The papers of Janet Leach

Scope and Content

These papers contain disappointingly little about Janet Leach's work apart from a great many photographs. Letters to Mary Redgrave describe some of JL's visits to Japan, and there is a very small amount of printed material and some letters about exhibitions. The rest of the material consists of memorabilia of her early life, records of the administration of her estate after her death, and records of the Leach Pottery and Bernard Leach's work, and of JL's work to preserve his legacy. The photographs include prints of pictures taken by Ben Nicholson to record the Leaches' collection prior to the auction sale at Bonham's.
There is a large number of drawings of pot shapes and designs; they appear all to be by Bernard Leach, apart from a small group given to him by Masu Minagawa. Three of Bernard Leach's 'diaries' of travels with Hamada and Soetsu Yanagi are preserved in this archive, whereas the only known diary of JL is in the Bernard Leach papers.

Administrative / Biographical History

Janet Leach was a major postwar potter who, although married to Bernard Leach, the most important and influential studio potter of the 20th century, only accepted in part his ideas about what made a good pot, and developed her own highly distinctive style, combining throwing on the potter's wheel with hand building.

She was born Janet Darnell, in Grand Saline, a small town in Texas, USA, in 1918. She briefly attended art school in Dallas, and helped to create dioramas depicting aspects of Texan history, but her aim was to move to New York and begin a career as a sculptor. Once there, she worked as an unpaid assistant to the sculptor Robert Cronbach before becoming involved in the Federal Works Art Project, but the entry of the USA into the Second World War after the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 brought this to an end.

She took a job in a shipyard, learning skilled tasks such as welding, traditionally carried out by men, and she was briefly married to a shipyard worker, Joe Turino.

Her first introduction to clay was at the Inwood Pottery outside New York City, where she learned how to throw pots and encountered Bernard Leach's groundbreaking text A Potter's Book (1940). For a time she combined making pots with teaching the subject at Rockland State Hospital, a large New York mental institution. A move to Spring Valley, 25 miles from New York, brought her into contact with the Steiner community and anthroposophy. From their threefold concept, which can be interpreted as head, heart and hand, she developed a triangle for the seal she stamped on her pots and which she continued to use throughout her life.

Feeling the need for more serious instruction, she attended a summer course at Alfred University under Charles Harder in 1950, meeting other young potters for the first time, and realised the depth of her own involvement with pottery, though not knowing how to proceed. She had an opportunity to see Bernard Leach on his lecture tour with the Japanese potter Shoji Hamada and the writer Soetsu Yanagi, founder of the Mingei (Folk Crafts) Movement, and her meeting with them proved to be a major turning-point. With Leach's help, she went to Japan in 1954 to study under Hamada.

For a time she stayed at Hamada's pottery at Mashiko, despite the strong local convention that women should not work as potters or travel around the country unaccompanied; then she worked at the Ichino family pottery in Tamba where they still made pots in the traditional style. She travelled around the country with Bernard Leach, typing out his manuscript for A Potter In Japan (published in 1960), and they married in 1955, planning to settle in Japan. However, Leach's son David no longer wished to run the Leach Pottery in St Ives in Cornwall, the source of the Leaches' stable income, and Janet Leach accompanied her husband on his return to England in 1956.

She ran the Leach Pottery, and also set up her own private studio complete with a Japanese wheel, building an experimental kiln to fire pots surrounded by the actual flame.

Although they both loved Japan and enjoyed their frequent visits, the marriage was not an easy one. Janet was not a Leach worshipper, she did not seek Bernard's advice, was sometimes openly critical of his pots, and she did not share his increasingly important Baha'i faith. In 1962 Bernard moved to his own flat, leaving Janet to run the pottery. When he died in 1979, production of Leach standard ware ended, and Janet worked in the pottery with Trevor Corser, a former apprentice, until her death on 12 September 1997.

Arrangement

These papers are part of the 'Janet Leach Archive' given to the Crafts Study Centre by the heirs of Mary Redgrave. The archive also included the records of the Leach Pottery, now listed separately (LEA).

The papers have been sorted into the following order:

  • JDL/1 Personal papers of Janet Leach
  • JDL/2 Financial and Property records
  • JDL/3 Bernard Leach papers
  • JDL/4 Sketches and Pot Drawings
  • JDL/5 Death of BL, and his legacy
  • JDL/6 Exhibition correspondence and catalogues, etc.
  • JDL/7 Death of JL and administration of her estate
  • JDL/8 Photographs

Access Information

Archive material may be viewed by appointment only.

Note

This entry was compiled by Shirley Dixon, Crafts Study Centre Archivist, April 2020.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogue on Crafts Study Centre database. A pdf copy is available on request.

Conditions Governing Use

Written permission must be sought before any archival material is published.

Appraisal Information

None timetabled.

Accruals

None expected.