Appeal Launched For St Ives Bernard Leach Pottery Restoration

By Caroline Lewis | 24 January 2006
Photo of a white walled workshop with a stone floor and fire blazing in the corner

The cottage and pottery retains much of its early 20th century atmosphere. Tim Cuff © ACE

A public appeal has been launched to raise the final sum of money needed to restore the famous Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall.

The home and workplace of Bernard Leach, the pottery is a site of international significance. It was at the centre of the 20th century craft pottery movement and the proposed restoration project would bring it back to prominence.

Arts Council England (ACE), South West has already provided nearly £100,000 to kickstart to venture, and the Heritage Lottery Fund £610,000.

Black and white photo of an elderly couple sitting next to a brick fireplace

Bernard Leach and his wife. Courtesy ACE.

“The Leach name is synonymous with the development of the crafts in the south west,” said Nick Capaldi, ACE South West Executive Director. “This important project, drawing on the pottery’s distinguished heritage, offers an opportunity to look at craft making in the 21st century.”

Penwith District Council is coordinating the development, with the support of the Arts Council, in order to safeguard the site and revive the pottery’s reputation as a centre for training and inspirational focus for studio pottery.

The project will create a new museum exhibition space, with displays on the life and legacy of Leach and the story of studio pottery up to the present day. A contemporary studio pottery gallery will also be put in place, reinvigorating Cornwall’s strong pottery cluster, and a new training facility will be built. The Grade II listed buildings will all be restored.

Photo of brick furnaces with scaffolding

The pottery has one of the first Oriental climbing kilns built in the UK. Tim Cuff © ACE.

“Part of the attraction of this project is the opportunity it provides for young ceramicists to develop their skills, contribute to the creative industries and, we hope, be inspired to start their own studios,” commented Mr Capaldi.

Bernard Leach set up his pottery with the help of Japanese potter and collaborator Shoji Hamada and St Ives Handcraft Guild leader Mrs Horne in the early 1920s. A friend of Hamada’s from Japan was invited to build the wood burning climbing kiln, which was the first of its kind to be constructed in the UK.

Numerous students and apprentices passed through the Leach Pottery until 1980, a year after Leach died. His wife ran the pottery until her death in 1997.

Photo of pottery and glaze examples stuck to a wall and many terracotta pots in the background

The pottery is important on an international and local scale. Tim Cuff © ACE

“It’s terrific news that this is underway,” said ceramicist and Leach biographer Emmanual Cooper. “Leach was one of the first studio potters, setting up a pottery that was different to anything before it. He was a pioneer, so this is a key part of our ceramic cultural heritage.”

“It’s vital it’s saved for the nation,” he continued. “It’s also a very important part of St Ives – along with Barbara Hepworth and Ben Nicholson, it forms a cornerstone of that town.”

Black and white photo of Bernard Leach with white hair and moustache working on a ceramic jug

Leach was a pioneer of studio pottery. Courtesy ACE.

The pottery and cottage were put up for sale in 2003, giving the local community the chance to bring the historic site into the public domain. A further £50,000 to £100,000 in public donations will bring the restoration project closer to realisation.

“The atmosphere that was there in the 1920s is still very much alive, and the idea is to keep that, while also creating an educational facility and making it economically viable,” said Mr Cooper.

Donations can be made by cheque payable to Bernard Leach (St Ives) Trust Ltd, addressed to The Leach Pottery Restoration Project, PO Box 132, St Ives, Cornwall TR26 1WY. Further Information can be found at www.leachproject.co.uk.

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