16 April 2014

THE LONDON AFFAIR: LEACH, STAITE MURRAY AND BILLINGTON AT THE RCA


I'm sorry I haven't added much to my blog recently. I've been busy in my studio making a large batch of tableware for shops, galleries and upcoming shows.  But here's something that interests me.

Before 1930 there were four major events in the development of studio pottery in Britain. The first was the setting up of a pottery class at the Royal College of Art (RCA) in 1901. The second was the exhibition of Chinese art at Burlington House in 1910.  The third was the arrival of Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada at St Ives in 1920.  The fourth was the appointment of William Staite Murray (above) as pottery instructor at the RCA in 1925.

The pottery class at the RCA was set up by Richard Lunn, an artist who had been a successful artistic director of  Royal Crown Derby china in the 1880s. His appointment was part of the reform of British art education under the influence of the Arts and Crafts Movement.  Up to about 1900, the government art schools had taught little other than designing on paper and there was almost no practical craft training.  Painting was, of course, taught at the Royal Academy, the Slade and at private art schools, but they were not under the control of the government. Government funded art training had not been about producing practical craft workers but about producing designers and teachers who could draw accurately and who had good taste. Lunn was brought into the RCA with other teachers of practical crafts to change all that.  He claimed that his was the first pottery class in any British art school where students could design, make and fire their own work.

The 1910 exhibition of Chinese art included early Chinese ceramics, which had not been seen widely in England before, and opened the eyes of many, including the early studio potters Charles Vyse, George Cox, W.B.Dalton and William Staite Murray. In retrospect, following the eventual dominance of the oriental style in studio pottery, the Burlington House exhibition was seen as seminal.

Leach and Hamada set up their pottery at St Ives under the influence of Japanese country pottery and they became interested in English country pottery as well.  The cultural influences on St Ives were complex. The aesthetic of Japanese folk art that informed Leach and Hamada was promoted by westernized Japanese who were familiar with the writings of Ruskin and Morris.  Although Leach disliked some of the products of the English Arts and Crafts Movement, his philosophy is essentially that of Ruskin and Morris.

Leach was not well known in the early 1920s. The most famous potter of that period was Staite Murray. Staite Murray's pottery was also influenced by the far east. He exhibited his work at high prices in west end art galleries alongside painters and promoted himself as an artist rather than a craftsman. The circumstances of his appointment at the RCA are mysterious. The accepted account (which is given at greatest length in Malcolm Haslam's biography) is that Staite Murray wanted help in teaching galena glazing and raku and invited Leach to assist him.  Leach, living almost 300 miles away, said he would prefer to teach in a block of several months a year.  Staite Murray said there was no money for two teachers and that he could not afford to vacate his post for Leach.  Misunderstanding and bad feeling ensued and relations between the two men cooled.

The contretemps between Leach and Staite Murray has come to be known as "The London Affair".  It is not much documented and, as Staite Murray burned all his papers, even Haslam's account is brief.  Emmanuel Cooper in his biography of Leach, whose life is very well documented, has  little to say about it.  Paul Rice puts some of the blame on the principal of the RCA, William Rothenstein, but as far as I can tell Rothenstein was not responsible for the misunderstanding, which was probably the result of Leach's vanity.

There is, however, a third party in the London Affair: Dora Billington.  Billington was pottery instructor at the RCA until Staite Murray’s appointment and left before he took up his post.  She had trained under Richard Lunn and took over his class in 1915.  By the time Staite Murray was appointed she had been teaching at the RCA for ten years and had just installed a high temperature kiln. She had also been teaching at the Central School of Arts and Crafts since 1919. Why then did she leave the RCA?

Billington explained it many years later: "When Professor Rothenstein became Principal of the College, he felt that the junior staff should not stay beyond a certain number of years, and we were all informed that we should not be kept on."  This is odd.  Rothenstein became principal in 1920 and Billington remained for another five years.  Her RCA course won an award at the Paris Expo of 1925. She was 35, not exactly "junior".

There had been a critical review of the RCA in 1911 but little had changed and it had lost its way. Rothenstein was brought in to to make major changes and established the College's reputation.  He elevated the teaching of painting and brought in practicing artists of high standing who would teach part-time and continue their own creative work. Staite Murray was an ideal appointment. He was the most famous potter in Britain, eight years older than Billington and better at promoting himself.  I suspect that Rothenstein in effect sacked Billington.

Ironically, Billington was a better teacher.  Staite Murray, as a Zen Buddhist, said that he taught by not teaching.  His aim was not to instruct but to "create an atmosphere".  Many of his students received no instruction at all; some did not see him for weeks on end. When Robert Baker took over ceramics after the war he found a locked room full of equipment that had been put there to stop students using it. Nevertheless, Staite Murray was a charismatic presence, when he was actually present, and did influence many potters, including Sam Haile, Henry Hammond, Robert Washington and Ursula Mommens.  Many, however, had to take evening classes at the Central with Miss Billington to learn how to make and glaze their own pots.

14 March 2014

SOUTH BANKSY


I took these pictures of wall art by Loretto in south London.  They're from a small area: New Cross, Peckham and Nunhead. It's not surprising that someone should copy Banksy - it's suprising that there should be so few people copying him.

If not for the signatures, you might think for a moment these were by Banksy, but, once you know they're not, you see, at least in two of the pictures, a less sardonic wit.  The friendly policeman, happy in his destiny, is so not Banksy, and the hurrying commuter, about to be struck by Cupid, is also too nice for him.  But the chilling "My Plan B" shows that Loretto has a darker side.

South London is not my manor and I've probably missed some of Loretto's work.  For someone so talented, it's surprising there is so little information about this artist.  More, please.

11 March 2014

CERAMIC HEAD BY GILBERT HARDING GREEN

Gilbert Harding Green was head of ceramics at the Central School of Arts and Crafts between 1955 and 1971. After the war, Dora Billington had built the ceramics department, with Harding Green's assistance, into the most innovative and liberal in the country. At that time the Royal College of Art was teaching design for the pottery industry, Farnham was very traditional and Camberwell was undistinguished. At the Central there was cross fertilization between disciplines and pottery students could work with Eduardo Poalozzi, William Turnbull or Alan Davie. Paolozzi was based in the textiles department, where Terence Conran was studying. The Central was one of the first art schools to teach Basic Design, a generic and analytic approach to both painting and design, derived from the Bauhaus course, that eventually shaped the foundation course in British art schools.

Harding Green took over the department on Billington's retirement and developed it - "beyond recognition" was her approving verdict.  He expanded into the school's new building, and, post-Coldstream, steered the course into the Diploma in Art and Design. His students included Ruth Duckworth, John Colbeck, Robin Welch, Eileen Nisbet, Richard Slee, Alison Britton and Andrew Lord.

Gilbert Harding Green with a student in the early 1960s. 
(Central Saint Martins Museum Collection)
Billington and Harding Green subsumed their artistic careers in teaching, Harding Green the moreso. Harding Green's origins were exotic.  Born in 1906, he was the illegitimate offspring of  aristocratic parents, his mother English and his father Dutch or Russian according to differing accounts. Most of his childhood and youth were spent abroad, much of it in Italy.  He told one of his students that, while living in the Vatican, he wandered into a room and looked idly into a chest of drawers, which he discovered to be full of marble penises. In his twenties he traveled in Brazil and learned Portuguese.  He studied sculpture under John Skeaping and Frank Dobson at the Central School in the 1930s and turned to pottery.  Of the little work by him that still exists, most is totally original and does not derive from any obvious ceramic tradition.  In 1938 he became Billington's assistant, beating off competition from Henry Hammond, who went on to head the pottery department at Farnham, and Moira Forsyth, who is now better known for her stained glass.

I recently saw this sculpted head in clay by Harding Green, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy with the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society in 1938.  A review of the exhibition said "It held me by its stark truth and brute ugliness - the hard smileless mouth, the hollow cheeks and buried eyes, the repaired nose, the punched ears, and the imbecilic slope of the forehead, and these inelegant features were mercilessly gripped with economy of effort and absolute certainty."  The subject was far removed from the artist's life.  He was a man of wide culture and elegant taste who would attend the ceramics classes in the Central School in a suit, tie and cufflinks, always ready to advise students on a good restaurant or to give away complimentary theatre tickets that he had managed to get hold of.

3 March 2014

MANUALS FOR POTTERS

A comment often made by 20th century studio potters is that they embarked upon their craft without any books to guide them. George Cox’s "Pottery for Artists, Craftsmen and teachers" (1914) and Dora Billington’s "The Art of the Potter" (1937) are singled out as exceptions.

Cox, who trained with Richard Lunn at the Royal College of Art, came from an Arts and Crafts background and his medievalising approach to the craft can be seen from his frontispiece (above). The book’s usefulness was limited by his indifference to science: “To the artist craftsman, for whom chiefly this book is intended, a little scientific knowledge is a dangerous thing; for that reason no great stress is laid on formulas and analysis. Unless thoroughly understood they are a hindrance rather than an aid.”

Billington’s book, in Oxford University Press's Little Craft Books series, combined historical and practical information and is the most well-known of the early guides. Fred Burridge said in the preface, “The revival of the crafts is one of the most marked elements in the present social and economic development of this country. Increasing numbers of people are practising them with success and there are admirable text-books for the worker. Hitherto, however, nothing has been written that, in simple form, will help the public to knowledge and understanding of the crafts in which their interest is awakened. The Little Crafts Books are published as a response to this interest.”

There were, however, earlier manuals that studio potters could have made use of. Many served the amateur pottery painting craze of the 1870s, 80s and 90s, but others, particularly those published after 1900, gave a good grounding in pottery making technique and they show that the secrecy commonly supposed to surround potters’ recipes and practices was not universal.

Two books known to Billington and to Dora Lunn, another pottery pioneer, were Charles Binns’s “The Manual of Practical Potting” (1901) and Taxile Doat’s “Grand Feu Ceramics” (1905). Binns was British; Doat, at one time employed at Sèvres, was an innovator in high temperature art wares. Both moved to the USA where their careers flourished. Binns has a claim to share with Bernard Leach the title “Father of Studio Pottery”.

Under Binns’s influence there was a major change in art pottery. He wrote: “Certain occupations or so-called crafts have offered easy paths to the unlearned and in consequence, the country has been flooded by the product.” These occupations consisted in copying, and among them he listed china painting, but there was now a feeling that one should create. “This feeling has caused china-painting to give place to pottery-making. The former consisted in buying finished china and painting upon it with ready prepared colors using, probably, some published design or drawing. Some of the work done under these conditions was, and is, good, even excellent … The fact remains that the bulk of the work was copying of the poorest quality. … But the best of these are now looking toward clay as a creative and expressive medium. In ready-made china there is bound to be some deficiency. The artist is by nature exacting and this purchased piece does not entirely please. It cannot be altered, however, and it is this or nothing. Thus the artistic instinct is violated, the standard lowered and one feels like a caged bird beating its ineffectual wings against prison bars. When, however, the attempt is made to work in the clay itself, liberty is found.” Similar changes were occurring in Britain under the influence of W. B. Dalton, principal of Camberwell School of Arts and Crafts and a potter of considerable talent, and Richard Lunn, who taught at Camberwell as well as the RCA.

Here’s a list of some early manuals published before Billington’s "The Art of the Potter".

n.d.
J.C.Beard, Painting on China. What to paint and how to paint it
1813
Samuel Fletcher, A treatise on the art of enamel painting on porcelain etc.
1854
D. Lardner, "The potter's art", in Museum of Science and Art
1860
E.L.Archer, Porcelain Painting. A practical treatise for the use of amateurs
1864
M.D. Magner, M.D. Nouveau manuel complet de porcelainier, faiencier poterie terre
1866
E.J.Leyshon, Operative potter
1866
M.E.F.Rebouilleau, Manuel de la pientre sur verre, sur porcellaine, etc.
1873
T.J.Gallick and John Timbs, Painting popularly explained. (Inc. painting on pottery)
1873
Sidney T. Whiteford, A guide to Porcelain Painting
1877
William Morris, The Lesser Arts.( Not normally treated as a manual on pottery-making, but Morris expressed characteristically firm views on how pottery should and should not be made.) 
1877
Amy E. Black, Practical Guide to Pottery Painting               
1877
Mary Louise McLaughlin, China painting
1877
S.W.Tilton, Designs and instructions for decorating pottery
1877
Madame Brasier de laVanguyon, Guide to painting on porcelain and earthenware
1878
M.C.Lockwood, Hand-book of ceramic art
1878
George Ward Nichols, Pottery
1879
Hancock, E. Campbell, The Amateur Pottery and Glass Painter
1879
John C. L. Sparkes, A Handbook to the Practice of Pottery Painting
1879
Louis Celibiere, Traite elementaire de pientre en ceramique
1880
Charles A. Janvier, Practical Keramics for Students,
1880
A. Chaivignne, Traite de decorations sur porcelaine et faience
1880
M.L.McLaughlin, Pottery decoration under the glaze
1880
E. Delamardelle and Goupilfesquet (Frédéric Auguste Antoine),
Practical Lessons in Painting on China, Porcelain, Earthenware, Faience and Enamel
1881
H.R.Robertson, Painting on china, terra cotta, oil and water colour
1882
J.C.Beard, Painting on china. Practical instruction in overglaze painting in the decoration of hard porcelain
1882
W.Harvey, China painting its principles and practice
1882
William Backshell, Practical guide to painting with colours on china and terracotta
1883
Florence Lewis Cassell, China Painting,
1883
Colibert. Terra-cotta painting with practical hints on mixing colours
1883
Robert T. Hill, Porcelain painting after the Dresden method
1884
M.L.McLaughlin, M.L. Suggestions to china painters
1883
Fred Miller, Pottery and Glass Painting
1885
Fred Miller, Pottery Painting
1885
Susan Ann Frackleton, Tried by Fire
1886
Henri Mayeaux, A Manual of decorative composition
1888
G.Leland, The minor arts. (inc.porcelain painting etc.)
1891
Maxwell, Wm. H, The use of clay in schools
1892
L.Beard and A.B.Beard, The American girl’s handy book.  (inc. clay modelling and china painting)
1892
Aug. Klimke, Anleitung zum malen auf Porzellanu
1896
L. Vance-Phillips, Book of the china painter
1897
Felix Hermann, Painting on glass and porcelain and enamel painting
1898
Charles Fergus Binns, The Story of the Potter
1899-1920
Keramic Studio. A magazine for the china painter, potter and student of design. 
1901
Charles Fergus Binns, Ceramic technology
1901
Charles Fergus Binns, The Manual of Practical Potting
1903
Richard Lunn, Pottery: a hand-book of practical pottery for art teachers and students (Vol. I)
1904
Mary White, How To Make Pottery
1905
Taxile Doat. Grand Feu Ceramics.
1908
Katherine Morris Lester, Clay Work
1910
Charles Fergus Binns, The Potter’s Craft
1910
Frederick Hurten Rhead, Studio Pottery
1910
Richard Lunn, Pottery (Vol. II)
1914
George Cox, Pottery for Artists, Craftsmen and teachers
1921
Alfred B. Searle, The Clayworker’s Hand-book
1925
Wilfrid Norton, The Art of the Potter
1927
Henry and Denise Wren, Handicraft Pottery,
1928
Denise Wren, Handcraft Pottery for Workshop and School
1931
Dora Lunn, Pottery in the Making,
1932
Denise Wren, Pottery: The Finger Build Methods
1932
Harry Barnard, Peeps at The Art of the Potter
1934
Gordon Mitchell Forsyth, The Art and Craft of the Potter
1934
Dora Billington, “Pottery” in Davide C. Minter (ed.) Modern Home Crafts
1935
Gordon Mitchell Forsyth, M. P. Bisson, F. Jefferson Graham, W. Hartley, Pottery, Clay Modelling, and Plaster Casting
1937
Dora Billington, The Art of the Potter


24 January 2014

AN EMBRODIERED SAMPLER: MORE TEXTILES BY DORA BILLINGTON

I mentioned in my post about Dora Billington's embroidery "The Park" that she studied textiles at the Royal College of Art under Grace Christie, an important teacher and historian of the subject. Christie was brought into the RCA in the beginning of the 20th century under the reforms that introduced practical crafts for the first time. W.R.Lethaby was appointed professor of design under these reforms and Richard Lunn was brought in to teach pottery. Lunn claimed that his course was the first in any British art school where students could actually make and fire pottery in the classroom.*

Dora kept interested in textiles all her life and made this sampler, (left) which is in a private collection. It was done for fun and not for sale. It is nicely designed, with due consideration both to form and colour and shows a knowledge of the traditional vocabulary of embroidery, which I have to confess is outside my sphere of competence. It demonstrates a variety of stitches and motifs, almost as if it was a demonstration piece for students, but to my knowledge she never taught textiles. There are witty and personal touches, especially the picture of her house and her address, 13 Uxbridge Road, Kingston on Thames, and a frieze of pots along the bottom, among which I can recognise one, on the far right, that she made. The Woman of Fashion 1914 gives focus to the design and is curious. Why did she choose 1914? Although the sampler is hard to date it was done some time after the mid-thirties, when she moved to her house in Kingston. Did 1914 have a special significance for her (she was a student at the RCA at the time) or is it without any particular significance? I suppose so.

Frances Richards, Costerwoman, 1944.  (Sothebys)
The work is traditional, and points up the paradox in Dora's career and personality. She is well-known for encouraging innovation in ceramics and going against the prevailing orthodoxy, but there is little innovation in her own work. She respected innovation in needlework and in 1955 wrote an appreciative article on "Contemporary Needlework Pictures" in The Studio (Vol. CL, No.750, pp.65-69), reviewing work by Constance Howard, Frances Richards, (left) Margaret Trehearne, Jean Stubbings and others. With characteristic openness she observed, "Some people appear to be slightly uneasy about embroidered pictures. 'I like them , but I am not sure that I ought to,' is a remark not infrequently heard, and which springs from the feeling that textiles, and stitching, should always be applied to something practical - a cope, a dress, or a seat chair, but not a picture. The same critics probably also feel that every pot should have a practical use, and their point of view cannot be lightly dismissed; but may we not, occasionally, take pleasure in things that are completely and unashamedly nonpractrical - provided, of course, that they justify their existence for other reasons."

* The ceramic historian Graham McLaren thought this claim was exaggerated. It is not strictly true, but almost no other art college taught pottery making at the time. The only local authorities reporting that they funded pottery teaching in 1901 were Staffordshire (in Longton), Surrey (in Godalming) and the West Riding of Yorkshire. See Technical Education (Application of Funds by Local Authorities), Board of Education, London: HMSO, 1902. In addition the Lambeth School of Art had a history of training for the Doulton pottery, Hanley and Burslem also trained potters, but principally in design rather than making and Hanley didn't even have a kiln. Otherwise, Lunn is broadly right.

11 January 2014

LAYERS AND TEXTURES IN NEW WORK



In my latest work, some of which is on show at the Mall Galleries near Trafalgar Square in London,  I make further explorations of texture against form, using layers of colour and contrasting marks, made with a soft wide brush and a fine needle. Washes of pigment over washes of wax coloured with pigment generate rich and complex surface textures.  The decoration relates to the shape of the vessel, but not quite as manuals of ceramic design prescribe, not just following the form of the pot, but sometimes observing it by going against it. The vessel is basically laterally symmetrical, but the decoration is radically assymetrical, and the handles do not quite match. There are layers of reference in these ceramics as well, to Italian maiolica drug jars, 1950s textiles, Picasso's ceramics and those of the English "Picassoettes", and in the odd handles to the damaged Gazelle Vase in the Alhambra, Granada.

17 December 2013

JILL FANSHAWE-KATO ON SHOW AT CONTEMPORARY CERAMICS GALLERY

Contemporary Ceramics, the gallery opposite the British Museum, has a new show of work by Jill Fanshawe-Kato (above).  It's long overdue.  Fanshawe-Kato has been making this elegantly decorated stoneware for a long time but unaccountably has only just been accepted as (or has only just applied to be) a member of the Craft Potters Association (CPA), which owns the gallery.

A couple of years ago, when the rent at their old gallery became prohibitive, the CPA made the bold decision to take these premises in Great Russell Street and the decision has paid off.  They are much more visible than they used to be at the top of Carnaby Street and that has made modern craft ceramics more visible as well.  It's a beautiful gallery and the building houses the offices of the CPA and of Ceramic Review into the bargain. Marta Donaghy, who ran the old gallery, continues to choose and display the exhibits well. If you haven't seen Contemporary Ceramics, do call in the next time you are in London.

16 December 2013

AUCTION RESULTS SHOW A PREFERENCE FOR BROWN POTTERY

I led my post about the Mallams auction of 20th century studio pottery with a picture of a pretty teapot by Rosemary Wren with a nice decoration over tin-glaze.  It sold for £50, a remarkably low price.  Items by Lucie Rie, not surprisingly, fetched bids in the thousands and those by Leach, Hamada, Cardew and Staite-Murray in the hundreds. Cardew made tin-glazed pottery for a while and a teapot without a lid in this medium sold for £45. Mallams say this was a trial piece that misfired, but Cardew's reputation is high and the piece has a good provenance, so it's reasonable to conclude that the low price reflects the low esteem in which tin-glaze generally is held by collectors of studio pottery in Britain. Alan Caiger-Smith's work is the exception and this superb 25cm high albarello (left) with a reduced lustre decoration sold for £240. Tin-glazed figurines also fetched better prices than the tin-glazed teapots.

Tin-glaze is still thought well of in Italy and Spain where it is made in large quantities, but the prejudice against it in Britain can't be attributed to the absence of any tradition here.  In the 17th century we had many good tin-glaze potters and decorators. Josiah Wedgwood developed a white clay body that displaced tin-glazed tableware, but the main reason why studio pottery connoisseurs don't like it is because of the dominance in the post-war decades of rough stoneware.  That cultural moment was complex because it was at the same time anti-modern in its regard for rural tradition and modernist in its preference for functionality and simple undecorated forms, and yet many of the stoneware potters - not least Hamada, Leach and Cardew - were superb decorators. Leach and Cardew both experimented in tin-glaze, but not for long and few collectors like it much.

9 December 2013

EASTERN APPROACHES EXHIBITION AT UH GALLERIES

The picture shows the piece I'm currently exhibiting in the Eastern Approaches exhibition at the UH Galleries in St Albans, Large Vessel, which received the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust Prize, 2013. As with all my current work it's thrown and altered.  It takes a long time to construct the oval but the decoration is rapid. The materials and methods are in the tradition of maiolica but the motifs are a long way from Italian maiolica, which is full of flora, fauna, portraits and historical representations.  If my decoration follows any tradition it's the calligraphic decoration of middle eastern art, and I'm am happy for it to be called arabesque. The Trust's representative said that for her Large Vessel connected the present to the Roman past of St Albans, which was something I'd never thought of myself, but I've spent a long time looking at the collection of Roman ceramics in Verulamium museum and I have some pieces of Roman pottery in my studio. The more immediate influences are 50s textiles and abstract expressionism.

Eastern Approaches is an initiative of the University of Hertfordshire, who have been running it for thirteen years. Entries are from the eastern region (the counties of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Norfolk and Suffolk) and the curators at the opening this year admitted ambitions to make it an international show. That's good. Unfortunately there are no online images of the fifty or so entries so I can't link to them.  They are in 2 and 3 dimensions and include sound and video installations.  I particularly liked Fallen, a timely piece that represented  every name of those from the St Albans parish who died in the first world war, as recorded on street plaques.  The artist embroidered the initials of the fallen on handkerchiefs and made a pristine white pile of them. I also liked Mr McCreery's Shop, a model of a little old fashioned, derelict shop. There was simple wit in Lead Balloon and you wondered why no-one had ever made one before. A piece with ceramic heads mounted high on the wall on a red shelf reminded me of both Edmund de Waal and Christie Brown, two of my teachers at the University of Westminster.

There's a lot of music in St Albans (the Cathedral choir is one of the best) but the visual arts have always lacked a focal point.  The University of Hertfordshire has teamed up with the St Albans Museums and Galleries Trust to promote a new museum space and art gallery in the centre of town. The Trust has a Lottery grant so it will become a reality in a few years and - with an international show in it - it will put St Albans on the artistic map.

4 December 2013

SALE OF CLASSIC BRITISH STUDIO POTTERY


Mallams are holding an auction on Thursday, 12 December, 2013, The Design Age: International Studio Ceramics & Decorative Arts and Modern British & Continental Art, including a lot of 20th century studio pottery, some of it classic, by artists such as Bernard Leach, David Leach, Shoji Hamada, Michael Cardew, Katherine Pleydell-Bouveries, Ruth Duckworth and Lucie Rie. The illustration above is of a teapot by Rosemary Wren, whose mother Denise set up her studio in 1920 during what might be called the pre-history of studio pottery.There is also work by living potters, including  Eric James Mellon, Robin Welch,Carol McNicoll, Tekeshi Yasuda, Phil Rogers and Chris Keenan.  The expected prices of many pieces is very reasonable, much of it under £100.

From pre-history there are rare pieces by William Staite-Murray from his days at the Yeoman Pottery, which he set up during the First World War, and some by George Cox, another early pioneer. Cox was the author of an early manual on craft pottery, Pottery for Artists, Craftsmen and Teachers (1914), that anticipated the Anglo-Oriental style.  According to Paul Rice, Cox was influenced by the 1910 exhibition of Chinese art at Burlington House, which brought Sung dynasty pottery to public attention and had an immediate and profound influence on taste. Cox worked with high temperature glazes at a time when most art potters worked at low temperatures.  His approach was intuitive; he insisted that pottery was an art and refrained from giving scientific information: “To the artist craftsman, for whom chiefly this book is intended, a little scientific knowledge is a dangerous thing; for that reason no great stress is laid on formulas and analysis. Unless thoroughly understood they are a hindrance rather than an aid.”  This was a departure from earlier books for craft potters, which were thoroughly technical.

Outside the world of studio pottery, Mallams are showing ceramics by Christopher Dresser made for Mintons in the 1880s, (left) well worth looking at. Dresser took the Arts and Crafts dislike of purposeless ornamentation to the point where his designs anticipated modernism. From the 1930s there are some modernist ceramics by Keith Murray for Wedgwood, in which he eschews surface  decoration entirely.

The attraction of auctions is that I come across not only pieces like the early Cox and Staite-Murray pots but also work by artists who are entirely new to me.  In the Mallam's catalogue I liked the little tin-glazed figures by Richard and Susan Parkinson, full of Festival of Britain whimsy, and probably for that reason expected to fetch a fairly high price.