Michael Cardew was born in 1901 in Wimbledon. He was first drawn to pottery as a child in Devon where he was later taught to throw by W Fishley Holland of the renowned Braunton Pottery, producers of traditional English slipware.
Finishing his studies in Humanities at Exeter College, Oxford in 1923 , and after reading about the Leach Pottery in The Pottery Gazette, he went to St Ives in the same year, just before Shoji Hamada returned to Japan. He stayed at the Leach pottery for three years as an apprentice, leaving in 1926 to take over the abandoned Greet Pottery near Winchcombe in Gloucestershire where he developed a range of slip cast earthenware, together with Elijah Comfort. In 1927 Cardew was assisted by Stanley Tustin, and later his brother Charlie Tustin in 1935 . He married in 1933 and in 1938 had his first solo exhibition at the Berkeley Galleries, London. In 1936 Ray Finch joined the pottery as an apprentice. In 1939 , leaving Winchcombe to Ray Finch's management (to whom he sold the pottery after the war), he moved to the Wenford Bridge Pottery in Cornwall where he produced earthenware and, having built a downdraught first chamber in 1949 , stoneware. Wenford Bridge remained his base for the rest of this life. However from 1942-48 Cardew worked in Africa at Vum in Ghana as a pottery instructor, and from 1942-1945 at Achimota College; then from 1950 , having accepted the post as Pottery Officer in the Department of Industry and Commerce, in Abuja in Northern Nigeria. He returned to England due to ill health in 1948 and resumed potting at Wenford Bridge. For fifteen years he spent ten months a year working in Nigeria, returning briefly to England to pot. In Africa he introduced wheel-made pottery and stoneware to his pupils, at the same time developing and expanding the range of his own work. On Cardew's recommendation a Pottery Training Centre was built in Abuja, opening in 1951 with six African trainees. Whether working in England or in Africa, Cardew's pots were always woodfired using clay obtained locally. Work by Cardew and the Abuja pupils was exhibited in the Berkeley Galleries, London in 1959 and again in 1962 , as well as in Paris. In 1965 he retired from Nigeria and was awarded the MBE. From the late 1960's he visited the USA and New Zealand and Australia where he lectured and gave demonstrations.
Cardew's book Pioneer Pottery was published in 1969 . His eldest son Seth joined the Wenford Pottery in 1971 . Two films were made about his work: Abuja Pottery in 1971 and in 1973 Mud and Water Man, Michael Cardew, Work from England and Africa by the Arts Council. A retrospective exhibition was organised by the Crafts Advisory Committee in 1975 and toured to the Boymans-van-Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam. Many of Cardew's pupils went on to become well known potters, for example, Svend Bayer, Clive Bowen, Peter Dick and Ray Finch. Cardew died in Cornwall in 1983 and an unfinished autobiography was published in 1988 .