Master craftsmen: Emmanuel Cooper’s ’Connections & Contrasts’ on show at the Leach Pottery, St Ives
Set a mile or so above the picturesque coastline and crystalline waters of St Ives so beloved of 20th century artists like Hepworth, Nicolson and Nash, the Leach Pottery is considered by many to be the birthplace and spiritual home of British studio pottery.
Founded by Bernard Leach and the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada in 1920, the studio has been in operation for much of the past century – save an 18 year period following Bernard’s death in 1979, in which his wife Janet ceased production of the studio’s standard ware to concentrate on creating her own pots – garnering extensive international acclaim and earning its founder the CBE (in 1962) and a Japan Foundation Cultural Award, the country’s equivalent of the Nobel Prize (in 1974).
After a £1.7 million renovation and restoration in 2005 – 2008, the Leach Pottery reopened as an extended studio (which can be visited via guided tour between Easter and October), shop, museum and gallery.
Currently showing in the latter is ’Emmanuel Cooper: Connections & Contrasts’, a major retrospective on the work of the influential – and hugely prolific – potter, broadcaster, writer, teacher and curator. Notably, he founded the magazine Ceramic Review in 1970, and received the OBE for his contribution to the arts in 2002.
The show examines Cooper’s work and life in the context of his relationship with Leach, which culminated with his 2003 biography on the late craftsman (he also authored books on Janet Leach and the duo’s son David, also an influential potter and who too received the OBE for his services top the craft).
Nearly 50 of Cooper’s pots are on show, encapsulating his nuanced, artistic take on the form, that ’speak of the urban environment, from deeply textured detail to soft vibrant colours often accentuated with the addition of subtle gold highlights’. In addition, a small set of his production tableware and a collection of working documents, drawings and sketchbooks – and his kickwheel – are also on display.
A complementary publication of the same name accompanies the exhibition, published by the Leach Pottery and featuring a foreword by the ceramicist, artist and writer – and, of course, OBE – Edmund de Waal. The show runs until 6 September.