Japanese funds go to restore U.K. potter’s studio

by William Hollingworth

Kyodo

The workshop of a celebrated British potter who drew much of his inspiration from Japan and led the craft pottery movement in Britain has been restored to its former glory and opened to the public after a massive fundraising effort.

A variety of organizations and members of the public from Britain and Japan together raised a total of £1.7 million (¥337 million) to revamp the former home of Bernard Leach (1887-1979), which has been a working pottery since 1920.

Leach led the revolution against factory-made pottery and much of his work was influenced by his time spent learning his craft in Japan.

His dilapidated cottage, workshop and kiln shed, which houses a disused Japanese wood-burning climbing kiln, have been repaired. In addition, a compatibly designed small museum, which tells Leach’s story and associations with Japan, and training unit have been built alongside. New gas-fired kilns have also been installed on the premises.

The revamped pottery center, in St. Ives, Cornwall, about 420 km southwest of London, was recently reopened to the public by Leach’s oldest grandson, John, and Tomoo Hamada, the grandson of Shoji Hamada, a Japanese ceramicist who helped build the kiln for Leach, which is thought to be the first of its kind in the West.

Lady Carol Holland, chairwoman of the Bernard Leach (St. Ives) Trust Ltd., said, “He (Leach) had high standards and was sometimes a tough judge, but I hope that, if he could see it, this living and working commemoration to all that he stood for would meet with his approval.”

As a young man, Leach studied etching in London and then spent time in Japan, where his passion for pottery was formed. He returned to Britain in 1920 and built his Cornish home and workshop.

From here, his team led the craft pottery movement, a reaction against factory-made items. All his pieces were handmade and his aim was to make beautiful objects that had a practical use.

He used Japanese shapes, decorative styles and glazes in his work, and over the years several Japanese potters trained at his workshop. But he also made an impact on Japanese ceramics. For example, he introduced clay handles for teapots.

Leach’s family sold the pottery in 1999 and it came back on the market in 2003. Fearing that a valuable piece of Cornwall’s cultural history could be lost, local groups and pottery enthusiasts launched a fund to buy the center and restore it to its former glory.

One of the main tasks was the careful restoration of the roof above the three-chambered climbing kiln, which is about 6 meters in length.

Meanwhile, the renovation team has been keen to try and keep the workshop as close as possible to the time when it was used by Leach, so that visitors can get a good feel for the environment in which the master worked.

It is here that lead potter Jack Doherty will produce a new range of ceramics that will carry the famous Leach Pottery mark.

The training unit, built on stilts like some buildings in Japan, will be home to postgraduate students as well as acting as a location where budding potters can get help to start up their own businesses. The new gallery and training unit are linked to the workshop by a wooden walkway. It is expected the center will attract around 30,000 visitors per year.

Holland said, “The Leach Pottery will, once again, become a place where quality work is made, young potters are inspired and trained, and visitors are introduced to the Leach heritage and the significance of ceramics in the cultural world of today.”

A total of £35,400 (¥7 million) was donated to the project from supporters in Japan, including 138 connected with the Japanese Folk Crafts Museum (Nihon Mingeikan) in Tokyo who provided £28,400.