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“Things Of Beauty Growing” British Studio Pottery

On September 14, 2017 the first US survey that explores the evolution of British studio pottery opened at the Yale Center for British Art, 1080 Chapel St, New Haven, CT.   This beautifully installed stunning exhibition features nearly 150 ceramic works spanning the late 1800’s to the present, and is sure to please art enthusiasts, artists, as well as scholars.

“Things Of Beauty Growing”: British Studio Pottery traces the evolution of the vessel from the turn of the twentieth century to the present.  The exhibition includes an influential range of historic works from China, Japan, and Korea as well as works created specifically for this exhibit by contemporary artisans drawn from significant public and private collections.

On display are works by Bernard Leach (1887-1979) who has been widely regarded as the “father of British studio pottery.”  Leach saw himself as a link between East and West pottery that combined cultures of art, philosophy, design, and craft.  Leach Pottery was founded in 1920 with Japanese ceramist Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) and became the training ground for a generation of influential potters.

Bernard Leach, Charger, Tree of Life, 1923–25, earthenware, brown slip, and a galena glaze, The John Driscoll Collection, New York, photograph by Joshua Nefsky

“The exhibition considers the influence of the pioneer potter Bernard Leach but also casts a new light on his role as a collector – we will present important ceramics Leach had personally owned in juxtaposition with the innovative pots that were the ‘exemplars,’ or standard-setting works that underpinned his beliefs and lifetime’s work,” commented exhibition co-curator Simon Olding, Director, Crafts Study Center, University for the Creative Arts, UK.

The exhibit is organized chronologically in sections:

Moon Jar

Contemporary versions of a seventeenth-century form illustrate the continuing influence on artists working today and how British studio ceramics have incorporated forms from other cultures.

Adam Buick, Moon Jar, 2016, porcelain with white chun glaze, Collection of Adam Buick, Pembrokeshire, Wales, photograph by Jon Stokes.

Vase and Bowl

The early history of British studio ceramics features a strong Eastern influence.  In the 1920’s and 1930’s Bernard Leach and others demonstrated how traditional forms could be reinvented for a modern aesthetic.


The Charger, or plate, essentially served as a decorative object to be displayed on a shelf, wall, or sideboard.  Traditional English examples are presented as well as as avant-garde works influenced by Pablo Picasso.


This section illustrated the rivalry between mid-twentieth centuries British hand-made vs. industrial ceramics.


Vessels appeared in the 1970’s that showed a declining interest in functionality and departed from traditional forms.  Expressive patterns, textures, and painterly surfaces were as important as the creative possibilities of the clay itself.

Nicholas Rena, A Romantic Impulse, 2012-15, hand-built, painted, and polished ceramic, Collection of Nicholas Kessler, photograph by Phil Sayer.


Some contemporary potters moved away from dynamic painted surfaces and began creating pottery that was grounded in process and explored the experimental aspect of pottery rather than creating symbolic objects.

Magdalene Odundo, Untitled, 1995, hand-built, terra sigillata, polished and carbonized terracotta clay, Gift of Jane and Gerald Katcher, Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven, courtesy of the artist and Yale University Art Gallery, New Haven.


The exhibition concludes with a series of contemporary works that take the concept of the vessel into the realm of monumental sculpture.  A variety of inspiration is visible from historic slipware to contemporary sculpture and techniques from past and present that fuse into a unique ceramic hybrid form.

Felicity Aylieff, Chasing Red, 2006, glazed porcelain, painted in cobalt blue and iron oxide under the glaze and in enamel over the glaze, Chatsworth House, Derbyshire, photograph by Heini Schneebeli.

The exhibition is accompanied by a publication, co-edited by the curators and Co-published with The Fitzwilliam Museum in association with Yale University Press, and runs through December 3, 2017.


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