Bernard Leach, born in Hong Kong of English parents, was brought up in Japan and Singapore. In 1903, he entered the Slade School of Art under Tonks and, later, the London School of Art under Brangwyn, studying etching. In 1909 he married and settled in Tokyo as an etcher. In 1911 he discovered pottery, apprenticed himself to Ogaka Kenzan VI and soon set up a workshop, but after several successful exhibitions his pottery burnt down.
Leach returned to England in 1920 and founded the St Ives Pottery in Cornwall. The potter Shoji Hamada accompanied him and, initially, they made slip-decorated earthenware, fired in a climbing kiln. Hamada left for Japan in 1923, returning in 1929 with the writer Yanagi. Amongst Leach's apprentices in the 1920s were Michael Cardew*, Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie* and Norah Braden*; his son David Leach joined in 1930.
Bernard Leach taught at Dartington Hall School, Devon from 1932 and built the Shinner's Bridge Pottery there. He shared a passion for Far Eastern ceramics with Leonard Elmhirst, the co-owner of the Dartington Estate. Leach toured Japan in the mid 1930s and, returning to England in 1935, then wrote A Potter's Book (1940). In 1941, aged 54, he resumed running the St Ives Pottery with his third wife Janet Darnell Leach (1918-97); he made individual stoneware pots for 30 years, exhibiting and lecturing widely. In 1973, when he had ceased to pot, he was made a Companion of Honour, and in 1977 and 1997 retrospective exhibitions were shown at the Victoria and Albert Museum and the Crafts Council, respectively.
*Denotes included in the Crafts Study Centre Collection