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Passionate Potters (11th May 2021)
presented by Julian Richards

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Self-confessed ‘potaholic’ and presenter of archaeological programmes on TV, Julian Richards recently gave an interesting on-line lecture to The Arts Society Alton in which he outlined the careers of a few enterprising and well-known art potters.

With the coming of the industrial revolution in the 18th century mechanised processes took away the individualism of potters and their pots. The resulting 19th century Arts and Crafts movement attempted a return to craft techniques and William Morris was perhaps the best-known advocates of the movement and a designer who was associated with him was William De Morgan. In 1869 he began producing decorative designs on tiles bought in as blanks from other potteries. Used as decorative fire surrounds, they were popular with those who wished their house to be a work of art composed of artistic items. Expansion into a new pottery and a move into an extended range involving plates and hollow wares seemed to result in him over-extending the market and he was declared bankrupt in 1898. Whilst the pottery was continued by his former associates, he branched out as a writer and forged a new career as a novelist.

The work of the Martin Brothers is easily identifiable and a favourite on such programmes as the Antiques Roadshow. Originally apprenticed as a stonemason, Wallace Martin, one of four brothers, turned to pottery in 1870 and three years later set up what became the family pottery in London. The great birds are the most recognisable Martinware pieces, and two caricatures of former Prime Ministers Gladstone and Disraeli were illustrated. The pottery was well known for their salt glazed stoneware but also produced a variety of designs and shapes and moved into pieces in the art nouveau style which were not as outrageous as previous works. After a fire in their shop and a catalogue of technological disasters the firm failed in 1914.

The third of the studio potters was Sir Edmund Elton of Cleeve Court in North Somerset who between 1880 and 1920 developed a series of technologically accomplished pots featuring metallic lustres and, consequently, became known for his crackle-lustre glazes. The family house in Somerset is now part of the National Trust and examples of his work are highly sought after.

Work by Bernard Leach, who was a lasting influence in 20th century studio potters was also illustrated. In 1920 after living and working in the Far East, he established a pottery in St Ives in Cornwall producing a variety of wares with a Japanese influence. Whilst his pottery in St Ives was reopened in 2004 as a museum, shop and studio, his son followed in the family tradition and his son, John, produces pots at Muchelney in Somerset.

With the relaxing of Covid restrictions members were encouraged to seek out the works of these studio potters, especially at the Allen Gallery in Alton, the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham and the Watts Gallery in nearby Compton.

Tony Cross