Bernard Leach - St Ives Potter

Bernard Leach - St Ives Potter

Bernard Leach
Bernard Leach

Bernard Leach (1887-1979), often called the 'father of British studio pottery', was a remarkable, pioneering potter who, quite unlike everybody else at the time, saw pottery as a holistic combination of art, philosophy, design and craft.

Leach was born in Hong Kong and spent most of his formative years in the far east, only coming to England in order to receive an education, which included a stint studying etching at the Slade School of Fine Art. In 1909 Leach settled in Japan, where he married, had children and apprenticed himself to a group of sixth generation Japanese potters working in the tradition of Ogata Kenzan (1663-1743). In 1920, soon after meeting another renowned Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada, Leach moved with Hamada to St Ives. Here, with much hard work, and viewed with great suspicion by local artists, the pair established a pottery and built a traditional Japanaese kiln, in a former cowshed.

The next couple of decades were tough times for Leach as he attempted to define the terms of his art, which were totally at odds with received ideas about pottery, just as his ostensibly crude pots were at odds with the aesthetic of the time. It was not until 1940, by which time numerous up and coming potters from around the world, including Michael Cardew, Warren Mackenzie and Janet Darnell (who he later married) had spent time at the studio as his apprentices and begun to spread his teachings across the globe, that Leach finally began to get the worldwide recognition that he deserved, thanks to the publication of his seminal work 'A Potter's Book'.

Leach Pottery postage stamp - 1987
Leach Pottery stamp

Today, due to the efforts of the Bernard Leach Trust, the famous Bernard Leach Pottery, which he set up with Hamada in St Ives nearly one hundred years ago, has been lovingly restored and is open to members of the public and to practising and apprentice potters. Meanwhile, a unique collection of eighty pots made by Leach and others in his circle, is on permanent display in Tate St Ives.