Richard Batterham obituary | Ceramic
Richard Batterham was one of the best exponents of stoneware cast pottery in what has been called the ‘Leach tradition’. His death at the age of 85 closes a chapter of a movement led by an elite group of the inter-war years including Norah braden, Michael Cardew, Bernard Leach, Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie and William Staite Murray, who drew inspiration from the Far East and British medieval and vernacular pottery.
In the early 1960s, when Batterham’s career began after a two-year apprenticeship at the Leach Pottery in St Ives, stoneware pottery had to some extent democratized by the Studio Pottery Diploma established in 1963 at the Harrow School of Art, and had become part of the counterculture, promising alternative ways of living outside of what was seen as an overly technocratic society. Batterham, however, worked alone, resisting any inclusion in the groups. If his lifestyle could be seen as “alternative”, he was also resolutely industrious and disciplined. He makes no distinction between his functional items for everyday use and objects such as his majestic large bottles: “They are all jars and some sing. In a world freed from categories, Batterham would be recognized as one of the great artists of modern times.
All of its shapes evolved from things people needed – from pitchers to plates and platters to beautiful covered jars, designated beer or wine. His shopping carts have their origins in sheer functionality, but in 1996 they first appeared on a majestic scale, cast in two parts, sometimes fluted, adorned with ashes and iron glazes, uniting sculptural grandeur and painterly effects. , lid and pot in one. Large bottles thrown in several parts are among Batterham’s most spectacular creations. Sometimes their sides are slightly flattened by the beating, the effect being lessened by the subsequent blowing into the bottle.
His tazza series emerged around 1972, similar to a chalice, but practical. Cut-sided bowls were among Batterham’s most powerful and mysterious creations. The pot was thrown harder than usual with a paint scraper used to carve out facets around the part, a sort of radical spin.
One of his favorite possessions was a small lidded box from the Japanese potter Shōji Hamada which he considered a perfect exercise in handling clay with kindness. His own small tins, lidded jars and mustard jars are part of a family of shapes, beautifully adorned with his comprehensive repertoire of cutting, incising and retouching techniques, and his entire range of glazes and slushes. , multum in parvo (a lot in a little).
His jars are not decorated in the usual sense, and although his work has been considered “neo-oriental”, there is no oriental brush. Subtly positioned chatter marks and incised or raised lines harmoniously underline the shape of the pot, which can also be beaten or, on the contrary, subtly altered. Great variety is achieved by seemingly simple means, using the simplest tools.
In 1981 he provided a rare statement: “The main job is not to make pots, but to allow them to come, to allow them to grow, to allow them to be alive, and to impart warmth and life in this direct and undemanding strangeness. how true and naked work can, as vulnerable as it is. To make this possible, I think it is necessary to use our skills and materials with humility and respect. It requires a certain tranquility of life.
The tranquility of life began in 1959 in Durweston, in a corner of Dorset not far from Bryanston, the school where he began making pots at the age of 13. Yet he never considered himself a “local” or “traditional potter.”
His workshop, built in 1966 on a generous scale, with a large climbing oven, had his potter’s wheel in the center of the building. Outside was a long pile of wrapped clay and behind the building a vegetable patch – his work fell in a rhythm tied to the year of gardening – and more clay maturing in a sequence of drying beds. Family life and creation went hand in hand.
In 1972 he exhibited some 260 objects at the British Crafts Center, now Contemporary Applied Arts, with great success. For this show, he took the unusual step of demanding less publicity from the press service, saying: “Crafts are like wild animals; if you hurry around the water point, they sink deeper into the bush.
His pots remain the testimony of an extraordinarily devoted way of life. They offer replication and profusion, seriality and singularity. Indeed, his work is best seen as a magnificent continuum, a great multiple, developing endlessly and subtly over more than half a century. Musicians in particular admired his pots, such as composer Hugh Wood and his pianist wife, Susan McGaw, conductor Neville Marriner and violinist Elizabeth Wilcock.
Born in Woking, Surrey, Richard was the second child of Alice (née Neville), nurse, and Arthur Batterham, teacher at Dane Court Preparatory School. Dane Court moved to Dorset during the war, then Batterham dated Bryanston. There he was taught by sculptor Donald “Don” Potter, spending long hours in school pottery.
The art school did not enter into its plans. During national service he spent a week off at Wrecclesham, a surviving Surrey country pottery, an experience he will never forget. In January 1957, he began his apprenticeship at Leach Pottery. Two friends have become important. One was Dinah Dunn, whom he married in 1959. The other was Atsuya Hamada, the son of Shōji, Leach’s original partner in St Ives.
The three friends were discussing pottery and plants, both Dinah and Atsuya being good botanists. In practical terms, the type of Japanese wheel that Batterham was to use in his own pottery was modeled on the kick wheel brought by Atsuya to St Ives. During his second year, Batterham fell ill with two bouts of jaundice. He spent 22 weeks in bed, but was cared for by Dinah.
A fine potter in her own right, Dinah gave up the craft as their family grew, but it was perhaps her who understood Richard’s work best. She liked to point out that “it’s all in an egg baker,” using this humble example from Batterham’s repertoire to deflate overpriced reactions to her larger pots. Batterham himself was determined to avoid sounding esoteric or distant.
In a review of his exhibition for his 60th birthday at the Oxford Gallery in 1996, critic David Sexton was struck by Batterham’s inclusion of examples of pans that had not done well, to emphasize that he accepted “Various dangers of the oven and the many good things it offers and contributes”.
This generosity and modesty of spirit was underlined by his choice to send works from 1973 until relatively recently to David Mellor’s kitchen in quantity, and often preferring to exhibit in Dorset. He supported local activities such as ringing bells, beekeeping and folk dancing. He had little time for committees and public life but was administrator of the Crafts Study Center from 1972 to 1976.
In 2016, his 80th birthday was marked with exhibitions in Dorset, Norfolk and London. From the end of November, the Victoria and Albert Museum will organize a retrospective of his work, until September 2022.
Dinah passed away in 2007. Richard is survived by their five children, Annabel, Imogen, George, Jessamine and Reuben, 15 grandchildren, a great-grandchild and his brother, David.