Visit Penlee House & Museum

Penlee House is a Gallery, Museum, Cafe and Shop. Situated within Penlee Park, a space to reflect and great for family visits.

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A space for exhibitions & events

Alongside our Exhibition programme we run a variety of community events and workshops. The Newlyn School and Social history galleries change often. Find out what’s on.

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A space to learn

Penlee House is committed to lifelong learning. We run workshops for all age groups and offer a school workshop programme.

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A space for all

Built in 1865, as the home of the Branwell family. Penlee House is home to many paintings by members of the Newlyn School. It is also home to the Penzance Natural History and Antiquarian Society collection.

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You can search and browse our collections online. We also have a section dedicated to the Newlyn School.

David Leach

17 January 2004 until 20 March 2004

David and his father, Bernard Leach, have both had long, prolific and inspirational careers and have given their name to a style and way of making that is known as ‘The Leach Tradition’.  This means something quite specific to anyone with more than a passing interest in ceramics and it is no mean feat to establish a ‘tradition’ in a mere two generations.  Ceramics students, practitioners, curators, design historians and collectors would use the term ‘Leach Tradition’ to describe a certain kind of pottery.  It describes not just the physical appearance of a piece, but the way it is made, how it is glazed and fired and it probably incorporates something of an attitude or philosophy about being a maker.

So what is the Leach tradition?  In brief, it is seen as something of a fusion, or mixture, of Eastern and Western ceramic styles and way of making.  In 1996 The Devon Guild of Craftsmen held an exhibition called ‘Making it Clear’.  David was asked to write about what inspired his work. He wrote:

Form and decorative ideas spring not only from observation of nature and from assimilated derivation from the legacy of the past, but also from the work of outstanding individuals, past and present, from many different cultures.

When Bernard Leach started working as a studio potter in the early 20th Century his available living legacies were very different from today.  There were a few surviving country potteries, some ‘artist potters’ and the industrialised ceramic industry of Stoke-on-Trent. Artist potters differed from what we now call studio potters in that they selected pots to be decorated from those already thrown, leaving the business of making, glazing and firing to others.

Although the British industrial potters had made extensive use of superficial Japanese patterning in the 1870s and 1880s, the first artist potters had taken their stance on other traditions. The Lambeth artists who signed the Doulton wares at that time were looking mostly towards the saltglaze pottery of seventeenth-century Germany and to the European tradition of “faience”, William De Morgan, the only potter in William Morris’ immediate circle, found his inspiration in Syria and Persia.1

The early 20th century saw the discovery (apparently railway construction had uncovered appreciable quantities) of lots of the much older ceramic wares of the Far East; in particular, Chinese Sung dynasty and Korean Koryo dynasty wares. 

Bernard was born in Hong Kong, educated at the Slade School of Art and visited Japan in 1909 to study drawing and etching. When he returned to England, accompanied by the young Japanese potter Shoji Hamada, the Eastern techniques and aesthetics were already more powerful than his Western roots. At this point he actively looked for traditional English pottery styles and techniques and found English country slipware.  He explored traditional English slipware techniques alongside Eastern stoneware and porcelain, which resulted in something that has been described as a synthesis between Eastern and Western ceramics.

Stylistically his work combines clearly discerned strands of influence from the classic ceramics of China, Korea and Japan with English medieval and country wares.  But his significance is not really in a repertoire of styles, however evocative their sources may be.  In a far deeper sense he is significant in that he was able to bring to this country at a critical time an understanding of Eastern attitude of great validity for potters and students alike. 2

David was also born in the East (Japan) and, in common with his father, has made pots using various clays, styles and techniques.  David learned, first in his father’s studio, and then studied the technical side of ceramic production at North Staffordshire Technical College in Stoke-on-Trent.  Stoke is centre of the extraordinarily colourful and diverse English ceramic history and industry, but David went to Stoke after he had begun working at his father’s pottery in St. Ives.

He learned: 

All sorts of technical things to do with fuels, firing, glaze behaviour and so on, albeit at earthenware and bone china level which wasn’t what I was destined for.  But I was perfectly clear as to what I wanted and I was prepared to toe the line as far as the course was concerned.

The course was obviously very practical and rather uninspiring in terms of the wealth of English ceramic history on the doorstep and David had already absorbed much Eastern influence. His future with stoneware and porcelain was pretty much set apart from the five years after moving from St. Ives to Bovey Tracey. This was in 1956 and the only time is his long career that David made a range of earthenware. This was partly because it was suitable for the kiln he inherited from the previous owners of his house, but also it distanced him from the high fired wares that he had produced for the St. Ives pottery. In 1961 David built a new kiln and began to make stoneware again. He also used (and still uses) porcelain.

Porcelain continues to be the material with which he feels most at ease, saying that as a ‘more precise potter…. I am led towards porcelain which is rather demanding in these terms. Stoneware needs to be broader and stronger- this is not my nature particularly’4 

David’s affinity and style of making, particularly the way he uses and glazes porcelain, connect him quite firmly to the Eastern branch of the ceramics tree.  Throughout history potters have spent much time and energy trying to improve the fineness and whiteness of their wares. The lead in this was definitely taken by the Chinese. Around the turn of the tenth century, the period known as the late Tang Dynasty saw the discovery of pure porcelain.

This was the outcome of using white firing clay called kaolin (from the place where it was dug) allied to centuries of experience with high firing techniques5

True porcelain (sometimes known as ‘hard-paste’) is a combination of china clay (kaolin) combined with feldspar and fired to a temperature high enough to fuse them – about 1300°C .It was another seven hundred years before the west discovered the secret. 

Prior to this, western potters had imitated true porcelain by mixing white clays with ground glass and glazing it with a modified lead glaze. This ‘soft-paste’ mimicked the look of real porcelain but lacked the strength and durability as it was fired to a much lower temperature.  At the beginning of the 18th Century the porcelain ‘secret’ was finally discovered in Europe.  At the beginning of the 20th Century the oriental pottery, inspirational for the ‘Leach Tradition’, was beginning to be widely exhibited and collected. 

It was therefore natural that contemporary work was influenced by the height of perfection of form, pattern and glaze in the Chinese T’ang and Sung cultures, or the delicate ‘sky after rain’ celadons of the hermit kingdom of Korea6′ 

Qualities expressed in these particular ceramics are simplicity and longevity.  The best of David’s work captures this.  He has never wandered into a trend or short-lived fashion but always stayed near his two cultural sources: the best from the East and the simplest from the West.

The Devon Guild is proud to hold this exhibition. David is one of our nearest (geographically) and oldest members as well as a founding father of the organisation.

Have you seen?

Visit Us

Penlee House is a beautiful art gallery and museum, set within sub-tropical gardens, with a great café.

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Our vibrant exhibition programme celebrates the nationally important art and history of West Cornwall.

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From school visits to family activities, talks and walks, there are plenty of learning opportunities at Penlee House.

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Our Café

Enjoy a delicious lunch or coffee at the Orangery Café, with its sunny terrace overlooking the park.

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