Bernard Leach, (1887-1979) was one of the most important and influential artist-craftsmen of the 20th century.
The Leach Pottery
In 1920, along with his close friend and collaborator, Shoji Hamada, founded The Leach Pottery in St. Ives, Cornwall, England. Leach had befriended Shoji Hamada in 1911 and the two were invited to St. Ives, by a local patron, to start a pottery there. After some struggles adapting local materials for their use, they built a Japanese style climbing kiln, nobori gama, the first in Europe, and proceeded to design a line of “standard ware” with the goal of demonstrating that well-crafted handmade pots could be created for daily use,
Hamada returned to Japan in 1924 where he went on to become a much-revered and world-renowned potter, and later was named a Living National Treasure of Japan.
Bernard Leach was born in Hong Kong, but spent his early adult years in Japan. Initially trained as an etcher, he became attracted to Japan’s long tradition of ceramic arts and began his study of pottery making with Ogata Kenzan VI.
Throughout his long life, Bernard Leach was influenced by the arts and crafts of Japan, Korea and China. He collaborated with many Japanese artists and intellectuals of the period; potters Shoji Hamada and Kanjiro Kawai, Buddhist aesthetician Soetsu Yanagi and Zen scholar D.T. (Daisetsu) Suzuki among them.
The Mingei Movement
With Yanagi, Hamada and Kawai, Leach was a founding member of the Mingei Movement which established the Japan Folk Crafts Museum – the Nihon Mingei Kan – in 1936. The Museum remains active today at its original location.
Later in life, after an introduction to the Bahai faith by American artist Mark Tobey, Leach became a Bahai himself, an experience he describes in some of his later works.
Bernard Leach’s sons, David Leach and Michael Leach, were an important part of The Pottery for many years, as were Michael Cardew, and local craftsmen William Marshall and Kenneth Quick.
The Leach Pottery attracted students from all around the world; Americans Warren Mackenzie, Byron Temple and Jeff Oestrich, British potters Michael Cardew, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie and Nora Braden, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott of Australia and Len Castle of New Zealand, among many other prominent figures in the world of arts and crafts.
In the 1950’s Leach married the American potter, Janet Darnell Leach, who managed The Leach Pottery until her death in 1997.
Bernard Leach is also known for his many significant writings, credited with the revival of artistic standards in craftsmanship in the 20th century. His principal books are; (1940), (1951), (1975), (1973). With Mihoko Okamura, the long-time assistant to D.T. Suzuki, Leach translated the essays of Soetsu Yanagi in (1972).
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