Leach Pottery At 100

This year marks one hundred years since the iconic Leach Pottery in St Ives was founded. Despite the difficulties that 2020 has brought the team are still determined to mark this special year with an inventive programme of events.

Find out how you can get involved below!

Leach Pottery has been at the forefront of artistic-pottery innovation since 1920 and the historical site was founded by two giants of 20th century studio pottery, Bernard Leach and Shoji Hamada. With a working studio in the beating heart of St Ives’ renowned artistic community, today the Leach Pottery continues to be an embodiment of the pioneering nature of the artist-craftsman.

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Bernard Leach c 1930s credit: image kindly provided by the Crafts Study Centre University for the Creative Arts


Bernard Howell Leach was born in Hong Kong in 1887 and as a child he spent time in Singapore and Japan. Sadly both his parents died when he was still quite a young man but the modest income he inherited aged 21 allowed him to enroll in the London School of Art.

After graduating Leach returned to Japan with his new wife Muriel in 1908. There he continued to paint and make wood cut designs for magazines and he also fell in love with the raku process of making pots and began his study of the art. He eventually set up his own pottery in his garden. It was in Japan in 1918 that Leach met Hamada Shoji who was to become his lifelong soulmate. The two returned to England in 1920 and set up their own pottery in St Ives.

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Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada & Leach Pottery staff c1960 credit: image kindly provided by the Crafts Study Centre University for the Creative Arts

Shoji Hamada returned to Japan in 1923 and after some initial difficulties Leach began welcoming students and his pottery began to grow in reputation. The techniques and aesthetic Leach had adopted from time he had spent in Japan, Korea and China became increasingly desirable. Today Bernard Leach is regarded as the ‘Father of Studio Pottery’.

In 2008 Leach Pottery was restored and reopened as a museum to celebrate the life, work, influences and legacy of Bernard Leach. The exhibition, gallery and shop spaces regularly showcase work by leading regional, national and international studio potters. The Studio provides training for the next generation of potters who learn by making Leach Standard Ware tableware.

The 2020 Celebrations

Despite its long history Leach Pottery remains a vibrant and innovative place with a team of potters always looking to the future. At the heart of the centenary programme was to be the Leach 100 Celebration Weekend (from 15th – 17th May) which unfortunately has had to be postponed for now. But there is still plenty to celebrate and you can get involved with lots of interactive social media activities which will be posted on the Leach Pottery social channels, such as their Facebook and Twitter. (see below)

How you can be involved . . .

– Tell Leach Pottery about your favourite piece of pottery or ceramic art.

On the 8th June a new global campaign was launched by Bernard Leach’s family which aims to link people from across the globe via their favourite piece of pottery or ceramic art. The objects can be made by anyone – it doesn’t need to be an expensive piece or even a professional piece. It could be something you inherited, you found in a charity shop or someone you love gave to you. It can have chips and cracks, it doesn’t need to be perfect, it just needs to invoke a feeling for you! And perhaps have a story attached. The interactive online showcase the Leach Pottery plan to create is going to be a celebration of the art of ceramics at all levels and in all forms! Libby Buckley, Leach Pottery Director, explains:

“We are inviting people to consider why their favourite piece of pottery means so much to them: it could be a functional part of daily life, a mug that is used to enjoy a much-needed morning coffee, or it could be the sentimental gift that only comes out for special occasions. Whatever it is, we want to see and hear about it. We hope this creative campaign will make people stop and think about the connection they have with their pieces of artwork, whether functional or decorative. Pottery, and objects, can take on a different significance in different countries and cultures and we’re hoping to see a truly global reaction and involvement in our Pottery and People campaign.”

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Leach Pottery will share some of your images, videos and stories online and a select number of the entries will be curated into a physical exhibition within the Cube Gallery at Leach Pottery in St Ives in 2021, or when safe to do so. The exhibition will be designed to mark this unprecedented time in our history as well as celebrating the pottery’s centenary.

To take part you can:

  • Join in on the Leach Pottery Instagram page!
  • Simply share a video, no longer than 1 min 30 secs in duration, that showcases your favourite piece and explains the story behind it
  • Alternatively, just share an image of your special pot and tell it’s story in no more than 200 words.
  • Via Facebook, you can also upload your videos or images with accompanying text on the ‘Leach Pottery Community Page’.
  • Don’t forget to use the hashtag #PotteryandPeople and tag @theleachpottery.
  • The campaign is ongoing, so there is no end date yet and the team will select entries regularly to share through the Leach Facebook and Instagram channels.

My Special Piece

In 2009 I went to the Isles of Scilly with my parents, they had both recently recovered from cancer and felt well enough to return to the place they both loved for a holiday. I tagged along, bringing my tent as I couldn’t afford their B&B. On that trip I bought this little green dish. I now know it was made by Humfrey Wakefield but at the time I just walked into his studio and fell in love with the organic shapes and soft coloured glazes.

As I was looking around a distinguished old gentleman came and asked if I needed any help. To be honest I was a little embarrassed because I knew I couldn’t really afford to buy anything. Perhaps he sensed that. He asked if I had seen the little bowl, and of course I fell in love! He only charged me a few pounds (I don’t remember exactly how much but it can’t have been more than £5) and I have never been sure if that was the true price or whether he was being kind. Whatever the case, I have treasured it ever since and use it everyday to put my earrings in. It reminds me of that last holiday with my folks and those beautiful islands!

So if this post or the story of my little dish have inspired you why not get involved with Leach Pottery’s celebrations of all things ceramic!

Further Reading:

Review of Free Spirits – Rosie Osborne

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