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Collection Crafts Study Centre
Correspondent Henry Bergen
Description Letter from Henry Bergen to Bernard Leach, four sheets.
Part Of Series Henry Bergen's correspondence with Bernard Leach, 1936 -1940
Id Number Current Accession LA.3189
Location Creation Site No sending address
Subject Leach Archive, letter, correspondence
Measurements 25.2 x 20 centimetres
Material paper
Other Materials ink
History One of a group of letters from Henry Bergen to Bernard Leach. In the main, these letters are a riot of scathing criticism of Leach's writings of 'A Potter's Book', the chapters which have obviously been submitted to Bergen for reading and correction. Their friendship must have been close and real, otherwise Leach would have been forgiven for deeming Bergen's strictures intolerable. As it is, it is much to Leach's credit that these letters were retained for posterity. No doubt he answered each one, and no doubt he gave as good as he got! Bergen emerges from these pages as blunt, irascible, convincing and utterly honest; a man whose standards were of the highest, full of contempt for the shoddy and the pretentious.

In April 1936, he gives advice to Leach on the Dartington Hall project in his usually forthright way. He is in touch with 'Bino' (his version of 'Beano'), for Miss Pleydell-Bouverie and Cardew. He is stil labouring at his sociological work. Yes, he is willing to criticise Leach's draft chapters, and is free with advice on publishers' terms. An exhibition in October 1936 - Murray's 'Ra' has been refused --- 'that very big and very bad performance of some years ago'. Is also reading (E.M.) Nance's work on Swansea and Billingsley. He gives blunt criticism of mugs and jugs by 'Beano' and the St. Ives Pottery at the Byros Gallery exhibition; and is equally blunt in his rejection of the works of certain named contemporary potters. Will shortly move to 55 Sutton Court, Chiswick. Hopes to write a short work on the Tea Ceremony (Cha-no-yu). Is impatient of auctions - 'Collectors are fools'. He is interested in the latest 'scientific' excavations in China and in particular, material of the Shang and Chou periods. He likes the work of Hamada and Kawai, but finds Funkaki's work 'too slick and commerical looking'. He is re-shaping Leach's first chapter (June 1937) - 'it is getting simpler and less turgid', and gives general advice on the rest of the book. He holds forth on the differences between T'ang and Sung pots. The Oharas will visit Dartington in the Autumn. He criticises Leach as a writer - 'too rhetorical and excited', and as to the content, Bergen defends mass-production of pottery against what he sees as Leach's unfair criticism: Leach must not sneer -- '---the factories --- are bound to produce what they can sell, otherwise they can't exist, but if the Royal Worcester works is still turning out naturlaistic atrocities it is also employing some very good people whose designs are of quite a different character. A factory is there primarily to make money, & this will be so always, as it is now under a Socialist government' (Leach's marginal comment to this is: 'Russia not the end!'). Mass-production is here, for good or ill, & Leach must not confuse his nostalgia for the 'the little workshop in China & Korea & Japan' with the reality of the virtues of mass-produced tableware - 'much more praticable in use than any peasant ware.'. Leach's job is to write about pottery, not social reform. There is, Bergen thinks 'too much rhetoric & autobiography (quite out of place) in the book , as it is.' Epigrammatically, he states 'There is nothing more fatuous than to idealize the past, except to idealize the present.' He hopes that the next instalment will contain 'less repetition and cackle and more serious description. Remember that the Sung pots you & I admire were made for the rich & that the poor (nine tenths of the population at that time) possessed practically nothing. ---But my point is that fine things are fine & mean labour & other costs & can never be plentiful. The market is easily saturated.' Leach must not confuse the ornamental with the uitilitarian. Bergen wishes to keep the factory and the studio potter separate; Leach obviously disagrees, and, in this partiuclar letter (7 August 1937) is free with marginal comments on Bergen's remarks. The 'Raku' chapter is not satisfactory - too much 'mere wind' - it is ridiculous to compare coffee cups with Sung vases.'. Reports that the chapters he has seen have been re-hashed, and should be aceptable to a publisher now that 'mis-statements of fact' have been corrected. Bergen cannot hide his exasperation at Leach's meandering style - why does he ramble at length about tin-glaze in the middle of a chapter on procelain; He deplores the over-emphasis on 'Raku' and Leach's experiences in Japan. He advices him to 'Cut as much cackle & prancing (this is a favourite word of his) & self-consciousness as possible'. Michael (Leach) must look over the work as well, as he is a 'competent' writer! Leach must acknowledge his limitations as a writer - don't be facetious or pathetic!. Above all don't prance!' Their great disagreement on the point of studio pottery versus mass-production rambles on: the latter employs hordes of people, and it is useless to talk of its 'demolition & reconstruction'; modern capitalistic methods cannot just cease, even in Russia; 'stripped of its romantacism, primitivive production is misery'; the fault of modern mass-produced pottery lies in design, and Leach's book should be a manual, not a polemic; '--- it is absolutely mad to attack industry. Industry did not drive out handwork' which perished because of economic inefficency alone; much present handwork is bad - much, for example, of the work of Kawai and Funaki is bad, and even Yanagi's craft movement in Japan produces bad things. Bergen deplores the 'intolerable arrogance' of studio potters - people at the Victoria and Albert Museum and elsewhere have even named Leach and Murray as being guilty; not all craftsmen are artists, as Leach thinks --- Bergen rates only 20 per cent of exhibitors at the Byros Gallery as having talent, an he finds that he 'can't go Yanagi snobb stuff any more - it is too sentimental in spite of the fact that there is much truth in it.' He urges Leach: 'For God's sake keep polemics out of the rest of the book. Take Edward Johnston as your model.' He rates the opening of the chapter on kilns, as a disaster - '--- just bunk, pure prancing. --- don't write as if your readers were fools'; the corrected parts however, are acceptable. Bergen is preparing some of his pots (by Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew, Murray, Vyse and 'Beano' Pleydell-Bourverie) for Geoffrey Bemrose, for a 'show' at Stoke-on-Trent. These letters are obviously interspersed with replies from Leach to Bergen (would that copies of them were included here!) Leach is patently stimulated by all the savage criticism. Bergen goes on to accuse Leach of having no critical faculty, and urges him to consult Bemrose in the matter of 'A Potter's Outlook' (later in the same letter he urges that the phamplet of this title be dropped altogether - 'It is not good'). In Bergen's opinion, the studio potter can only make 'a few pots for the well-to-do and upper middle classes - the people will remain untouched. It will be the artist as entertainer'. If he has aroused Leach's wrath by his criticism - too bad! The studio potter cannot compete with the commercial potters in the field of tableware, and he quotes 'Beano' on the topic: 'Even a stoneware pot that's gone egregiously wrong looks 50 times better with flowers in it than a commercial pot. But any Woolworth tea service, almost, is more satisfactory to drink tea out of than Rik's ('Rik' was 'Beano's' name for Bernard Leach) or Michael's or mine, because of the very qualities of uniformity, lightness, precision and so on that makes the commercial product fail for the flowers. Bergen much admires the pots of Hammond, P. Wadsworth, Haile, Bourne, Washington etc. (all pupils of
Maurray) at the Byros Gallery (September 1937) and thinks that Murray is creating an English tradition in modern pottery. Michael's 'show' starts at the Byros Gallery on 9 November (1937). 'Beano' now send her contribution on glazes - a tentative contribution only, as results are not consistent. Some are (box, peat, laurustinus and hawthorn) but a finishing with larch as fuel, turned lustrous glazes grey matt, and this must be repeated. The sales at Michael's show are good. Leach's material on clay shapes is good, but the writing not so; there is too much of Japan, and he must refrain from referring to 'my friend Hamada' or Tomimoto or Yanagi, which is in dubious taste; he should read Pevsner on pottery. Mrs. Mairet, 'Beano' and Michael all agree that it is wrong to attack the commercial potters, or to try to compare them unfavourably witth the studio potters. Bergen considers Leach's glazes superior to 'Beano's' or Murray's - her's are too matt, and his are too thin and dry --- 'a glaze is glass, not thin slime'. He does not think the Germans are very good at pottery; a pity 'Gropius' Bauhaus' no longer exists. Bergen cought shingles in December 1937. He praises Haile and Finch as talented potters. He is impatient of potters who seek to express personality in their work - 'To hell with their precious personalities!'. Haile is influenced by early Greek, Minoan and Cretan models, and is very good; Finch is a 'real', as opposed to a 'studio potter', and is very versatile, although he does not exhibit (April 1938). Bergen and Michael are collaborating on the preface, though later, he admits that Michael is doing it on his own. He repeats his intention to write on Cha-no-yu (September 1939). He deplores the war as 'too stupid for words' and cannot see a revolution in Germany (to overthrow the Hitler Regime) for some time. These are a very important group of letters in which both Bergen and Leach emerge as men of great stature.
42 items
Literary Source Catalogue of the Papers and Books of Bernard Leach, Volume II by Alyn Giles Jones, Crafts Study Centre, 1984-85
Rights Owner Managed by the Crafts Study Centre.
Style Period Period 1930s
Technique handwriting



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