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‘The Young & Beautiful’: Michael Cardew, Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture

Event / 20 July 2015

6pm, Monday 20 July at Studio one (formerly ArtStation)
Entry by Gold Coin donation 

Michael Cardew was one of the most remarkable craftsmen of the 20th century. He was a man of paradox, a modernist who disliked modernity, a husband and father whose life was radically altered by his love for a man twenty years his junior, a colonial servant who despised Empire and an intellectual who worked with his hands. As a young man he led a life of pastoral poverty in Gloucestershire, making majestic slipware and participating in the polarized design and political debates of the 1930s. A wartime project in Ghana turned him into a fierce critic of British overseas policies and he set up a workshop on the banks of the Volta River, living outside the colonial fold. In 1950s Nigeria he worked with a gifted team to make hauntingly beautiful stoneware ceramics using only local clays and rocks - inspired by the ambient material culture, independent of European imports, made by Africans for Africans.

He ended his days a ceramic magus, his pottery at Wenford Bridge, Cornwall, an outpost of the counterculture and a haven for disaffected youth. In sub-Saharan Africa, and later in Australia, he offered the egalitarianism of craft as an antidote to racism and inequality. As the novelist Angela Carter observed in 1977, he came to seem ‘the Last Sane Man in a crazy world’.

Tanya Harrod is a leading British art historian, and the author of the prize-winning The Crafts in Britain in the Twentieth Century (Yale University Press 1999), one of the best national surveys of craft. She has organised many exhibitions and contributes regularly to The Burlington Magazine, The Spectator, Crafts and The Times Literary Supplement. Her current interests include the vernacular in relation to modernism, art education in sub-Saharan Africa in the colonial period, notions of wealth and poverty in early twentieth century Britain and the effect of the New Media on the applied arts. She is on the Advisory Panel of the Journal of Design History, The Burlington Magazine and Interpreting Ceramics, and is Advisor to the Craft Lives Project based at the National Sound Archive of the British Library. She is also a co-editor of The Journal of Modern Craft. Her recent books include The Last Sane Man: Michael Cardew – Modern Pots, Colonialism and the Counterculture (Yale University Press, 2013) and The Real Thing: Essays on Making In the Modern World (Hyphen Press, 2015).