The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach Title Page
Just started an awesome book called, The Potter’s Challenge by Bernard Leach published back in 1975. Only up to page 30 and already completely inspired and fully believe I am on the right path. What he is saying rings so true for me. This is the tradition I am drawn to and moved by when it comes to making pots and why and how to make them.
Last night at the SF main library I wanted to bring home a stack of 20 pottery books but had to reduce the pile. In so doing I would grab a book and flip the pages rapidly while scanning for something magical, a photo of a great pot. No names could be seen so my mind was free to judge the pot for itself without any association to a maker or the maker’s reputation. I had no criteria I was looking for, no color in mind or particular shape or type.
What kept happening was amazing and affirming to me. I flipped through one book that had hundreds of pages of pots that did nothing for me until wow… what was that? I looked at the pot’s form and surface and color and it touched me deeply as good, true, honest, real, full of life, well made, timeless all in that split second glance. I found and read the small caption and it said Bernard Leach, Globular Pot, 1927.
With the next book the same thing happened, quickly flipping until something grabbed my attention, but this time it was a plate, Michael Cardew, Bird Dish, 1932. He was a student of Bernard Leach. I loved his book The Pioneer Potter. More on that some other time but I also like pots made by his students like Svend Bayer and Mark Hewitt.
The next was a tall bottle with gorgeous colors. Turns out it was made by Shoji Hamada, bottle, 1929. Again I saw the pot first and the name later. A few pages over and I saw another amazing pot, a bowl, 1923, same maker.
Then this beautiful green flash went by as the speeding pages closed too fast. Wait! back up, what was that? It’s faceted, it’s stoneware, looks like Celedon. It’s a bowl by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, 1936. Also a student of Bernard Leach.
In another book full of not much I flipped until one pot grabbed me. I let out a gasp as if I had found treasure. I knew right away who made this. It had to be Warren MacKenzie. I had seen a YouTube video of Warren MacKenzie throwing a bowl like it but could not have imagined how gorgeous and quiet it could have become after firing. It was a wide footed drop lip bowl with Shino glaze with iron brush work. He was a student of Bernard Leach.
After flipping through 15 books about pottery without exception, all of the pots I was drawn to were made by potters cut from the same cloth so to speak. All in the same overall tradition, all different and yet all good form, great surfaces and colors and all with something that touched me in some way. All pointing back directly to Bernard Leach and his students, as well as Shoji Hamada, and maybe even the meeting of east and west. These are the kind of teachers I want to learn from and these are the kinds of pots I want to make.
I am very much drawn to wood fired pots as well. Salt, soda, ash, shino, shells, and the stories told on the pots by the effects of flame are areas I want to explore under the guidance of a master potter. I love that wood fired pots look different from every angle and each side has it’s own personality and reveal themselves slowly.
To study or apprentice with a master potter who makes pots from their heart in this way, would be a dream come true and a once in a lifetime opportunity. For now I will learn by practice and repetition. I trust that my experience flipping through the pages of these books skipping the pots that left me cold and landing on the ones that moved me, confirmed that I know what I like and what moves me and what does not. The instinct for what makes a pot good is in me already. I know it by feel and intuition not by study or by book. I know it in my heart. So now from my heart to my hands and into the clay I aim to make quiet powerful pots full of life.
ok. now back to my book to see what else Mr. Bernard Leach has to say.
Please comment if you have something to add to the conversation.
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