Ceramic Arts

Modern ceramic sculpture by Matthew ChambersI have to admit to being a bit of a pot-a-holic, I don’t know what it is about ceramics, it just seems to speak to me.

And the great thing is that if you can appreciate it’s beauty then it doesn’t matter if it’s the more “traditional” and functional work of Bernard Leech, or of contemporary artists like Matthew Chambers, it’s all amazingly good, and it can really transform the look and feel of any room, home, office, or anywhere else.

One man who could appreciate the beauty of hand thrown pottery was the Reverend Milner-White who eventually became the Dean of York, and who stumbled upon, and fell in love with the ceramic arts rather serendipitously.What happened to the good reverend may have been the work of a higher power maybe, because having never even looked at a pot in his life he found himself while in London caught in a rather heavy downpour of rain.

To avoid being soaked to the skin he jumped through the first doorway that he came to and found himself in an art gallery that was exhibiting what was at the time the latest contemporary ceramics from potters like Bernard leech and Shoji Hamada, and what he saw took his breath away.

The reverend sat there for what must have been hours admiring the beautiful pottery that he found himself surrounded by, and so began a lifelong obsession of collecting contemporary pottery, lifelong friendships with the potters, and an incredibly generous donation to the city of York when he eventually left his collection to the city.

bernard leech leaping salmon vase at the V&AThe kind of pottery that was being produced by the ceramic artists of the day was of the kind in the image to the right, which is a “leaping salmon” vase by Bernard Leech.

The objective of Leech was to try to steer people away from what he saw as the soul-less industrial scale pottery that was being churned out by the factories, these identical artless forms lacking any kind of skill or feeling whatsoever.

Leech believed that everyone should be able to own a piece of handmade pottery, made by a master potter, and so began his quest to bring Arts and Crafts back into the home from his pottery in St Ives.

All of the pottery produced by Leech was inspired from his time spent in Japan, where, as a trainee potter he learned to appreciate the beauty and need for the form of an object to be perfect, to be in balance with itself, and to be an object so tactile that you just have to look at it, touch it, hold it, and possess it.

While the decoration of this kind of pottery may seem a little simple, if you admire the shape of the object and the quality of the potting itself, then you cannot be anything but in awe of the simple beauty of it.

Leech produced a string of brilliant potters who brought their own interpretations to the ceramic form, such as Michael Cardew, who traveled to Abuja in Nigeria to encourage the continuation of traditional African potting, and who in turn trained a new generation of master potters among them Ladi Kwali, who’s more adventurous pieces today can command well over £10,000 per item.

So if you appreciate art or form and functionality, whether you prefer contemporary or classic, and whether you have a budget of £50 or £5000, you can find amazing design concepts and styles in ceramic form that will speak to your soul – if you listen carefully.

First image from the website of Matthew Chambers (see more of his inspirational work there).

Bernard Leech vase image from the V&A.

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