Dear Mr Leach: Some thoughts on Ceramics. Sebastian Blackie. Published by A&C Black, London. 128 pages. Soft cover. ISBN 0-7136-6942
This small book was basically a disappointment. I should have taken more notice of the sub-title – the ‘thoughts on ceramics’ bit – rather than the ‘Dear Mr Leach’ opener. That’s just the bait for what is really an old-fashioned book in a new format of letters. The back cover blurb offers “a lighthearted but serious look at some of the issues that are facing the ceramics world today”. I had hoped for some exposition on Leach’s aphorisms, dictums, and directives given over the years, in view of current changes in thinking and long after some deft deconstructions of those Leachean legends by a newer generation.
Not to be. The letters are really a way of telling the reader about all the fascinating events that have happened in Blackie’s ceramic life (work, injuries, divorce, techniques etc) and travels (Australia, NZ, Japan, Europe etc) without the bother of threading them into a narrative. It’s a series of personal anecdotes and assumptions which have in common simply the author. It’s also a tad irritating in places, starting letters with phrases such as, “Dear Mr Leach, you asked me to explain about paper kilns, well….” This is doubtful as paper kilns and such technologies came into being well after Leach’s death.
This book offers nothing new – at least as far as I got, as I lost interest at something just over half-way through. It feels as though all this has been said before and much of what he had to offer seemed nostalgic, somewhat primitivist and clichéd. However, that said, it’s an easy, unchallenging read that confirms many commonly held stereotypes and happily reinforces many of our Downunder fondly held beliefs. Many could find it a most comforting read. I’ll be happy to correspond about it.