End of an Era


What, I hear you ask, are these oddly familiar faces doing beneath all that hair? Well look closely and you’ll realize this is the early 70s. Everyone seemed to have lots back then.  It’s Rosie and Renton Murray at a gathering at Harrow when both were students there in the early 1970s. That’s Mick Casson beside Renton and the bearded red-head behind is Peter Starkey, fellow student and founder of Dartington Potteries. This is one of the ‘historical images’ recently come to light in research towards a history of Harrow – London’s school of art that has trained many of Britain’s functional potters over the previous almost fifty years of operation.

The Harrow School of Art offered Britain’s first full-time vocational course in functional pottery in 1963. At a time when Britain’s art education was being re-structured the lecturers, Mick Casson and Victor Margrie, conceived a two year programme that did not comply with the new DipAD being started at Central School, Camberwell and other ceramic departments that were more about educating artists working in clay. The Harrow course was a rigorous two year programme designed to develop production potters who would set up their own workshops for functional ware and the course was seen as an improvement on an apprenticeship system as revived by Leach and Cardew. Other lecturers were Colin Pearson – brought in because of his experience in a production pottery with Ray Finch (see recent obit) in Winchcombe and with David Leach. Hand-building was also introduced by some non-traditional ceramists such as Gillian Lowndes and Mo Jupp so that individual expression, within those functional parameters, was also encouraged.

Throughout the 1960s and into the ‘70s the course proved highly successful producing a high number of soundly-trained production potters, many of whom still operate their own studios, some still making traditional wares of an earthy palette and rustic and Asian styling.  Throughout the 70s the market for hand-made pots thrived and attracted a broad audience. However cultural dynamics, as they do, changed and into the 1980s interest turned to the more individually expressive piece rather than traditionally based small-scale production that was really an alternative to the industrially-made; education became more academically oriented, and rising taxation (VAT – Britain’s equivalent to GST) made the market decline even more. The Royal College revived its interest in individually expressive ceramic art as opposed to its previous emphasis upon design for Stoke on Trent manufactories. David, Marquis of Queensbury, had taken on the role of professor of ceramics and glass and could see the shift of mass manufacturing to Asia. He appointed Hans Coper and the sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi to the faculty and Royal College and its post-graduate programme became the most dominant, accepting students from Camberwell, Central and other art colleges such as Hammersmith.

Harrow retained its own singular course of producing makers of functional ware and continued with graduates such as Walter Keeler and Janice Tchalenko taking on teachers’ roles. As a later generation they were more innovative; Keeler taking inspiration from metal vessels and later from historical industrial wares while Tchalenko sponged and slip-trailed colourful designs. Both were more realistic about the old Leach dictum on ‘affordable hand-made pots for every home’ and applied this to their personal projects and instilled this in their students along with their new approaches to aesthetics in tableware.

Harrow survived yet more educational changes through the 90s and into the new century being taken over and becoming a section of the University of Westminster and a small part of its broad arts education faculty that includes theoreticians and art historians as well as hands-on practitioners across a range of media. Edmund de Waal and Christie Brown are Lecturers and Clare Twomey is Reader in Contemporary Ceramics and courses have broadened to include the non-functional, the sculptural, the cross-media and mixed media that most art schools now offer. They remain on staff. Unfortunately the functional course, aimed at producing a studio potter working from his individual workshop is not to survive into its fiftieth year but will cease with end-of-term this year in May.

Their lecturers – led by Steve Buck, a Harrow graduate but maker of innovative ceramic sculpture – are determined to go out with a bang rather than anything resembling a whimper and have arranged exhibitions of graduating students work plus of work from earlier graduates at the now fashionable galleries and art spaces in the East End of London. Additionally they are producing large catalogues full of images and essays – contemporary and historical that will be worth watching out for and I shall post sources once they become available late this month or early next month.


Harrow, forty-nine years old. End of an Era indeed.


1 Comment

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One response to “End of an Era

  1. Suzy Dünser

    I’ve just read this again, and want to say how much I’ve enjoyed it. You may not get as many comments on the less controversial subjects, but it’s still great to read about them – thank you.

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