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Phil Oliver

28 Jan 2018




             Crowan Pottery Apprentices


A Crowan vase, almost certainly made by an apprentice

During its life, Crowan Pottery had a series of apprentices, and 'summer workers' many from Germany and Scandinavia. Most of them went on to be famous in their own right.

More information here would be greatly appreciated. Please get in touch if you can help.

Arthur Griffiths - At Crowan between 1949-53
His paper Working at Crowan Pottery in the early '50s  was part of the tribute Harry Davis - The Complete Potter published in Ceramic Review 109 Jan/Feb1988. It gives a good insight into the workings of Crowan Pottery in the early '50s.

When he left Crowan, Arthur Griffiths spent a year with Bernard Leach, before becoming head of Ceramics at Loughborough College of Art.

An Arthur Griffiths bowl with inverted rim made in the late 80s when he had returned to full time potting.

Muriel Tudor-Jones - At Crowan in the early 1950s.
Broadway Pottery in Worcestershire between 1959 and 63, then the Campden Pottery in Gloucestershire until she retired in 1980.

Richard Parkinson - 1950 - Worked for the Summer at Crowan Pottery.
Between 1960 and 1971 he was Head of Hornsea School of Art, London, Ceramics Department, before setting up a pottery at Boncath, nr Cardigan in Wales. He died in 1985.

Helen Swain - 1952.
Became Helen Walters.  She worked with Anita Hoy at Royal Doulton before establishing her own studios at Hornsea and Walthamstow in the London area.

Click to see a larger image.
Part of a Crowan Pottery wax resist tea set made in the late 1950s

Bernhard Vogler

Margarete Schott - 1950-52 at Crowan Pottery.
She passed away in 2004 at the age of 93.

"Harry Davis will be remembered for two things - his wealth of technical ability combined with good taste and his wish to do good. He had this excellent facility with the brush and the placement of his decoration was always so appropriate, enhancing the form of the pot. I remember his hands, worn and damaged from hard work and yet able to do such fine work. When asked under which Oriental master he had studied for his brushwork his questioners were surprised to learn he had taught himself. He was thorough in everything he did.

I went to work with him in Cornwall in 1950 and stayed until 1952, being the first in a group of German potters working with him. Harry Davis had a fundamental knowledge of geology and he was able to use this knowledge in a practical way He understood his materials and could formulate fine dense clay bodies for stoneware and porcelain and his celadon, white and brown glazes fitted the bodies so well, alone or in combination. His expertise with firing, with reduction, fitting the clay, glaze and purpose, coming to the range of colours as are seen in the work of early Chinese potters. He also liked to use the natural ores of cobalt and iron for decoration.

When I first knew Harry Davis he had a wish to sell good pots cheaply, so that everyone could afford them. In his private life he wanted to keep away from all luxury but worked hard in the workshop, the garden and maintaining and constructing buildings. He used the water power from the old mill in Cornwall to drive all the machinery He shared his profits among his workers, giving each a yearly bonus from the sales of pots. He always had this wish to help others, at home in England, in Africa and later in Peru."
Margarete Schott
Pottery in Australia, Feb 1987

Karl Scheid - 1952-53 at Crowan Pottery.
1953-56 joint workshop with Beate Kuhn in Lottstetten, since 1956 part of a community workshop in Dudelsheim, near Budingen, Germany. One of six artists who have been part of the German ceramic art scene since the late 1950s. (Beate Kuhn, Georg Hohlt, Ursula (1932-2008) and Karl Scheid and Gotlind and Gerald Weigel). Their influence on other German potters in the decades following WWII was immense.

A Karl Scheid pot from Dudelsheim - 10.5cm high.

In 1969 five of them along with Margarete Schott exhibited their work at Henry Rothschild's London gallery, Primavera. This was a remarkable exhibition for several reasons: it was probably one of the first exhibitions of the work of German potters in England since the end of WWII. The work was very different from that of Bernard Leach whose influence reigned in England at the time and even the ceramics of the British artists Lucie Rie and Hans Coper seemed foreign, and the invitation to exhibit came from a man whose family had fled Nazi Germany.

After this historic event, the London Group as they came to be known formed a cooperative and exhibited off and on together around the world until 1999, Karl Scheid's 70th birthday.

Karl Scheid is the recipient of the Hessian and the Hessian State Award of Merit.

Karl Scheid 1523
Karl Scheid, 25 September 2009 (Photo by Sven Teschke)

Sebastian Scheid, the son of Karl and Ursula Scheid, is now an accomplished Dudelsheim potter in his own right.

Jean Orton (now Melinda Lassalle) - worked at Crowan for three years between 1951 and 1954.
Born in England, Jean Orton attended Epsom College of Art and then studied art and pottery at the Central School of Art in London. She left determined to pot and joined George Cook at Ambelside Pottery as a pupil.
Later she studied under Marian DeTray at Shinners Bridge, Dartington. Then she spent three years with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery.

In May's autobiography she is the "Gorgeous Jean, a dark beauty who had all the men at her feet" She did some potting when she could (mostly pepper and salt pots and pin dishes) and showed all the visitors round the pottery. She remembers many hilarious sessions when Michael Cardew visited Crowan. Harry and Michael were great friends. Crowan was a happy place to work.

She moved to France in 1958 and in August 1959, married the French painter Leonard Lassalle. She changed her name to Melinda, as in France Jean is very much a boy's name! In 1965 they moved to England where two years later they opened an antique shop in Tunbridge-Wells. In 1989, when their 7 children had left home, they returned to France, to Provence. They bought an old ruin, that was originally a mas (small farm), and then moved to the Beaumont du Ventoux in 1991.

A recent photo of Melinda Lassalle with one of her pots

After a fifty year gap Melinda has resumed potting, experimenting with glazes and firing in her home built gas-fired kiln. She says, “I’m looking to achieve the possibility of perfection of form and glaze whilst making utilitarian objects.” Very much in the Crowan tradition.

Bernard Sahm - 1957 worked at Crowan as a potter for a year.
Now considered as one of Australia's most innovative and thought provoking ceramic artists, Bernard Sahm studied at East Sydney Technical College, with practical training in both commercial and studio workshops in Australia and Germany before coming to Crowan Pottery. Returning to Australia in 1958, he established his own pottery at Mosman, and continued to produce domestic pottery experimenting with stoneware and porcelain clays, and high-fired glazes. In 1974 he was appointed the inaugural Head of Ceramics at the then, newly developed Sydney College of the Arts, a position he held for ten years before retiring in 1984. A few years later he moved to Laguna, near Wollombi with his wife Pam and set up a new studio on the property.

Bernard Sahm - Photo from The Sydney Morning Herald

Bernard Sahm died on 27 February 2011, aged 84. He is survived by his wife Pam and three children.
For more details see his Obituary - Brisbane Times, 27 March 2011.

In February 1987 he wrote a A Tribute to The Davises

Vale Harry Davis

"The general overview and philosophical stance that contributed to the kind of pottery workshop and the pots produced at Crowan Pottery in Cornwall, England and Crewenna pottery in Nelson, New Zealand and the philanthropic project of establishing a pottery during the 1970s in Izchuchaca, Peru, must be seen as a joint effort by both Harry and May Davis. All major decisions regarding the type of work, the work approach and the workload were shared. Therefore all statements regarding Harry Davis's contribution to ceramics must also include his wife May.

This is not to be confused with Harry's personal contribution such as his vast knowledge of the ceramics industry, his art and skill as a craftsman, his broad understanding and knowledge of engineering, woodworking and building and his considerable grasp of the state of humankind. All of this added up to not just the end product - the pots - but the whole infrastructure, intent and meaning surrounding the production of pottery. Indeed one cannot judge Harry Davis on his pots alone. Harry must be judged on the way of life, the relationship between the worker and the work and the honesty of a healthy production of strong, useful and beautiful works for everyday life. This is in some ways a practical example of Lewis Mumford's human scale industry as a reaction to the present-day trend toward the mega industry complete with robots. Harry had the knack of making it fun to do even the most mundane tasks and since he insisted that everybody had a hand in all stages of production, no task was ever boring.

With the proliferation of monopolistic control over so much of our life - even to making people just another exploitable commodity - Harry developed ways that could help the average person set up shop and be somewhat self-sufficient using special techniques to build essential equipment and manufacturing pottery materials. He considered this particularly important in the Peruvian project where the local villagers were dependent upon the machinations of foreign industry. Harry's plan to develop a self-sufficient and profitable pottery and hand it over to the villagers as a going concern was creating a blueprint for future projects. Actually this project was preceded many years earlier in the Gold Coast of Africa during the 1940s where Harry truly was a pioneer in setting up a viable and realistic industry in an undeveloped country. The venture is not well known primarily because Harry Davis did not publish as did a number of his contemporaries.

The pottery at Crowan in Cornwall was perhaps the most successful in relation to the Davis philosophy. The waterwheel provided all the mechanical and electric power; there was sufficient land to provide the bulk of vegetable needs; goats provided milk and the drinking water came from a well. In the pottery the water-powered machinery provided clay bodies, glazes, a throwing capability, hoists, forced air, light and electric power for hand tools and heat in the winter. The New Zealand version was to be along similar lines but finally, for reasons such as location, the water power idea was dropped. Another aspect of the Davis philosophy which possibly explains the lack of 'exhibition' pots in the pottery production was the belief that the majority of the ceramics of the past seen in our museums and art galleries today was the work of the anonymous craftsperson just simply making the best product possible for the needs of society. The idea of knocking out the endless one-off artist-signed bulbous jar or bowl and subsequent sale at an 'art' bracket price did not fit with the humanist approach of making good, strong and beautiful products at a reasonable price for everyone.

Harry has written considerably on his philosophy, his know-how and his biography; a portion of which will be published soon and it is hoped that the rest will follow. Without a doubt the place that Harry and May Davis and their pottery ventures will take in the history of the craft potter this century is unique. It is an important and an invaluable part of the quest by thinking, sensitive and responsible human beings to promote a way of life that has dignity and purpose so precious in our future."
Bernard Sahm
Pottery in Australia, Feb 1987

Bernard Sahm said Harry Davis had "square fingers, - he could make flanges and lids with just the correct bevel"

Hans Borjeson 1958-62 at Crowan Pottery.
Birgitte B
orjeson 1960-62 at Crowan Pottery.
After training in the 1950s in Sweden and Denmark respectively, Hans and Birgitte Borjeson worked for Harry and May Davis at Crowan for 2 or 3 years. After they left Crowan they married and in 1963 established a workshop together in the old School in Fulby, Denmark, which is still going strong (apart from a fire in late 2007).

Like Harry and May their output has always been marked with the pottery seal, as to them the concept of individually signed work is inappropriate. To quote Hans:

'Crowan Pottery turned out to be the ideal milieu for me, so many skills in arts and crafts, not to mention the human aspects, all gathered in one place. The sound of a huge waterwheel driving the whole workshop and the sight and smell of the yellow ball clay were experiences in themselves. It was my first meeting with the high fired stoneware and porcelain.

Cornwall and Devonshire in the Southwest are rich in ceramic raw materials. The geology of the area with its kaolin, ball clays and lots of other materials became a new challenge. I gradually realised that it was then I actually started my career as a potter - right from scratch. Harry Davis was a master-thrower, and it was from him I should come to learn the skill myself.

We made the most of the splendid Cornish geology. The conglomerate of the granites (granite is the basis for any glaze) turn out to be more or less accessible from numerous abolished quarries.

One day at teatime Harry and May announced, very surprisingly, that they were going to move the whole Crowan Pottery to New Zealand. I had a strong feeling of taking something very precious with me when I left England after 3 years, and together with Birgitte, who had been working at the pottery for the past year, we decided to start a workshop in Denmark. We found the old schoolhouse in Fulby and opened our own pottery in 1963.

Harry Davis came from New Zealand to visit us several times. He was rather impressed when he saw our rich bluish black tenmoku, which of course was a great encouragement. His visits were always a good confidence booster.'
Hans B
orjeson 1993.

Mary Rich worked with Harry and May at Crowan for a summer in the late 1950s.
In 1970 she opened her Penwerris Pottery studios in Old Kea, near Truro. She is now one of Britain's most well known potters. She painstakingly produces finely thrown porcelain pieces, like those below, which she decorates in geometric style with precious metal lustres, especially gold.

Examples of Mary Rich's Work

Mary's Great Grandfather supplied wood for the Crowan water wheel. She remembers spending hours with her hands in cold water grinding the bottoms of pots and working with a German girl called Eva. She says Harry had a great sense of humour. When May wasn't around, he kept them all enthralled during the tea breaks. But when May was in the pottery he was always very 'withdrawn'.

Click to see a larger image.
A Harry Davis porcelain coffee pot with beautiful incised decoration. Made at Crowan

Mary watched Harry Davis make and decorate the coffee pot above. She doesn't know who did the final glazing though. It was part of a set which was sent to London for an exhibition and later returned to Crowan.

David Heminsley came to ceramics after studying Drawing and Painting at Birmingham College of Art and Design. He  was apprenticed to Harry Davis of Crowan Pottery, and then with George Cook at Ambleside Pottery until 1967. He was Senior Lecturer and then Head of the School of Ceramics at what is now the University of Ulster. He set up a workshop at Balbirnie Craft Centre, Markinch, Fife, in 1972 and was a founder member of the Scottish Potters Association in 1974. Later, until 1999, he was based in Mayfield Studios a workshop he set up in Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh. Sadly he passed away on 4th March 2007 at the age of 79.

Stephen Carter In 1958 (in his mid teens) Stephen Carter took on an apprenticeship with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery. He moved to NZ with them in 1962 and helped to establish the Crewenna Pottery. Later he worked at Hanmer Pottery for a short time, and in the early 70s spent 2 years at Waimea Pottery.
In 1974 he and his wife Zoe set up their own pottery in Tahunanui in Nelson. They are still going strong.

This small Crowan vase was made by Stephen Carter before the move to Crewenna Pottery, New Zealand.


Soren Mohl, the accomplished Danish cellist, spent nearly two years working with Harry and May at the end of the 1950s.

Arthur Walford spent about a year at Crowan. He was going to take an apprenticeship, but the Davis' move to New Zealand in 1962 curtailed his plans. With Yvonne Graham he runs the Grigg's Forge pottery  near Hayle in Cornwall. They produce mainly domestic stoneware and kitchenware.

Roman Bartkiw spent a time at Crowan in about 1960-61. Bartkiw's parents emigrated to Canada from the Ukraine and he was born in Montréal in 1935 but raised on the Niagara Peninsula in Ontario. From 1955 to 1960 he studied ceramics at the Ontario College of Art (now the Ontario College of Art and Design University), where he won the Henry Birks Medal, the Governor General's Medal, and the J.S. McLean Scholarship.

Roman Bartkiw circa 2000

Harry Davis and Roman remained friends after he returned to Canada and wrote to each other regularly. Roman helped Harry with the organisation of his 1966 lecture tour to Canada and Europe.

Roman was briefly head of the ceramics department at the Ontario College of Art between 1968 and 1969. In the summers of 1969 and 1970, he attended Sheridan School of Craft and Design’s glassblowing workshops while continuing to specialise in glass at Alfred University in upstate New York, where he completed an MFA in 1975.

He also taught in Nova Scotia, the Northwest Territories and Denmark. In 1981, he settled in Nova Scotia, operating a pottery in Port Wade and teaching glass-making at Upper Clements Theme Park between 1989 and 1991.

Bartkiw’s ceramics and glass reflected the popular Scandinavian style. He was best known for his earthenware and glass apples and birds.

If you have any more information on the potters who worked with Harry and May during their life, I would very much like to hear from you.

Phil Oliver

28 January 2018