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Aberystwyth Lifetime Achievement Awards
& the International Ceramics Festival, Aberystwyth


Claire CurneenThe International Ceramics Festival in Aberystwyth (Wales, UK) celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2005, the biennial nature of the event meaning that it has been in existence for over 18 years. The festival is a joint initiative between Aberystwyth Arts Centre (where it takes place) and North and South Wales Potters, and each festival welcomes over 1000 ceramicists and potters from all over the world to partake in a heady mix of demonstrations, talks, lectures, spectacular firings given by renowned and influential potters and ceramicists from all over the world.

kiln firing

The festival instigated a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1999 as a means of recognising ceramic artists or potters who have made a major contribution to the world of ceramics. Past winners to date are Ray Finch (1999), Mick Casson (2001) Janet Mansfield and Warren McKenzie (2003) and David Leach and Janet & Frank Hamer (2005).

The first winner of the award was Ray Finch in 1999. Ray Finch attended the Central School of Art, London, under the instruction of Dora Billington in the mid 1930s and in 1936 was offered a position at Winchcombe Pottery. In 1939 he was left in charge, whilst Michael Cardew set up a new pottery at Wenford Bridge, Cornwall. During The Second World War Finch served in the National Fire Service. After the war in 1946 he resumed his post at Winchcombe and eventually purchased the business from Michael Cardew who had moved to Africa. During the 1950s Finch diverted the pottery production at Winchcombe away from slip decorated earthenware to stoneware. In 1979 he handed over the management of Winchcombe to his son Michael.

Ray was presented with his award at the 1999 festival by fellow potter Mick Casson – who coincidentally was the second recipient of the award in 2001. Mick Casson, who sadly died in December 2003, was the first to be honored with an OBE for "Services to his Craft". He made his first pots in 1945 and set up his first workshop in Russell Square in 1952 making tin glazed figures and pots. His first solo exhibition was held at Heals in London in 1959 and the same year he moved his workshop to Prestwood in Buckinghamshire. Disaster struck in 1963 when the pottery was destroyed by fire but together he and his wife Sheila built a gas kiln and re-established their pottery making stoneware and porcelain production ware. The same year he founded the studio pottery course at Harrow School of Art with Victor Magrie - the first vocational course of its kind. From 1971-73 he was Head of the Ceramics Department at Harrow School of Art. From 1975 until the mid 1980s he was a member of the first board of Dartington Training workshops. He also traveled regularly to the United States to teach, lecture and exhibit his work. Many will remember Mick for his film "Michael Casson Studio Potter" which won the Cirus Films Gold Medal in 1967, his book "Pottery in Britain Today" 1967, and the BBC TV series "The Craft of the Potter" which was followed by a book of the same name in 1975. In memory of his contribution to the world of ceramics, the Ceramics Festival instigated a special Mick Casson Memorial Lecture to take place at each festival. The inaugural lecture was given by Mick’s daughter, Lucy Casson at the 2005 festival.

The 2003 Festival saw two winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award – Janet Mansfield from Australia, and Warren Mckenzie from the USA. Janet is a World recognised expert on salt-glaze ceramics and is editor of the influential Australian publication 'Ceramics Art and Perception'. Warren McKenzie and his wife Alix spent two years at the potter's cottage with Bernard Leach where he learned much of value from conversations with him. Although he and his wife had studied at an American art school they had found the training in ceramics inadequate and came to the UK to develop their competence in throwing and producing standard ware, and to experiment with techniques and ideas. Returning to America in the early 1950s Warren was appointed lecturer at the University of Minnesota but also continued with his own pottery and still to this day uses an adaptation of the wheel originally built for the St. Ives pottery. He is one of the foremost potters working within the Anglo Oriental tradition.
The winners of the 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award were renowned potter David Leach (who sadly died earlier in the year and so was awarded the honor posthumously), and Janet and Frank Hamer, co-authors of The Potter’s Dictionary of Materials and Techniques. David Leach, the eldest son of the great potter Bernard Leach, was a potter of international reputation whose work is eagerly sought by collectors all over the world. He worked with his father at the Leach Pottery in St. Ives as a student, manager and partner until the mid 1950s when he set up his own studio at Lowerdown Pottery near Bovey Tracey in Devon. Aside from his own work, David worked extensively in ceramics education and for crafts organisations and throughout his career maintained his enthusiasm for ceramics, constantly striving for technical and artistic improvement. He died in February 2005 after a long and productive life.

Frank HamerJanet and Frank Hamer are respected ceramicists based in rural Monmouthshire, and are founding members of South Wales Potters, who together with North Wales Potters and Aberystwyth Arts Centre organise the International Ceramics Festival. Together they are the authors of The Potters Dictionary of Materials and Techniques which has been on sale for nearly 30 years and is now in its fifth much expanded edition.
The next, and 11th International Ceramics Festival will take place from 6-8 July 2007 in Aberystwyth. Bookings for the festival will open in the autumn of 2006 and early booking is strongly recommended as the festival is always a sell-out. The winners of the Lifetime Achievement Award for 2007 will be announced at the opening session of the festival.



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