Bernard Leach arrived in the old fishing town of St Ives in Cornwall along with Shoji Hamada in 1920 – astonishingly almost 100 years ago. He was in the vanguard of artists who established St Ives as a centre for British modern art from the 1920′s onwards, strengthened when Ben Nicholson, Barbara Hepworth and Naum Gabo moved here in 1939 and with the arrival of overseas artists such as Piet Mondrian and Maurice Sumray. One of the leading 20th century artist-potters, Leach had spent some time in Japan, which influenced his work, and his new pottery became the first in Europe to have a traditional Japanese climbing kiln which remained in use throughout his working career.
Today the pottery, which was extended over the years, remains both as a museum and a continuation of Leach’s work. Leach died in 1979, after which his wife continued to use the pottery to develop her own work, until her death in 1997. Fortunately, the pottery was saved from potential sale in 2005, and was restored and reopened in 2008 as a working studio pottery, museum with many of the old kilns and items of potter’s equipment remaining, alongside exhibitions of the work of Bernard Leach, Shoji Hamada and other modern and contemporary potters and an extensive shop. Today it continues with Leach’s philosophy of international exchange, with students and apprentices working alongside skilled artisan potters, as they did in Bernard Leach’s day, creating new patterns for the 21st century and providing classes for schoolchildren and other groups, thus ensuring that Leach’s influence continues into the future and that a new generation of artist-potters will emerge.
This is what such a museum should be about; celebrating the achievements of the past, while taking them into the future.