Emma Crichton-miller visits one of Britain’s most revered studio potters, who celebrates his 80th birthday this year
On a warm, late-summer day, I drive on narrow roads through blowsy Dorset’s rolling hills. Luxuriant verges have gone to seed and apples fall from the trees. Just before Blandford Forum, a sharp right turn onto a bridge over the River Stour takes you into Durweston. It is here, down a lane that leads to water meadows and the river, that Richard Batterham and his late wife, Dinah Dunn, set up home in 1959, building a small kiln in one room of their cottage. By Christmas, Richard had made enough pots for a first firing: ‘It was only biscuit, and it amazed me, it fired!’
Today, aged 80, he is still working, alone, to the rhythm he established then, producing anything up to 3,000 pots a year. He has never exhausted demand. The David Mellor shops have been stocking his work since 1969. This autumn, exhibitions in London and Holt in norfolk honour this lifetime’s work, rooted in a small patch of Dorset, but drawing on aesthetic traditions from as far away as China and Japan.
I have come on a kind of pilgrimage. Richard’s moss-green, dove-grey or lustrous-brown bowls, jugs, casseroles, storage jars, mugs and teapots exemplify the best of the British Studio pottery tradition as it was developed by the Anglo-oriental potter Bernard Leach, Michael Cardew and others in the 1920s and 1930s. Turning their backs on industrialised processes and urban living, these potters championed a rural life dedicated to the production of finely executed but determinedly functional stoneware and earthenware pots. On the whole from the educated middle classes, they combined a reverence for the skills of anonymous craftsmen, whether in Japan, Africa or rural England, with a sophisticated appreciation of form, colour and decoration.
It is a tradition long since overtaken by other priorities and yet Richard’s work continues to surprise and delight. From the humblest breakfast bowl to his sculptural tall bottles with elegant fluting, exactly judged shoulders and flaring mouths, his vessels have the assurance and effortless balance that comes from daily practice. Their forms draw on a mixed heritage of Oriental,