Bernard Leach was born in 1887 in Hong Kong and lived in the Far East until the age of ten, when he came to England as a pupil of Beaumont Jesuit College, Windsor. At the age of 16, in 1903, he went to the Slade, as their youngest student, to study drawing under Professor Henry Tonks. After a year's stint as a bank clerk he left the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in 1907 to learn etching under Frank Brangwyn at the London School of Art and in 1909 went to work in Japan as an etcher.
Introduced to ceramics at a raku party in 1911 he subsequently meet Yanagi and took lessons with Ogata Kenzan 6th. Leach returned to England with Shoji Hamada, who he had met at Leach's one-man exhibition in Tokyo, and in 1920 set up the Leach Pottery in St Ives, Cornwall. In 1932 he started teaching at Dartington Hall, Devon and set up a pottery in Shinner's Bridge. His son David took on his teaching at the Dartington pottery, before going on to manage the St Ives pottery, where from 1946-1955 he was taken into partnership. Bernard Leach occupied a unique position in the early to mid-twentieth century as an artist-potter, producing individual pots as well as the famous Leach standard ware with David (who was influential in developing standard ware production when he returned to St Ives in 1937 and also after the war to 1955). He also worked as a draughtsman and was hugely influential as a writer and thinker producing several books; most famously A Potter's Book published in 1940. He was passionate about introducing values such as harmony in pottery that he had experienced in the Far East to the West. During an extremely active life he was continually at the centre of developments in the studio crafts, leading and participating in demonstrations, conferences (notably the International Crafts Conference at Dartington Hall which Yanagi and Hamada attended, in 1952), and exhibiting and touring the USA, Japan, Europe and South America. He corresponded widely and kept a diary; his letters and diary make illuminating reading and are housed at the Crafts Study Centre.
Bernard Leach was a dominant presence within his chosen field for nearly 60 years and a pioneer in creating an identity for the artist-potter. It has been estimated that he made about 100,000 pots during his lifetime and sold well over that number of A Potter's Book . However the pre-war years were a struggle and it is really only in the post-war period that he gained full recognition. The Leach dynasty has continued down the generations with two of his sons, David and Michael, and grandson John continuing the potting tradition. He died in 1979; during his lifetime he was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, second class in Japan, and made a Companion of Honour in 1973.