Early Ceramics By Michael Cardew At Blackwell Arts And Crafts , Cumbria

By Caroline Lewis | 04 April 2008
Photo of jugs, jars and a plate in rustic shapes and colours

A group of Michael Cardew pots including a rare soya sauce jug (at front of group). © Lakeland Arts Trust 2008

Exhibition preview – Michael Cardew: Ceramics from the Winchcombe Period (1926-1939) at Blackwell Arts and Crafts House, Bowness-on-Windermere.

Michael Cardew (1901-1983) was a studio potter in the mould of master ceramicist Bernard Leach.

Cardew, an Oxford graduate in classics, persuaded the revered St Ives potter to teach him. The result was that Cardew, too, came to be one of the 20th century’s foremost ceramic craftsmen. His early period rustic earthenware in greens and browns takes unfussy, pleasing shapes, typical of the Japanese tradition-inspired pieces that came from the Leach Pottery.

Blackwell is now showing works created by Cardew as a young man in the 1920s and 30s, from a private collection that has never been on public view before. In Cardew’s own words, the collector, Alice Heaton, was “a very discerning chooser of pots”, and the display at Blackwell is complemented with personal notes from her daughter, who recalls where her mother’s choices were to be seen in the family house.

Photo of a large vase with simple decoration scraped through slip paint and a small jug decorated with words around its circumference

Michael Cardew, jar and jug, earthenware, 1930s. Private collection. Photo: Jonathan Lynch © Lakeland Arts Trust

At the end of the 1920s, Heaton, a widow with artistic sensibilities, lived in a picturesque thatched cottage in Gotherington village, Gloucestershire. Five miles away, Cardew was creating slipware pots using the coarse local clay at a pottery he had restored in Winchcombe. His aim was to hark back to the 17th century English tradition of functional wares affordable for ordinary people.

On hearing that Cardew was in the neighbouring village, Alice set out to meet him and an active friendship between them and their families ensued. It also meant an important early patronage for the fledgling potter.

Alice’s two sons, Frank and Walter, shared Cardew’s passion for music (his son went on to become a famous avant-garde musician), and became determined collectors of his work. Some purchases were even made against the potter’s will – for example, Frank insisted on buying one large pot that had cracked in its firing and was not to be sold.

The cracked pot is on show and exudes some definite presence despite its flaw. Other displayed pieces represent some of the best of Cardew’s early work: cider jugs of impressive scale, mugs inscribed with verse, vases and chargers.

Photo of a square plate with soft corners painted with a modern floral pattern and an earthenware bowl

Pieces by Kaori Tatebayashi, from the exhibition At Table. © Lakeland Arts Trust

Alice’s daughter, a little girl at the time, gives a touching insight into the use of the pieces in the bohemian inter-war home. For example, she remembers a ewer and bowl that are on show being commissioned especially for a Georgian washstand in one of the cottage’s bedrooms.

Alongside the Cardew exhibition is a display of contemporary ceramics, ‘At Table, Part I’ (until April 20). Parallels can be drawn between these more modern pieces and the inherent longevity of functional ceramics and the enduring appeal of collecting them.

This is an exhibition preview. If you’ve been to see the show, why not let us know what you think?

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