The selection of studio pottery which forms part of the Warwick University art collection was originally purchased by the Coventry College of Education before its merger with the University in 1978. Its purpose was to form a teaching resource for students training to become art and design specialists in primary and secondary schools. It was created by Richard Dunning who taught pottery at the College from 1949 to 1977.
During the first half of the twentieth century there was a vigorous revival in the traditional craft of pottery largely inspired by Bernard Leach (1867-1979) who, through his visits to Japan, China and Korea, developed an aesthetic incorporating oriental influences. The qualities he sought in his work were harmony and wholeness and he believed that utility was the first principle of beauty. Numerous ‘artist-potters’ emerged many of whom continued the tradition of producing functional vessels - plates, bowls, jugs, bottles, goblets etc. - whilst superimposing their individual ideas about form and decoration. They offered the public everyday objects of unique design as an alternative to the uniformity of mass-production.
The Winchcombe Pottery, established in 1926 by Michael Cardew who had been Leach’s first apprentice, set out to revive the country pottery tradition producing plain but beautifully made everyday tableware. The collection contains work by other former students of Leach: his son David Leach, Harry Davis, William Marshall, Richard Batterham, and Gwyn Piggott Hanssen. The indirect influence of Leach’s philosophy and working practice was felt by generations of potters and can be traced here in the work of Emmanuel Cooper, Mike Dodd and Colin Pearson.
For some studio potters function became subservient to purely aesthetic or expressive objectives. Many believed that ceramics should be regarded as an art form on a par with painting and sculpture and while the vessel continued to provide the basic form, they exploited sculptural and decorative possibilities, rather than utility. Prominent among them were Lucie Rie and Hans Coper who introduced a flavour of European modernism while other potters exploring sculptural possibilities of form and texture include Joanna Constantinidis, Derek Davis and William Ruscoe.
Dunning provided his students with examples representing both the functional and decorative traditions but he also carefully chose works which illustrated the use of different clays, construction methods and glazes. Students were thus able to examine and handle pieces made by some of the most eminent and influential figures in the history of studio pottery using the techniques they were themselves learning in the College‘s ceramics studio.
At this time, pottery was a common feature of the art curriculum in schools. Basic techniques of hand building were frequently used in the classroom, therefore in addition to thrown pots, the collection included examples of coil-built and slab-built works as well as pinch pots. The collection exemplifies these in works by Mary Rogers, Ian Auld and John Maltby.
A small number of ceramics has since been added to the original Coventry College collection but its main strength lies in its representation of a particularly important phase in the development of studio pottery in this country. It is also a fine example of a teaching resource for students learning the practical craft of pottery.
Spade shaped vessel by Hans Coper / Lidded pot by David Leach / Bottle pot by Derek Davis
For more information on the display and the history of the collection please see our leaflet - British Studio Pottery in the 1960's and 1970's