demonstrating in Sydney, 1972
The Complete Potter
'As well as being a
great potter, Harry Davis was a self-taught intuitive engineer, a
thinker, an environmentalist (before his time), a pacifist, a writer
and a very fine person.
He was independent,
self reliant, inquisitive, humorous and had a clear understanding of
the technical side of everything.'
Pottery in Australia, Feb 1987
Harry was born in 1910.
As the only child of a Swiss mother and an English father he was educated
in both countries,
and left school at sixteen fluent in German. He was sent to Bournemouth
School of Art. There, pottery classes
were full so he couldn't join them, but out of hours, alone in the pottery
room he worked away by himself, putting his efforts on the shelves with
the rest. At the end of the term when the firing was due, and the finished
pots were assembled, it was discovered that all the biggest pots, and half
of the rest, were made by Harry who did not even take pottery! So, in
headmaster organised a job as 'handy boy' with the local Broadstone Potters,
near Poole, makers of the
Joyous Pottery range.
(Pots Harry later described in 1968 as 'appalling'!)
This is probably Harry Davis glazing Joyous
Pottery in 1930
At Broadstone Potters, Harry started as a decorator on the Joyous range,
but he made himself useful wherever possible, learning whatever he
could, whenever he could. It was here that he developed his prodigious
skill on the potter's wheel and an ethos for hard work. A Mr Bean taught him
to throw; he had worked at Doultons and with the help of an assistant to
bring the clay balls and carry off the pots, had been known to make 1,800
ink bottles in a day. He taught Harry the old traditional fingerings, such
as the claw grip, many of which Harry used all his life.
years of the slump finally reduced the staff from a workforce of about fifteen to
three: the working proprietors, and Harry. In early 1933, an accident on an icy road and
a broken collar bone brought the whole episode to an end, including the
A rare slipware vase made by Harry Davis in 1936
at the Bernard Leach Pottery, St Ives
in 1933 he applied for a job as a thrower with Bernard Leach at
Dartington, and cycled to Devon in August for an interview. He was
successful, but the project fell through, so he went to work with
Bernard and David Leach at St Ives in Cornwall.
Harry worked at the Leach Pottery until 1937 and developed the potting
style he was to use for the rest of his life. He was by far their best
prolific thrower and ran the pottery when Bernard and David were away;
he helped May with her throwing skills in 1936.
Harry Davis always recognized the debt
he owed Bernard Leach for this early introduction to pottery which was
invaluable in helping him to understand the aesthetic qualities of a good
pot. This knowledge was also furthered by the long hours he spent in the
London museums, filling book after book with drawings and sketches of
left St Ives in June 1937 and
was offered the job of Head of the Art School at Achimota College in the
Gold Coast (now Ghana). He was employed by the Crown Agents for the
Colonies to research the possibilities of the manufacture of tiles and
bricks and later also of pots.
Harry and May married in 1938 and she went
with him on his second trip to Africa, but after a period of home leave
war intervened. May couldn't travel back to Africa. Harry was unable to
return to England. He stayed until 1942 successfully finding local
materials for clay and glazes. It was at Harry's suggestion that Michael
Cardew was appointed to succeed him.
In the meantime
in desperation May
had joined a sect - the "Hutterian Society of Brothers", the Bruderhof
- and moved with them to
Towards the end of
the war Harry finally managed to join her there, but he was unable to commit himself to
much 'trouble', they left with very little and Harry found work in a
nearby pipe and tile factory in Asuncion. Later they moved to
Patagonia where Harry had a job as a 'ceramic expert' for a china clay
company. He would have hated that title!
A Crowan Pottery lidded bowl -
They returned to England
in 1946 and set up the Crowan Pottery, near Praze in Cornwall. Crowan
Pottery produced mostly domestic ware, with Harry Davis making most of the
pots himself. His skill as a thrower was legendary. The quality and
practicality of Crowan pots was exceptionally high. It is said that he
could test his dinner plates by standing with his feet on each side of the
rim and rocking! With their present value not many would try this today.
recently contacted us. "Harry Davis' throwing skill is legendary,
but I often wonder if the consistency of his whole production is
appreciated. We bought a 2 place setting breakfast set from Crowan when
we married in 1956. We subsequently built it up, by several different
orders, to more than 12. The later pieces were indistinguishable from
the first, not only in size and shape but in body glaze and decoration.
It is one of my great regrets that I never managed to visit Crowan
before they emigrated."
A sample of Harry and May Davis stoneware
pottery made at Crowan
The pottery flourished
for 16 years, but the Davises were restless. England and Cornwall seemed
overcrowded, over developed and congested and the Cold War loomed large with the threat of
In 1962 they closed shop
and emigrated to New Zealand. They arrived in the middle of August with
their four children and the apprentice potter, Stephen Carter, who had
been with them at Crowan for three years. Fifteen tons of luggage and
equipment followed them on a cargo boat. They
established the Crewenna Pottery near Nelson and for another ten years
produced very similar pottery, as shown below.
A Crewenna Pottery stoneware bowl
But again Harry and
May became restless. After a lecture tour to raise funds, Harry left for Peru in 1972, May followed the
They spent eight
years building and establishing a pottery production unit for the locals at
Izcuchaca, 9,500 feet high in the Andes.
This was not a happy
project and May returned to New Zealand in 1979 and Harry, with his
health broken, a little
In the following
years he wrote two books.
The Potters Alternative,
and an autobiography which unfortunately has never been published.
He also travelled widely; lecturing about pottery, alternative
technology and self-reliance.
at Crewenna in 1986.
The extracts below
are taken from May's autobiography.
"Towards the end of his life, as Harry's health, mainly his heart, worsened, he
needed a lot of time and love and attention.
On his last night, I got up and went to him, as I did at frequent intervals, and
we had a cup of tea together at midnight.
Then he said "I think I'll try and get some sleep now." So he went back to bed
and when I came in the morning, he'd gone.
He'd obviously gone in his sleep.
He looked so very, very peaceful.
My daughter Nina, who lived five miles away, didn't know that he had died, but
woke in the early hours of that morning, to the distinct sound of the Crowan
pottery door being closed.
She interpreted that his spirit had gone back to the place where he had been
A Crowan Pottery stoneware lidded jar
More about Harry Davis and
The Potters Alternative
introduction to this book gives a
good indication of how Harry Davis viewed the Studio Pottery movement,
as 'led' by Bernard Leach. Although he used the design style he formed
at the Leach Pottery for the rest of his working life, he had no time
for the artistic 'posing' that went on there.
Glazes and Pigments
This gives an
idea of the materials he used to achieve the very distinctive glazes
and colours of Crowan and Crewenna pots.
Working at Crowan
Arthur Griffiths worked with Harry and May Davis at Crowan Pottery
between 1949 and 1953. This article from Ceramic Review gives a good
insight into the workings of the Pottery, and the work ethics of Harry