In a recent article in Ceramic Review Sven Bayer, the “big potter”, a one time student of Michael Cardew, raised the possibility that he was a dinosaur, one of a dying species raised on a romantic notion of reviving and continuing a tradition of hand made pottery for use.
I’m sure there was an element of jokiness, but I was a tiny bit alarmed. Sven has been one of the handful of potters selling at David Mellor, a shop selling hand made kitchen and tableware alongside knives and forks, kettles and saucepans on the high street (OK, so it’s a posh high street off Sloane Square!). There is an online store too. Sven made pots in quantity, fired them in a vast wood-fired kiln which gave them the sort of flashed surfaces that some studio potters would feel warranted a plinth or a glass case and a three figure price tag. Sven asked no more for his work than you’d pay for decently designed factory made ware. Was he really now questioning that ideal?
Around the same time that article appeared I took part in Ceramic Wales at Glyndwr University, and listened to a talk by Alex McErlaine on the future of “Domestic Ware”. For a start Alex thought we should call it “Table Ware” and/or “Kitchen Ware”, to get away from the connotations of everyday drudgery in “domestic”. Preparing and cooking food and presenting it well has nothing in common with vacuuming, dusting or squirting coloured disinfectant into the lavatory.
Alex went on to give us a brief history of that branch of pottery in the 20th century and ended, with some optimism, with images of the work of younger potters at work today. I wasn’t entirely convinced that designing prototypes and farming out the making of the pots to the Far East (or Poland, or wherever the best deal could be had) really counted. However I could see that the pots of Fleen Doran and Sabine Nemet were in the “great tradition”, albeit on a smaller, more intimate scale than practiced at Winchcombe (Cardew, then Ray Finch) or at Muchelney (John Leach).
Then, a couple of weeks later, I went to the opening of “Richard Batterham: a Life in Pots” and my spirits soared. Working with a range of forms, established by the late ‘60s, and with only subtle variations and developments of these over the decades Batterham, now eighty, has made a wonderful body of work, entirely around the idea of useful pots. The CAA gallery, where the show was held, was full of beaming potters. Perhaps it was just my imagination that they rejoicing in the confirmation that they were doing something worthwhile. Sven Bayer was there.