Richard Batterham, Tribute
1936 – 2021
Richard passed away peacefully at his home in Dorset on 8th September.
Please see below a tribute to this extraordinary man by Joanna.
A handful of wet clay – he had but to touch it
And it was gold
The Metamorphoses, Ovid
The contribution made by Richard Batterham’s life and work is monumental within the world of studio ceramics. He was destined to become a potter from an early age, having studied with Don Potter at Bryanston School. After two years of National Service he then worked at the Leach pottery where he met Hamada Atsuya (Hamada Shoji’s third son) who he always spoke very warmly of. One of the other students at that time was Dinah Dunn, and they married in 1959.
In the same year, they bought the pottery in Durweston, Dorset, and Richard produced a biscuit firing from his first kiln aged twenty-three. The Batterhams lived in a caravan for seven years while the workshop and house were being redesigned and reconstructed by James Leask. In 1966 they moved into the house, and the following year the oil and wood-fired kiln became fully operational.
Richard’s work is to be found in museums world-wide and in countless private collections. He had two important exhibitions in 1972 and 1984 at the Crafts Centre, London, and a retrospective at Contemporary Applied Arts in 2016. He also exhibited internationally, in Sweden and in Germany.
I first met Richard in the 1970s when I visited him after having worked and studied with Michael Cardew. I had hoped that I might work for him, to gain further experience. I was impressed by Richard; he was a seriously committed potter and I much admired the pots that he made. After some friendly chat, I asked if I could work for him for a few months. “Oh no,” he said, “I do it all on my own.” And that was how it remained for the rest of his life, apart from occasional help from Thiébault Chagué and Reuben, his youngest son. True to himself, Richard’s integrity is embodied in everything he made.
His love of clay was immediately apparent – mixing the clay body to his complete satisfaction. Repetition throwing on the wheel was an extension of that creativity which refreshed and fulfilled him throughout his life. He made it all look so simple, as any Master Craftsman does.
Refining forms, slips and glazes, introducing a cobalt blue brush mark on a rim, or chatter marks inside a bowl – all these meticulous details were carefully considered, and anything new would go back to his own house to be closely observed, and used. Consistency in his technique was of paramount importance to him, as were the small differences in form and decoration that evolved, and so pleased him. Richard’s pots have that quality which makes us want to go back to them time and time again – they quietly speak to us. Each functional piece that he made is a joy to use, perfectly formed and finessed.
Richard had his own ideas on many subjects. For example, how people get involved with pots – by using them – and thus to his mind meeting him half-way by appreciating them. He was a profound thinker, and listened as attentively. The joy he derived from making, the love that went into his work and his keen interest in people all contributed to his philosophy of human behaviour, and his pots also represent this breadth of interests.
He kept his “acorns” in the “Holy of Holies.” We would laugh about that, and go and have a look from time to time and as he picked up a pot his smile broadened. He loved re-connecting with his earlier work. Exhibitions for him were an opportunity to take stock of the best of his work to date – from that point he could then move on and keep improving. It never occurred to him to stamp his work – why would he need to? His pots could not have been made by anyone else.
Time spent talking to Richard was always rewarding and illuminating, and his friendship was warm and compassionate. He deeply admired Michael Cardew, and kept abreast of what was going on in the pottery world – without moving from Durweston. I visited him regularly over forty years – to see him, to discuss many aspects of pottery and to choose pots for the next London exhibition that I was curating. (I often took with me, as a gift, his favourites – oxtail stew and plum crumble.)
It took me years to persuade him that it would be a good idea to make a film about him and his life’s work. “Who on earth would want to watch it?” he asked. The film that the Joanna Bird Foundation made with Alex J. Wright was finally released in 2017 and in the event he was very pleased with it.
I often heard him say to me – “Well, you just have to get on with it, don’t you!”
Richard remains an inspiration for us all. He was a true friend and an impressive character; self-assured through self-reliance and self-belief, yet warm in his heartfelt approach to life.
Of all the giants I have known, he was the gentlest.
There will be an exhibition,“Richard Batterham Studio Potter,” at the V&A from 26th November 2021 – September 2022 in Room 146. The exhibition will be accompanied by a publication later in the year. Richard would have wanted his work to inspire forthcoming generations of potters.
A Brief Film about Pippin Drysdale and her Studio Practice
Steffen Dam’s commission for RAMM ‘Specimens from an Imaginary Voyage’
Steffen Dam speaks with authority about his process and work in this video by Gillian Taylor. ‘Specimens from an Imaginary Voyage’ presents a body of work made exclusively for RAMM’s major Summer 2017 exhibition ‘Sea Life: Glimpses of the Wonderful’.
Film by Gillian Taylor for Royal Albert Memorial Museum & Art Gallery, Exeter. This commission was facilitated by Joanna Bird.