THE CENTENARY OF THE LEACH POTTERY
Bernard Howell Leach was born in Hong Kong in 1887, the son of English parents. His mother died in childbirth and he was taken to Kyoto in Japan by his maternal grandparents. Four years later his father re-married and he brought Leach back to Hong Kong and then on to Singapore when he was appointed a judge.
Bernard returned to England aged 10, leaving school at 16 when he enrolled at the Slade School of Art but left and joined the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (HSBC) when his father became ill in 1904.
When his father died the 21-year-old enrolled first at the Slade School of Art then at the London School of Art where he was taught etching by Frank Brangwyn who was an inspiration to Leach.
In 1908 Leach returned to Japan with the intention of teaching etching. In Japan, Leach became enthralled by the country’s ceramic tradition and devoted himself to learning the craft, evolving an approach that combined Eastern and old English techniques.
In 1920 Leach returned to England to set up a pottery in St. Ives and with the assistance of his friend Shoji Hamada, overcame a series of practical problems. For example, Cornwall lacked the necessary quantities of wood for firing, while the local clay was of a poor quality.
The importance of training was a central feature of the Leach factory. Students and apprentices from the surrounding area were joined by others from overseas. The result was a unique mix of cultures and talents.
His personal convictions were fortified by his discovery of the Baha ‘i Faith – introduced to him by his friend the American painter Mark Tobey – which Leach formally accepted in 1940.
The tradition Leach established dominated Western pottery for much of the twentieth century.
Shoji Hamada died in 1978 and Bernard Leach the following year aged 92.
Michael Cardew (1901 – 1983) became the first student at the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 1923 where he worked for three years. He established his pottery, Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire in 1926.
Bernard’s son David (1911 – 2005) joined his father’s pottery in 1930 as an apprentice. Following a Pottery Managers course in Stoke-on-Trent 1934-1936, he returned to the Leach Pottery. In 1956 he established his own studio at Lowerdown Pottery, South Devon.
Janet Leach, nee Darnell was born in Texas USA (1918-1997). Before meeting Bernard Leach she was an established artist in her own right specialising in stoneware and porcelain. In 1954 she went to Japan and spent two years studying under Hamada. In 1956, she settled in Britain and after her marriage to Bernard Leach, she and her husband ran the Leach pottery.
John Leach (Bernard’s grandson)
John Leach, the eldest grandson of renowned potter Bernard Leach and son of David Leach, continues the family tradition at Muchelney Pottery on the edge of an ancient village of Muchelney in the heart of the Somerset Levels.
Bernard Leach – a quick guide to his ceramics | Antique Collecting (no date). Available at: https://antique-collecting.co.uk/2020/06/15/bernard-leach-a-quick-guide-to-his-ceramics/ (Accessed: 17 November 2020).
Smith, I. (2020) Wheel of fortune – the life and achievements of Bernard Leach. Available at: https://www.apollo-magazine.com/bernard-leach-centenary/.
Pioneering pottery sought unity of East and West | BWNS (no date). Available at: https://news.bahai.org/story/1458/ (Accessed: 17 November 2020).
John Leach Muchelney Pottery (no date). Available at: https://www.johnleachpottery.co.uk/ (Accessed: 17 November 2020).