‘It’s like playing with mud’: how pottery is experiencing a revival | Ceramic
For Ellie Woods, the attraction is creating something beautiful yet functional – plus the childlike joy of getting your hands dirty.
“I think it’s the practical part that really appeals,” said Woods, a 25-year-old apprentice at Leach Pottery in the Cornish town of St Ives. “I like the fact that people will own and use our work; it’s so intimate, more intimate than looking at a painting or a sculpture.
Pottery is booming. Requests for apprenticeships and evening classes are pouring in and street studios giving people the chance to work with clay are popping up across the UK. Sales of high-end products produced with love and care at places like Leach Pottery are skyrocketing, with young people ready to invest in items they will live with for years to come.
A report by the Crafts Council concluded that the appetite for British craftsmanship has never been greater. Highlighting shows such as the Great Pottery Showdown, he said three quarters of respondents to a survey he conducted bought British crafts and a fifth of people said they would pay to attend a craft workshop. He pointed to the mental health benefits of participating in hobbies such as pottery as one of his big draws.
The Craft Potters Association has seen its membership nearly double, from 1,000 in 2020 to over 1,800 today. At Leach Pottery, its 2022 classes completely sold out within days of being announced.
Meanwhile, cinema audiences looking for a change of pace from Bond or superheroes are turning to The Color Room, the film about the life of Clarice Cliff, which rose from humble beginnings to become a famous ceramist.
Libby Buckley, the director of Leach Pottery, believes the impact of Covid and people’s desire to find new ways to live is a big factor in the explosion of interest.
“I think the idea of craftsmanship and craftsmanship has really taken off in the last couple of years,” she said. “Part of that is due to Covid. People who spend their time on a computer all day love the idea of trying, getting their hands dirty. The great thing about pottery is that it really plays with mud. It’s very tactile.
Buckley also suggested that people had spent so much time indoors looking at their surroundings and everyday objects that they had come to the conclusion that they might as well pay a little more for some really nice pieces. “People are realizing that it’s good to have things you like around you.”
In the 1960s, in bohemian enclaves like St Ives, pottery became part of the counterculture, a search for an alternative, more down to earth way of life, and Buckley feels this is happening again. “We read a lot about the Great Resignation. So many people reevaluate their lives.
The experimental and progressive Leach pottery was founded a century ago in St Ives by Bernard Leach and Shōji Hamada. It was opened as a museum, shop and studio in 2008, but has sometimes been overlooked by culturally-minded visitors who are drawn to the city’s other art attractions, such as the seaside Tate St Ives and the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. Not now.
An exhibition titled Clay and Community was launched on Friday, bringing together a dizzying array of activities and events taking place as part of celebrations marking 100 years of creativity at Leach Pottery. It features radical and brilliantly technical pieces from professionals, but also works from schoolchildren and avid hobbyists who attended “Raku parties” to make pots using the rapid and dramatic firing method that inspired Leach.
Interest in Leach was highlighted this week at a pottery auction at Phillips in London, when his works were bought by collectors around the world for five times their estimates.
John Bedding, honorary potter at the Leach studio, said he was delighted that more people were taking an interest in Leach and trying their hand at pottery themselves, although he said: “There can be a lot of wheels on the used market when people realize it’s not that easy.
Simon Winn, 50, from Cornwall, who works for a pharmaceutical company, is one of those who have managed to secure a place on a course at Leach Pottery next year. He said he was looking forward to it with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
“It’s more accessible. Anyone can sit down at a potter’s wheel, try and come away with something even if it’s not pretty,” he said. idea of doing something utilitarian and, of course, getting my hands dirty, making a mess.”