniques. Vases, bowls, and other ceramic objects manufactured in limited quantities by the firm were expensive, owing to the glazes’ high kiln fire requirements. The plant became a victim of the Depression due to its restricted productivity, and it was forced to close in December of 1933.

Shoji Hamada

Shoji Hamada was born in Tokyo and studied ceramics under Kawai Kanijiro at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. The St. Ives Pottery was founded in 1920 by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. The ‘archetypal Oriental potter,’ as he’s been dubbed. His pottery was burned in Japanese-style wood-fired kilns, and he was a superb thrower. It frequently has glazed and unglazed surfaces that contrast. The simple glazes that are typical of Japanese mingei pottery are generally used to apply aggressive ornamentation. Hamada used shapes that were distinctive of Japanese and Chinese crafts.

Father of Studio Pottery

Bernard Leach was born in Hong Kong, where his father was a colonial judge and is often regarded as the “founder of British studio pottery.” Before settling in Japan in 1909, he studied art in London. He studied ceramics there and made acquainted with potter Shoji Hamada in 1919. In 1920, Leach and Hamada returned to St Ives, Cornwall, to open a studio where they created handcrafted pottery inspired by traditional Japanese, Chinese, and Korean ceramics and Western techniques such as slipware and salt-glazed goods.

Leach and Hamada’s utilitarian stoneware pots, bowls, vases, and bottles, fired in a Japanese-style wood-burning kiln, were defined by sparse design and contrasting sections of glazes and unglazed surfaces utilising a range of glazing processes. They worked together to create ceramics that combined inventive design, skilful craft skills, art, and philosophy.

Pottery selection of Bernhard Howell Leach
Pottery selection of Bernhard Howell Leach

By 1923, their partnership had ended, and Hamada had returned to Japan, settling in Mashiko. It is now a world-renowned pottery centre, and he is regarded as a critical person in the mingei folk art movement. He was designated as a “Living National Treasure” by the Japanese government in 1955.

Many individuals thought Leach’s work lacked polish in the early years of the St. Ives Pottery. However, when he published A Potter’s Book, a manual for potters, in 1940, the public began to reconsider his work.

Bernard Leach’s impact can be observed in the work of many other potters. The first of many apprentice potters at the Leach pottery, Michael Cardew became a proponent of the studio ceramics movement. He, like Leach, believed that functional handmade pottery was at the centre of the studio ceramics movement’s ideology. Cardew’s pitchers and chargers were all decorated using the slipware technique. The fluidity and immediacy of his approach can be seen in the decorating of his pots.

Sources

Miller, J. (2009). 20th-century design: The definitive illustrated sourcebook. Miller’s.

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Bernard Howell Leach British Potter

Born in Hong Kong, Bernhard Howell Leach was a British ceramicist. He had his headquarters in St Ives, Cornwall and Devon. At the Slade School of Fine Art, London, he studied painting. He went to Japan to teach art at the age of 21.

John Ruskin (1819 – 1900) British social critic and writer.

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