Final preparations are taking place in St Ives as the internationally renowned Leach Pottery
prepares for its reopening at the beginning of March, after a £1.7 million transformation.
The pottery's founder, Bernard Leach, who lived from 1887 to 1979, was one of the great figures
of 20th century art, playing a crucial and pioneering role in developing ceramics in Britain and around the world.
Now, following a sympathetic redevelopment, Leach Pottery will once again become an international centre for the creation of a new pottery. It will also incorporate education, training and a showcase gallery, all of which will celebrate the life, work, influences and legacy of its creator.
Bernard Leach was born in the East and educated in the West. As he trained first as an artist in London and then as a potter in Japan, he became fascinated by the two cultures that seemed so different. His continued work and experience in Japan and Korea and the establishment of the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 1920 led to the development of his reputation as a key pioneering figure in the ceramics world.
Collaborating with a young Japanese potter, Shoji Hamada, Mr Leach built the first oriental "climbing kiln" in the West. Over the course of 50 years Mr Leach taught, wrote and trained other potters in the great art, combining Japanese and European aesthetics through his work. Today, many international links are still in existence between Leach Pottery and Japan.
Although there are some notable public collections of Leach pots at the Crafts Study Centre in Farnham and at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, most of his work is now in private hands. His is the pre-eminent name for any serious collector of studio pottery and his centre in St Ives was the place where most of this work was created.
The £1.7 million rejuvenation of studios and workshops will recreate, re-establish and develop the quality and reputation of the original Leach Pottery by developing Mr Leach's ethos and securing his legacy in a modern context. Through a partnership with University College Falmouth, the new development will enable students to work alongside established craftspeople to develop their techniques, and Leach Pottery will provide a high level of skills training.
All aspects of the potter's trade will be covered, including design, production, marketing and exhibition. Leach Pottery will also mentor business start-ups and provide studio space for emerging talent.
The redevelopment of the site has sympathetically restored the Leach cottage and old pottery, which are both Grade II listed buildings. The climbing kiln, a scheduled monument, is now fully protected from the elements by a carefully restored roof and the original workshops have been preserved. It is expected that the rejuvenated pottery will draw up to 30,000 visitors a year.
The lead potter will be Jack Doherty, chairman of the Craft Potters Association of Great Britain and the organising committee of Ceramic Art London. Joining him as director is Julia Twomlow, former director of the Acorn in Penzance.
Lady Carol Holland, Chairman of the Bernard Leach (St Ives) Trust Limited, said: "The local and international influence and stature of Bernard Leach is undeniable. He was a man who, through his life, his work and his writings, has made a unique contribution to our cultural heritage, to the development of the art of ceramics and to the careers of many potters. He had high standards and was sometimes a tough judge, but I hope that, if he could see it, this living and working commemoration to all that he stood for would meet with his approval."
A series of events is planned for the opening on March 6, when notable guests will include the Japanese Ambassador His Excellency Mr Yoshiji Nogami, who is going to Cornwall especially for the launch. The ribbon will be cut by John Leach, the eldest grandson of Bernard Leach, and Tomoo Hamada, grandson of Shoji Hamada to recall the original days of the pottery.
The transformation has been made possible as a result of funding from Heritage Lottery Fund, European Regional Development Fund, Arts Council, Rural Cornwall & Isles of Scilly Partnership, Penwith District Council, Cornwall County Council and St Ives Town Council. Funds have also been raised from trusts and foundations, membership subscriptions and by the local Leach Pottery Support Group.