Blessed ves­sels

Emma Crich­ton-miller vis­its one of Bri­tain’s most revered stu­dio pot­ters, who cel­e­brates his 80th birth­day this year

Country Life Every Week - - Exhibition -

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,

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