Two British Obituaries of Note

Emmanuel Cooper, (1938-2012) whose main role for we in New Zealand was possibly as founding co-editor and publisher, with Eileen Lewenstein, of the British ceramics magazine,  Ceramic Reviewin 1970 taking over sole editorship after Lewenstein’s retirement in 1996. From then Cooper pulled the magazine from a firmly 1970s ambiance toward the new century with changes in layout,  style, typeface, colour use and he commissioned many writers for particular articles of interest.  He helped build what was essentially a Craft Potters Association newsletter into a highly regarded, wide-ranging internationally read magazine that, incidentally, also became profitable  supporting the CPA’s shop and Association.

Cooper was more than this, however,. He was also a potter with a vessel-making background who moved into brilliant colour and explorations of form due to his interest in glazes. He was author of some 28 books, the last of which, a biography of Lucie Rie is due out later this year. He wrote on Bernard Leach and caused some lively discussion around his reportage on BL’s personal life.  His book on glazes has been through several titles, iterations and reprints and was his most successful. He also wrote on ceramic history that has been through a few editions – an earlier one I saw had an unfortunate entry for New Zealand about which I was always going to write him but….  The last history is called 10,000 Years of Pottery.

As writer he also contributed critiques of exhibitions for various  newspapers and journals and broadcaster on radio and tv.

Cooper saw the need to get out of his studio and into the wider world of art/pottery politics where he was an active campaigner and powerful advocate working with the Crafts Council and as member of the Arts Council receiving an OBE for his services. He taught at Camberwell and Middlesex and from 1999 was visiting professor of ceramics and glass at Royal College of Art.  He was also a gay rights campaigner and is survived by his 30 year partner, television producer David Horbury. He died of cancer on January 21st.

Ray Finch, (1914-2012 – aged 97) who took over Winchcombe Pottery from Michael Cardew   Cardew had revived Winchcombe as a working pottery in the late 1920s utilizing the skills and experience of earlier employees there such as Elijah Comfort and Sidney and Charles Tustin where they worked as a team producing cider jars, pancheons and other traditional country pots alongside tableware and fired the huge bottle kiln only 3/4 times yearly. (Read Tanya Harrod’s marvelous account of this in her history of British crafts)

Finch approached Cardew to work but was sent away to learn some basics so went to Central School in London for a year before becoming part of the Winchcombe team in 1936. Cardew moved to Cornwall in 1939 and Finch, by then a partner, was left in charge. They built a smaller kiln for the reduced production of the war years when the Tustin brothers were conscripted, Cardew left for West Africa in 1941 and Finch joined the National Fire Service. Cardew sold Winchcombe to Finch after the war and Finch changed the traditional slipware to distinctively restrained wood-fired stoneware – combed, sponged and finger decorated.  This was completed by the late ‘50s and they steadily gained success financially selling to famous eateries such as Cranks and exported to distant countries such as New Zealand. (I still own some small distinctive plates and a slip-decorated ash-tray).

Many potters learned their craft there including Gwyn Hanssen-Pigott, John Leach and Colin Pearson where Finch championed the apprenticeship system at a time when many art colleges were beginning to dismiss the necessity of basic skills. Finch remained working well into his 90s often supervising firings and stoking the kiln. He was awarded MBE in 1980.

 He advocated the making  of affordable and enriching pots that he called, “things people could both use and enjoy” and pursued the notion that being a potter is/was a meaningful and rounded way of life, relevant to the contemporary world.  Winchcombe is now run by his son, Mike and we all wish it the best to continue successfully. Ray Finch is survived by six of his seven children.

For those who knew him there is a place on a blog to add memories and comments.

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