Focus on Cornish makers: Leach Pottery
Photographs John Hersey
With almost a hundred years of history to draw on, Leach Pottery director Libby Buckley explains how they keep things relevant for contemporary audiences by constantly evolving…
Design Frontier is a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase at British Craft Pavilion is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council.
Featuring as part of the British Craft Pavilion, curated by Hole & Corner for London Design Fair, Leach Pottery director Libby Buckley reveals how they keep the original philosophy of founders Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada alive…
What do you do?
I have been the Leach Pottery’s Director for the last two years, continuing a lifelong career of working in museums. I was drawn to the Leach Pottery by the opportunity to be part of a vibrant working site with a ‘living history’ that balances 100 years of exploration and creativity with modern fashions and contemporary practice. My role is to ensure we are in the best position to fulfil our vision of the future. As a small independent charity that generates over 90% of our income onsite, this means making sure we are providing quality experiences and pots for our visitors and creating enough revenue to support educational and community projects onsite.
How would you describe the Leach Pottery and what it stands for?
It is one of the birthplaces of studio pottery and was founded by Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada nearly 100 years ago. Bernard sought to establish the idea of the artist-potter – that pottery was a valid and vibrant form of artistic expression. We aim to nurture a community of people who find enjoyment, inspiration, skills and wellbeing from working in clay.
Do you feel any pressure or responsibility for keeping its ideals alive and staying true to Bernard Leach’s philosophy?
Bernard’s ideals and philosophies had many strands – from valuing the handmade, allowing people to learn through experience and practice, to his interests in pots from the East and the West. The Leach Pottery grew from those philosophies but also evolved in this environment along with all the people who have worked here. The history of the Leach Pottery is one of responding to tradition, change, and challenges. It is important to recognise that any organisation, project or idea has to remain culturally relevant. So, we are continually looking at Bernard’s ideas and the aims of the Charity to see how they align to, or reflect, what is happening in the wider arena.
How do you keep things relevant and contemporary?
Tradition is important to us, as is progression – but we feel that change has to be thoughtful and sustainable. For example, it appears that handmade pottery and ceramics have been increasingly well received and recognised at both a personal and cultural level, which has generated further positive engagement. One of our jobs is to try to navigate this and think about how we can nurture it now and how the field will look in the next 10, 20 or 100 years. But this is an approach that is like making: you start with an intention which then evolves and develops in response the process.
Do you sense that people’s attitudes towards mass-produced objects are changing?
It is probable that there will always be, or always have to be mass-produced objects. Of course, we have to define ‘object’! Are we talking about a medical device, a car tyre, an item of clothing or a mug? Mass-production gives access to items that might otherwise be beyond the financial means of many people. It is worth mentioning that, in the early days, Bernard Leach was not anti-industrial, but that he found the outcomes of the industrial process banal and uninspiring. He was concerned with issues like the choice of materials and the lack of their expressive capacity in the end product, or the effects of industrial labour on the faculties of the worker.
So, rather than thinking about attitudes towards mass-production, we are more focused on people’s attitudes towards handmade items, like pottery, and how using these items provides a different sense of engagement with the object, the maker, and the experience of ‘living’. We are seeing a growing interest in what we do and the experiences offered by handmade pottery.
Leach Pottery is taking part in British Craft Pavilion as part of Design Frontier, a new initiative for showcasing exceptional design and craft from Cornwall. This launching showcase is part of the Cultivator Programme, and was made possible through funding from European Structural and Investment Funds, Arts Council England and Cornwall Council. cultivatorcornwall.org.uk; leachpottery.com