LONDON – The workshop of Bernard Leach, who drew much of the inspiration for his ceramics from Japan and led the craft pottery movement in the mid-20th century, is to be restored to its former glory.
Campaigners have managed to secure enough money to buy and refurbish the celebrated British potter’s dilapidated studio and Oriental climbing kiln, thought to be the first in the West.
Leach, who died in 1979, became interested in pottery while living in Japan in the early part of the last century.
On his return to Britain in 1920, he built a cottage and workshop in St. Ives, Cornwall, about 420 km southwest of London.
Leach was assisted by his friend and fellow ceramic artist, Shoji Hamada, who helped make the kiln.
From here, he and his team led the movement against mass-produced ceramics. He was also connected to the “mingei” (folk craft) movement in Japan, which had similar objectives.
All his works were hand-made and his aim was to make objects that were both beautiful and practical. His style used Japanese shapes, decorative touches and glazes. Over the years, a number of Japanese potters trained at his workshop.
Leach was not only inspired by Japanese ceramics, he also influenced them.
He introduced clay handles for teapots and promoted the use of slip — a creamy mixture of clay and water used mainly to decorate earthenware.
Leach’s family owned the studio until 1999, when new owners took possession of it. In 2003, they decided to sell it and local enthusiasts and the town council stepped in to preserve the artist’s important cultural legacy.
“St. Ives has a link to Japan through Bernard Leach and he promoted the country in the town,” said John Bedding, a former Leach student. “If the pottery was to disappear, that focal link would go.
“After the Industrial Revolution, a lot of British pottery was made in factories,” Bedding said. “In Japan, however, it was seen as a craft item and something to enjoy. Leach saw that as an ideal that should be pursued in Britain and wanted to encourage people to use hand-made pieces rather than identical, factory-made ware.”
The Leach Pottery Restoration Project has managed to raise around £1.4 million to purchase and restore his former home and workshop.
In recognition of the project’s significance to Anglo-Japanese cultural relations, the Japanese ambassador to Britain and British ambassador to Japan have become patrons of the project.
The local council will underwrite a £200,000 loan to complete the restoration, which will be repaid through public donations. The renovated workshops are expected to reopen in mid-2007 with new kilns.
There will also be a museum detailing Leach’s contribution to ceramics.
The site will have several studios for people interested in learning pottery skills and setting up small shops.