The permanent collection is housed in the original Leach family home, which was built in the 1920's. It is divided into three sections;
If you want to chill out with some unearthly earthenware you should check out the permanent expedition in the old Leach house.
Bernard Leach was born and brought up in the Far East way back in 1887. After the usual posting to Blighty for schooling he returned to Hong Kong to work for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (as HSBC were in those days).
However, he jacked it all in, came back to England and enrolled in the London School of Arts where he met arty types like Henry Lamb and Frank Brangwyn. In 1909 he returned to Japan intending to earn a living as a painter. He got a house in north Tokyo, a couple of sprogs, Michael and David and a wife, Muriel (not necessarily in that order!).
Some time later he went to a wild party one night and got introduced to 'pot'. There were quite a few fellow artists at the do and for a bit of a jape they spent an hour or so painting unfired pots which were then fired. Bernard was so chuffed with the whole experience he got hooked on ceramics and went (to the top of Mount Fuji clad only in a loincloth, no doubt) to study under Kenzan VI, the supreme ceramics sensei.
During this time, Shoji Hamada, a Japanese potter, became fascinated with Leach's work and became the first Leach groupie. When Bernard decided to head back to England in 1920, Hamada concealed himself in Leach's suitcase and made the trip with him!
Together they built the first three-chamber climbing kiln in the West (see page 2 - A Great Wall Of China) and began firing. They produced both stoneware and rakuware using local materials despite difficulties in finding decent clay locally, finding wood to fire the kilns* and finding a way of getting 'rakuware' past the spellchecker!
Despite Hamada doing a runner Leach continued to potter away in St. Ives,
taking on his first apprentices, such as Michael Cardew and Katherine
Pleydell-Bouverie. He regularly visited the Far East in the 20's and 30's, no
doubt infuriated that Hamada had become almost instantly famous and successful
on his return to Japan!
After WW2 Leach kept himself occupied with little projects like holding the first International Craft Conference of Potters and Weavers at Dartington Hall in 1952. He also went on the road touring Japan and America and it was at a gig in the latter that he met Janet Darnell, who signed up to be Mrs. Leach Mk 3 and would eventually take over the running of the St. Ives Pottery.
During his later years Leach kept touring and found time to belt out a couple of books, 'Kenzan And His Tradition' in 1966 (so we know what he was doing when Geoff Hurst scored THAT goal) and 'Hamada, Potter' in 1975 (the title of which may have later inspired a struggling young writer called J. K. Rowling!**). In 1962 he bagged a CBE and he was made a Companion of Honour in 1973. He pegged it in 1979.
* The tin miners had got there first and swiped most of it, which is why for the last couple of centuries you had more chance of finding El Dorado than you did of finding a tree in St. Ives!
** Or, then again, maybe that is just wild supposition!
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