Troika Pottery – A Crucible of Creativity

The small seaside town of St. Ives in Cornwall has a comparatively large artistic heritage dating back to the early 19th century. Of particular interest is its role within the development of the studio pottery movement, often posited as a central locus for proponents during the early to mid-20th century.

This most famously includes the ‘Father of British studio pottery’ Bernard Leach, who set up his Leach Pottery in the town alongside Shoji Hamada when returning from Japan in 1920. The aesthetic framework developed by Leach in the Far East was coupled with an emphasis on function and form, crafting individual works perfectly suited to a burgeoning Modernist taste.

Whilst the cutting sea air and brutalist rock formations of the Cornwall coastline served as the perfect backdrop to his innovative designs, the town would arguably become an even more deliberate theatre of creative intent when three studio potters from London (Leslie Illsley, Jan Thompson and Benny Sirota) moved to establish their Troika Pottery in 1962.

In certain respects, Troika can be viewed as an antithesis to the principles established by Leach in 1920, the former being influenced by a Modernist zeitgeist for aesthetics informed by functionality. Indeed, the initial works produced by those founding members of Troika (the name derived from the Russian for ‘set of three’) were done so in the light of a developing Post-Modernist school of thought, wherein a key tenet was a vision for pottery as pure art without regard for its use.

Within this climate, the three met with near immediate critical and commercial acclaim, this allowing them to expand their studios and attract several important designers. The venture would last for a total of twenty-one years before changing tastes and a marked decline in sales would force them out of business. During this time, two principal ranges were produced in one of the many iconic forms established by the firm, a rough textured and a smoothed glazed series of wares.

Within our upcoming Design Auction, we are delighted to be offering a small but strong collection of works by the studio, all produced from the late 1960s to the final days of pottery in 1983. To be included are pioneering forms such as the coffin, wheel and cube-shaped vases, and works by important designers including Avril Bennett, Jane Fitzgerald, and Linda Hazel.

A continued growth in the market for studio pottery, as well as a critical reassessment of Troika following a 2013 exhibition at the V&A, has rightly established their work as an important part of the canon. The nine pieces offered within our sale are presented with attractive estimates ranging from £40-250, each representing a very realistic prospect for the discerning collector to purchase a tangible piece of British design and studio pottery history at a very affordable rate.


Browse the catalogue >>

James Bruce


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