In the beginning was the word : Bernard Leach and Australian studio pottery from 1940-1964

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The years between 1940 and 1964 constitute a significant period of growth of ceramics as part of the burgeoning Australian crafts movement. This phase is linked with Bernard Leach's influential text, A Potter's Book, where the author assesses the impact of this work on Australian ceramics.

The post-war years in Australia brought increased scope for leisure, work and education. Greater numbers of people than ever before became involved, as participants or audience, with activities in the cultural sphere. A notable feature of this time was a resurgence of interest in the manual arts. These traditional skills, reconfigured within contemporary society as creative hobbies or art related activities, became part of a movement known as the Crafts.

Nowhere was this more noticeable than with hand-made pottery in its transition from an essential trade to a redundant but nonetheless widely practiced craft and in the attendant social, aesthetic and theoretical shifts necessary to accommodate these changes in value, status and intent. Of all the activities coming within the ambit of the crafts, pottery garnered the most public interest. More people made pottery, more was written about pottery, more galleries exhibited pottery and more people bought pottery than any of the other crafts. Pottery was taught in almost every school and it often was the only hand-craft taught at a tertiary level. In examining the transformation of Australian ceramics during this time one can isolate many factors that played a part, but underpinning much of this activity was a remarkably influential book, Bernard Leach’s 1940 publication ‘A Potter’s Book’.

Building on a legacy of cross-cultural borrowings, Leach may be credited with establishing Japan as the site of craft authenticity in the imagination of countless potters. Added to this is the significance of ‘A Potter’s Book’ as an invaluable technical aid, at a time when there was little practical information specifically tailored to the needs of the studio potter.

The years between 1940 and 1964 constitute a significant period in the growth of ceramics as part of the burgeoning Australian Crafts Movement. By concentrating on this crucial phase of Australian pottery and linking it to what was the most influential text in the field, a framework is created to assess the depth and variety of practice.

Looking at Australian Pottery through the structures and arguments set forth in ‘A Potter’s Book’, an assessment of the impact of this important work on Australian ceramics can be made that extends beyond the anecdotal. Despite the importance of Leach’s text and the unprecedented vitality of Australian pottery at the time, no significant analysis of the degree of connectivity between the two exists. This thesis hopes to contribute to a fuller understanding of this area of Australian craft history.