Top of the Pots

Press release June 2021

Exhibition: Pioneers: 101 years of the Leach Pottery

10 July – 25 September 2021

An exhibition of work by some of the UK’s leading potters of the 20th-century will go on display at the Court Barn in Chipping Campden this summer.

The renaissance of the British love of ceramics can arguably be traced back to 2003, when Grayson Perry won the Turner Prize with a selection of his Grecian urn-like pots from his show, Guerrilla Tactics – the first time it was awarded to a ceramic artist. 

As Perry’s fame grew to the status of ‘National Treasure’, in 2015 Channel 4 launched its hit show The Great Pottery Throw Down, doing for ceramics what Master Chef and Bake Off had done for cookery and baking respectively.

With this ongoing and heightened interest in pottery as an artform in its own right, the announcement of a major survey of the work of Bernard Leach (1887-1979) alongside several of his contemporaries at Court Barn in Chipping Campden, is sure to draw visitors.

Ceramic art flourished in Britain during the 20th-century, with pioneering potters beginning to work independently, using an ancient craft to create cutting-edge art and design. 

As a young man, Bernard Leach spent 11 formative years in Japan and the Far East, where he was introduced to the art and craft of oriental ceramics. With a burgeoning international reputation, he was invited by Frances Horne, founder of the St Ives Handcraft Guild, to return back to Britain and work alongside the existing artists’ colony in Cornwall. At that time the Cornish fishing towns of St Ives and Newlyn had both begun to attract artists, drawn by the beauty of the scenery, quality of light, simplicity of life and drama of the sea.

Accepting her offer, Leach returned to Britain in 1920, accompanied by Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), a young Japanese colleague, and settled in Cornwall. They established a pottery near St Ives, making functional wares with a strong oriental sensibility in terms of form, decoration and glazing. Together, they certainly captured the spirit of the moment – as the exhibition evocatively shows – with many of their contemporaries, including Edward Baker, Alfred Hopkins, Dora Lunn and Reginald Wells also trying to reproduce the rich glazes they admired on Chinese and Japanese wares.

Leach’s work however, had an authenticity developed during his time in Japan. He wanted to combine the best of both eastern and western traditions and explained his philosophy in his influential publication, A Potter’s Book (1940).

Together with his son, David, he also created a range of standard wares that were sold alongside pots as works of art. He took on pupils and apprentices such as Michael Cardew, Katherine Pleydell Bouverie, Kenneth Quick and William and Scott Marshall, all of whose work is included in this exhibition.

Bernard Leach became the towering figure of the Studio Pottery movement and many potters today still acknowledge his inspiration.

“We have chosen four contemporary potters to bring the exhibition up-to-date; Jack Doherty in Cornwall and John Jelfs at the Cotswold Pottery at Bourton-in-the-Water in Gloucestershire, Matt Foster – former apprentice and now production manager at the Leach Pottery – and Kat Wheeler, formerly at the Leach Pottery but now working independently,” says Sarah McCormick Healy, Curator at Court Barn.  

“Their contribution to the exhibition effectively completes a circle, as Bernard Leach and the studio pottery tradition are relevant to Court Barn and the Cotswolds, as it was a visit with Leach to Russell & Sons at Broadway in 1926 that led to Michael Cardew setting up the Winchcombe Pottery, now represented in the museum’s permanent collection.

Pioneers is a celebratory exhibition, that provides a thorough insight into the 100-year history of the Leach Pottery, from its precursors to its impact on contemporary makers. Most of the work on show has been borrowed from private collections or from the potters themselves, having never been seen in public before. A short film of Leach at St Ives in the 1950s will also be screened.”

Pioneers: 101 years of the Leach Pottery is presented in partnership with Maak Ceramics.

For more information, ticket prices and details of other events, visit or call 01386 841 951.


Leach Pottery – Cotswold connections

In 1925, the first significant exhibition of St Ives artists was shown at Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum. This included work by key painters as well as 27 pots from the Leach Pottery, which were noted as ‘sound and distinguished’ in an illustrated review in The Studio magazine.

Bernard Leach visited the Worcestershire village of Broadway in 1926 to participate in a demonstration of rural crafts, organised by the design pioneer Gordon Russell. The journey took three days from Cornwall on Leach’s motorbike, with Michael Cardew riding pillion. They stayed with Russell, spending the evenings discussing craft and design and finding themselves at odds with his advocacy of greater mechanisation. Sydney Russell, Gordon’s father, heard of Cardew’s interest in finding his own pottery and took them to see the redundant country pottery at Winchcombe, Gloucestershire – which Cardew duly took on. Leach returned to the Cotswolds regularly in the 1920s and 30s maintaining his friendship with Cardew, whom he regarded as his first and best student.

About Court Barn

Court Barn is an award winning, independent museum of craft and design telling the compelling stories of C R Ashbee’s Guild of Handicraft and the craftspeople who worked in the north Cotswolds from 1900 to the present day.

Admission charges:

Adults £5 Students under 25: Free

Opening times:

April – September: Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 5pm

October – March: Tuesday – Sunday 10.00 – 4pm

Closed Mondays (except Bank Holidays) 

Court Barn can be found at Church Street, Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, GL55 6JE

For more information visit / Twitter @courtbarnmuseum/ Facebook @ Court Barn   

FOR MORE INFORMATION, INTERVIEWS AND IMAGES Tracy Jones, Brera PR – / 01702 216658 / 07887 514984 /