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The life and legacy of Bernard Leach | Apollo Magazine

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Family histories are rarely straightforward. When it comes to Bernard Leach (1887–1979), often dubbed ‘the father of British studio pottery’, the relationship between the patriarch and his potting progeny is one of devotion and discontent, ruptures and reunions. At the pinnacle of his powers, Leach held more sway over ceramic culture in Britain than anyone else. Yet by the time of his death, some critics held him responsible for stunting the natural growth of a discipline: what once was groundbreaking had become dull and dogmatic.
This year marks a century since the Leach Pottery was founded in St Ives. To celebrate, a host of international exhibitions had been planned: from ‘Started it in England’ at the Mashiko Museum of Ceramic Art in Japan to ‘Kai Althoff: with Bernard Leach’ at the Whitechapel Gallery in London (both were scheduled to open this month). But, with the Covid-19 pandemic leaving so many events in limbo, one of the few certainties left in the calendar is the anniversary itself. The opportunity to reflect on a figure whose reputation has evolved as Leach’s has done is an interesting one.

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