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BL Vase 1

Bernard Leach vase.

Studio pottery is made by modern artists working alone or in small groups, producing unique items of pottery in small quantities, typically with all stages of manufacture carried out by one individual.[1] Much studio pottery is tableware or cookware but an increasing number of studio potters produce non-functional or sculptural items. In Britain since the 1980s,[2] there has been a distinct trend away from functional pottery, for example, the work of artist Grayson Perry. Some studio potters now prefer to call themselves ceramic artists, ceramists or simply artists. Studio pottery is represented by potters all over the world and has strong roots in Britain.

Since the second half of the 20th century ceramics has become more highly valued in the art world. There are now several large exhibitions worldwide, including Collect and Origin (formerly the Chelsea crafts fair) in London, International Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair (SOFA) Chicago and International Sculpture Objects & Functional Art Fair (SOFA) New York which includes ceramics as an art form. Ceramics have realized high prices, reaching several thousands of pounds for some pieces, in auctions houses such as Bonhams and Sothebys.

British studio pottery[]


Notable studios included Castle Hedingham Ware, Martin Brothers and Sir Edmund Harry Elton.

1900-1960: Development of contemporary British ceramics[]

Several influences contributed to the emergence of studio pottery in the early 20th century: art pottery (for example the work of the Martin Brothers and William Moorcroft); the Arts and Crafts movement, the Bauhaus; a rediscovery of traditional artisan pottery and the excavation of large quantities of Song pottery in China.[1]

Leading trends in British studio pottery in the 20th century are represented by Bernard Leach, William Staite Murray, Dora Billington, Lucie Rie and Hans Coper.

Originally trained as a fine artist, Bernard Leach (1887–1979) established a style of pottery, the ethical pot, strongly influenced by Chinese, Korean, Japanese and medieval English forms. After briefly experimenting with earthenware, he turned to stoneware fired to high temperatures in large oil- or wood-burning kilns. This style dominated British studio pottery in the mid-20th century. Leach's influence was disseminated by his writings, in particular A Potter's Book[3] and the apprentice system he ran at his pottery in St Ives, Cornwall, through which many notable studio potters passed. A Potter's Book espoused an anti-industrial, Arts and Crafts ethos, which persists in British studio pottery. Leach taught intermittently at Dartington Hall, Devon from the 1930s.

Other ceramic artists exerted an influence through their positions in art schools. William Staite Murray, who was head of the ceramics department of the Royal College of Art, treated his pots as works of art, exhibiting them with titles in galleries. Dora Billington (1890–1968) studied at Hanley School of Art, worked in the pottery industry and was latterly head of pottery at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. She worked in media that Leach did not, e.g. tin-glazed earthenware, and influenced potters such as William Newland, Margaret Hine, Nicholas Vergette[4] and Alan Caiger-Smith.

Lucie Rie (1902–1995) came to London in 1938 as a refugee from Austria. She had studied at the Vienna Kunstgewerbeschule and has been regarded as essentially a modernist. Rie experimented and produced new glaze effects. She was a friend of Leach and was greatly impressed by his approach, especially about the "completeness" of a pot.[2] The bowls and bottles which she specialised in are finely potted and sometimes brightly coloured. She taught at Camberwell College of Arts from 1960 until 1972.

Hans Coper (1920–1981), also a refugee, worked with Rie before moving to a studio in Hertfordshire. His work is non-functional, sculptural and unglazed. He was commissioned to produce large ceramic candlesticks for Coventry Cathedral in the early 1960s. He taught at Camberwell College of Arts from 1960 to 1969, where he influenced Ewen Henderson. He taught at the Royal College of Art from 1966 to 1975, where his students included Elizabeth Fritsch, Alison Britton, Jacqui Poncelet, Carol McNicoll, Geoffrey Swindell, Jill Crowley and Glenys Barton,[citation needed] all of whom produce non-functional work.

After the Second World War, studio pottery in Britain was encouraged by two forces: the wartime ban on decorating manufactured pottery and the modernist spirit of the Festival of Britain.[5] Studio potters provided consumers with an alternative to plain industrial ceramics. Their simple, functional designs chimed in with the modernist ethos. Cranks restaurant, which opened in 1961, used Winchombe pottery throughout, which Tanya Harrod describes as "handsome, functional with pastoral but up to date air".[5] Cranks represented the look of the period. Elizabeth David's food revolution of the post-war years was associated with a similar kitchen look and added to the demand for hand-made tableware.

Harrod notes that several potteries were formed in response to this fifties boom. There was in turn a demand for potters trained in workshop practice and able to throw quickly. As this training was not offered by the art schools of the period, the Harrow Art School studio pottery diploma was created to fill the gap. According to Harrod, "the production potter of the Harrow type had a good innings well into the seventies", by which time the market for this style of pottery was falling away.

1960s-present: Modern British potters[]

Spira left

Rupert Spira — Medium size open poem bowl (43cm × 38cm × 12 cm).

From the 1960s onwards, a new generation of potters, influenced by Camberwell School of Art and including Ewan Hendersen, Alison Britton, Elizabeth Fritsch and Gordon Baldwin,[2] began to experiment with surfaces, glazes and abstract ceramic objects, to critical acclaim. The number of studio potters has continued to increase in recent decades. More galleries and auction houses sell studio pottery, raising prices and providing some potters with higher incomes. The number of potters has increased: in the mid 1970s the Craft Potters Association had 147 members; by the mid 1990s it had 306.[6] Elizabeth Fritsch has work represented in major collections and museums world wide and in Britain, she is one of the most highly valued contemporary ceramic artists working today.

Current contemporary potters of note include include Edmund de Waal, Rupert Spira and Julian Stair and Richard Slee who both teach at Camberwell College of Arts. In Britain, Grayson Perry is probably the best known living potter, having won the Turner Prize in 2003.

British organizations[]

A representative body for studio pottery in the United Kingdom is the Craft Potters’ Association, which has a members’ showroom in Great Russell Street, London WC1, and publishes a journal, Ceramic Review.

Notable British studio potters[]

American studio pottery (United States)[]

Pottery had been an integral part of the United States Arts and Crafts movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century. Some ceramic artists in the United States adopted the approach and vision of the emerging studio pottery movement in Britain and Japan. In addition, American folk pottery of the southeastern United States was seen as an American contribution to the studio potter esthetic. University programs at Ohio State University, under the direction of Arthur Eugene Baggs in 1928 and under Glen Lukens in 1936 at the University of Southern California, began training ceramic students in presenting clay ware as art. Baggs had been intimately involved in the Arts and Crafts movement at Marblehead Pottery and, during the 1930s, he revived academic and public interest in the salt glazing method for studio ceramics.

European artists coming to the United States contributed to the public appreciation of pottery as art, and included Marguerite Wildenhain, Maija Grotell, Susi Singer and Gertrude and Otto Natzler. Significant studio potters in the United States include Otto and Vivika Heino, Warren MacKenzie, Paul Soldner, Peter Voulkos and Beatrice Wood.

American (US) organizations[]

Notable American (US) studio potters[]

Danish studio pottery (Denmark)[]

Side by side with the art of ceramics development and in line with the growing awareness of art as a special field of study arose from approx. 1920 a series of workshops where the ceramics are focused heavily on the work based on the solid Scandinavian crafts traditions - in contrast to the artists. The name Saxbo, stoneware company, started in 1929 by Nathalie Krebs and Gunnar Nylund, accounts for some of the craftsmanship and aesthetic terms finest products that are created in the 1900-t. Centre form and glaze technical achievements have influenced the trained practitioners ever since. In the 1930s, as use ceramics generally moving in the functionalist orientation, were names such as Lisbeth Munch-Petersen, Christine Swane, Gertrud Vasegaard and Eva Staehr-Nielsen almost synonymous with precision, strict and classical sense of form. Saxbo and the simultaneous use oriented ceramics workshop from 1930 to 1960 consolidated Danish crafts internationally. The best quality work has since been designated studio ceramics (of the American studio ceramics). The leading contemporary studiokeramikere can generally be divided into two groups: those who weighs a more classical idiom, such as Malene Müllertz, Bente Hansen, Beate Andersen (b. 1942), Richard Manz, Bodil Manz, Gunhild Aaberg (born 1939), Jane Reumert (b. 1942) and Alev Siesbye and expressive, such as stone Lykke Madsen and the internationally oriented studio ceramics group Clay Today. Studio Ceramics has in the 1900's evolved into a discipline that moves between artist ceramics and crafts based pottery. Conceptualisation of the relationship between art and ceramics has in the late 1990s started developing rapidly, and the Danish groups are influenced increasingly by international contacts.[7]

Museum studio pottery collections[]

United Kingdom
  • Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery in Birmingham, England.
  • Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, England.
  • Stoke on Trent Museum in Staffordshire, England
  • Victoria and Albert Museum in London, England.
United States of America
  • Scripps College, Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery The Marer Collection of Contemporary Ceramics in Claremont, California.
  • University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, Michigan.


  1. 1,0 1,1 Emmanuel Cooper, Ten Thousand Years of Pottery (British Museum Press, 2000) ISBN 0-7141-2701-9
  2. 2,0 2,1 2,2 Gowing, Christopher, and Rice, Paul, British Studio Ceramics in the 20th Century, Barrie and Jenkins, 1989, p. 113. ISBN 0-7126-2042-7
  3. Leach, Bernard. A Potter’s Book, Faber and Faber, 1988. ISBN 0-5710-4927-3
  4. Julian Stair, "Dora Billington", Crafts, 154, September/October 1998
  5. 5,0 5,1 Harrod, Tanya, "From A Potter's Book to The Maker's Eye: British Studio Ceramics 1940-1982", in The Harrow Connection, Northern Centre for Contemporary Art, 1989
  6. Potters, The Craft Potters' Association members directory, 3rd edition and 11th edition.
  7. Den Store Danske, Keramik (Danmark - 1900-t)

Further reading[]

  • Cooper, Emmanuel. (2000) Ten thousand years of pottery. London: British Museum Press. ISBN 0812221400
  • Evans, Paul. (1987) Art pottery of the United States: An encyclopedia of producers and their marks, together with a directory of studio potters working in the United States through 1960. New York, N.Y: Feingold & Lewis Pub. Corp. ISBN 0961957700
  • Greenberg, Clement et al., Garth Clark Ed. (2006) Ceramic millennium: Critical writings on ceramic history, theory and art. Halifax, N.S: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. ISBN 0919616453
  • Jones, Jeffrey. Studio pottery in Britain: 1900–2005. London: A & C Black, 2007. ISBN 0713670134
  • Lauria, Jo. (2000) Color and fire: defining moments in studio ceramics, 1950-2000: Selections from the Smits collection and related works at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Los Angeles, Calif.: LACMA in association with Rizzoli International Publications. ISBN 0847822540
  • Levin, Elaine. (1988) The history of American ceramics, 1607 to the present: From pipkins and bean pots to contemporary forms. New York: H.N. Abrams. ISBN 0810911728
  • Macnaughton, Mary Davis. (1994) Revolution in clay: The Marer collection of contemporary ceramics. Claremont, Calif. Seattle, Wash.: Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College University of Washington Press. ISBN 0295974052
  • Perry, Barbara Ed. (1989) American ceramics: The collection of Everson Museum of Art. New York Syracuse: Rizzoli The Museum. ISBN 0847810259
  • Watson, Oliver. (1993) Studio pottery. London: Phaidon Victoria and Albert Museum. ISBN 071482948X

External links[]

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