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Casson, Michael

Born 1925, London. Died Ross-on-Wye, 2003

Following the Second World War, (Frederick) Michael Casson studied art and woodwork at Shoreditch College before transferring to Hornsey College with the intention of becoming a painter.  It was at Hornsey however that he discovered ceramics and began to specialise in throwing on the wheel.  It was also at Hornsey that he met a student colleague Sheila Wilmot, whom he married in 1955, and Victor Margrie with whom he developed the Harrow Studio Pottery Course in the 1960s - a two year programme that offered a vocational rather than academic education to help meet the growing needs of students who wanted practical training before setting up their own workshop.   

With his brother, Michael Casson set up a shop and studio in London in 1952.  He rejected the orientalism of Bernard Leach's ceramics in favour of the hand built techniques and coloured glazes of early European pottery.  In the atmosphere of post-war austerity, these were successfully sold to department stores such as Liberty and Heals. In 1959 the Cassons moved to Prestwood in Buckinghamshire where they installed a gas-fired kiln.  They produced a range of reduction-fired tableware, much of it decorated with brushwork, in a range of rich colours.  The pottery was destroyed by fire in 1963 but they rebuilt it and carried on. 

In 1976, feeling that Buckinghamshire was becoming too urban, the Cassons moved to Wobage Farm in Herefordshire on the Welsh border.  At Wobage, Casson began to experiment with different kinds of kilns but also in the forms he made, moving away from tableware to concentrate on more individual pieces. By carefully calculating the chemical make up of clay bodies, Casson developed a stoneware body that fired a rich red brown, a mixture that technically should cause problems at high temperature, but which proved a great success.  At Wobage a small community of potters developed, which included Sheila Casson and his son-in-law Andrew McGarva, but was later to include other potters.

Casson had a central role in creating the Craft Potters Association as a cooperative potters' society and a national body for studio potters, serving as both member and later chair.  With the setting up of the Crafts Advisory Committee (now Crafts Council) in the early 1970s, under the directorship of Victor Margrie, Casson's advice was soon sought. He became involved in running committees and helping to steer the new body, ultimately becoming vice-chairman from 1985-88. In 1976, Casson devised and presented the BBC series The Craft of the Potter, writing its accompanying book. The groundbreaking and highly successful series aimed to demystify the art of the potter by looking not only at historical ceramics, but also featuring practical demonstrations of potters at work.

 

 

Bowl with Flat Back
Footed Vase