HOT BUTTON TOPICS
both context and depth to the exhibition.
Dame Lucie Rie (it’s pronounced Lutzee Ree, she was awarded the CBE in 1981 and made Dame Commander in 1991) was born in Vienna in 1902, the third and youngest child of Professor Dr Benjamin Gomperz, a prosperous ear, nose and throat doctor.
She was educated at the Vienna Gymnasium and at the age of 20, she attended the Kunstwerbeschule, where she studied ceramics under Michael Powolny, a somewhat old-fashioned ceramics modeller.
However, it was there that she learned to throw pots, a technique she came to rely on throughout her career, and first became interested in the effects that were possible with varying types of ceramic glazes.
She married Hans Rie, the manager of a hat factory in 1926, but determined to make a living from her studies, she made earthenware pots, working at home with only primitive facilities.
However, in 1938, following the “Anschluss”, the union of Austria with Nazi Germany, and ahead of the march of fascism with its threat of war, Lucie and husband Hans fled to London.
As refugees, they had very little and while Lucie remained in London, Hans travelled to America to find work. Sadly, things didn’t work out and the couple never got back together again, divorcing in 1940.
Lucie rented a mews house near Marble Arch where she both lived and worked, founding the Bayswater Pottery that was to bring her fame.
She had won accolades in Vienna for her simple, yet delicate pots, inspired by the Modernist interiors of their homes, but Leach, who favoured the rustic styles of the Arts And Crafts Movement, thought them too fussy.
However, she persevered and remained in London during the Blitz, signing up for essential war work at an optical instruments factory.
In her spare time she also worked at the Bimini glass studio in Soho run by another Austrian refugee, the poet-artist Fritz Lampl (1892-1955).
He had founded the business with his two architect brothers-in-law in Vienna in 1923, but like Lucie, he emigrated to London in 1938.
Working with local glassblowers in Soho, he was awarded a certificate from the National Register of Industrial Art Designers, but had difficulty registering the Bimini tradename and changed it to Orplid, which was also inspired by a German poem.
Despite being authorised to work, like thousands of other refugees, in 1940 he was interned as an enemy alien and when he was released sometime later, he returned to find his workshop flattened in the Blitz.
Undaunted, he opened another workshop in the basement of his rented home where he produced decorative glass objects and blown and pressed hatpin ornaments and buttons.
They can be identified by the Bimini name and trademark, a tiny impressed flowerpot. Given the price her pots achieve, it might be worth checking your button box.
In addition to providing work for many of his fellow refugees, Lampl invited Lucie to design and produce glass and ceramic buttons of her own.
The opportunity also allowed her to experiment with brightly coloured and textured glazes that were to feature in her later thrown pots. She continued to work there until 1945, but spotting a gap in the market after many British button factories had been requisitioned for the War effort, she continued to design and make buttons in her own workshop, adding jewellery and mirror frames that were ornate yet practical. It was at this time that she gave work to a young German refugee named Hans Coper (19201981) who had fled to Britain in 1939 but was interned as an enemy alien in Canada until 1942. Coper was already an accomplished sculptor and, keen to learn the art of ceramic production, he offered to work as Lucie’s studio assistant. The two became close friends, experimenting with simple geometric and sculptural, contemporary designs.
Soon they were each producing an amazing range of stoneware pots that although dramatically different from each other, are today sought eagerly by collectors.
Panel Pieces by both Lucie Rie and Hans Coper are on display in CoCA One, underlining the importance of their relationship. Entry is included in the admission price to York Art Gallery. The exhibition runs to May 12.