Newly Discovered Leach Family Photograph

It’s incredibly exciting when someone shares ‘new’ photographs and documents with us. Thanks to a surprise email from Fraser Donachie and his willingness to share his postcard find with us, we have a wonderful image and story to share with you…

It is Wednesday November 24 1920. The Leach family has gathered in front of their house, 6 Draycott Terrace, St Ives overlooking the harbour and Porthminster Beach. They have been in St Ives since late September. They are joined by Shoji Hamada, who tenderly shepherds Eleanor and Michael. Bernard, great-coat-warm, holds Jessamine. Muriel, with a smile of a sanguine peace, keeps baby Betty safely propped. David sits proudly, perhaps a little shyly, between his parents.

Bernard, Jessamine, David, Muriel, Betty, Eleanor & Michael Leach with Shoji Hamada, 1920. Image with thanks to Fraser Donachie, 2021.

This is almost certainly an unpublished photograph, no doubt taken by a local photography firm. Although it was intended for distribution to friends and family it has remained a private document. It is made up as a postcard. The Leaches and Hamada are in the earliest days of their great, sometimes risk-laden, always arduous work of setting up the Leach Pottery. Mrs Frances Horne, their benefactor, lives a mile away in Carbis Bay. Hamada and Leach search for a site to set up the pottery basing ‘their economics on the studio and not the country work-shop, or, for that matter, the factory’.

The Leach Pottery, this hybrid of individual and collegiate practice, is being planned with some pace as this photograph is taken. The site is a cow pasture, settled by the Stennack River nearly a mile out of town on the main road to Penzance and Land’s End. The domestic photograph symbolises new beginnings, and the smiles are those of family pride; Hamada’s position as an ‘honorary uncle’, and the hopeful expectancy of the ceramic enterprise.

Muriel is the author of the postcard. She has written to Mr and Mrs Egbert Schenck residing at the American Consulate in Hong Kong, where Egbert was briefly American vice consul. Mr Schenk’s business position is Executive Director of F. W. Horne & Co, taking up that post in 1920. The company imports heavy American machinery and supplies to Japan, business as far away from the work of studio ceramics as one could get. Egbert, though a man of commerce and politics, is also keenly interested in the role of art in human life, and he has a strong professional interest in anthropology. Studio ceramics may not be that far off his cultural radar.

Muriel thanks them for ‘your jolly letter’. In the still moment of family poise she remarks on the relentless pace of her life: ‘I have been carried off my feet ever since we arrived and am still being whirled around at a giddy pace’. She remarks that ‘our house I believe is gruesome [but] there is a dingy bedroom which we hope will be made brighter by your occupying it’. Perhaps not the most effusive of invitations. But the adults have their hands full: of children, of the beach-sand; of clay, of business calling incessantly in the moment.

It is a photograph that sings out over a hundred years.

Simon Olding & Matthew Tyas, May 2021

With grateful thanks to Fraser Donachie who recently acquired the postcard and has generously allowed the Crafts Study Centre and the Leach Pottery to publish it as a marker of the Leach centenary.

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