Tribute to Simon Olding and Lady Carol Holland

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Professor Simon Olding, Director of the Crafts Study Centre who was for many years a Chair of Trustees at the Leach Pottery. At the same time we wanted to pay tribute to another key figure, Lady Carol Holland, who also committed a huge amount of time into the saving and restoration of the Leach Pottery who we lost recently.

Professor Simon Olding

Simon was a Leach Pottery Trustee from 2010 to 2018 and Chair of Trustees for several years. Recently he wrote to the Director saying “Working with you and colleagues at the Leach Pottery has been a highlight of my 20 years at the CSC.”

Simon joined the University for the Creative Arts in the year 2002 as Director, becoming Professor of Modern Crafts in 2004.

Simon held many senior roles in museums, galleries and art organisations since starting his career at Glasgow Museums and Art Gallery in 1979. This included working as a specialist ceramics curator, as a museum director (Russell-Cotes Art Gallery and Museum, Bournemouth) as well as periods in agency and advisory work (London Museums Officer and Assistant Director, Area Museums Service for South Eastern England) and as Director of Policy and Research for the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Simon was at the helm of the Crafts Study Centre since its move to Farnham from Bath in the early 2000s. During this time, he has established a vibrant exhibitions programme, working with leading artist-makers to put on shows featuring the best of contemporary craft as well as exhibitions which draw on the CSC’s own collections.

As well as teaching BA and MA students, Simon supervised many PhD students researching craft and related subjects, passing on his skill and learning to the next generation of craft researchers. His own research has focussed on 20th century and contemporary studio ceramics, and the history of craft organisations and of craft practice and guilds located in south-west England. He was a prolific writer, regularly writing reviews, essays and forewords, and in recent years published books on the etchings of Bernard Leach and Leach’s own collection of ceramics. He played a large role in the wider crafts sector and held many trusteeships and board positions throughout his career, including President of the Walford Mill Crafts Centre and Chair of The Leach Pottery.

Greta Bertram, CSC Curator said on his recent retirement: “Simon has been an incredible colleague, a wonderful boss and a great friend to so many of us during his time at the Crafts Study Centre and it won’t be the same without him.”

Matthew Tyas, Leach Pottery Curator, said: “Working with Simon has been an insightful pleasure – from his thoughtful contributions and guidance as Trustee and Chair, to working together on publications and symposiums, Simon brought a rich ever-evolving knowledge coupled with great diligence and professionalism. His understanding of ‘Leach’, in its most specific and also broadest senses, was most formidable. This, allied with a breadth of knowledge about the arts and crafts, would elucidate histories and ideas for our audiences and create the possibilities for new understandings. Thank you, Simon, for all your work and support over the years.”

Lady Carol Holland MBE

Many were saddened to learn of the death of Lady Carol Holland MBE who died peacefully at home on 17th October 2022. A champion of the arts in St Ives since the late 1980s, she was 83.

Born Carol Challen and raised in London during the Blitz, her family relocated to Dublin where she attended the city’s best girl’s school, Alexandra College, then won a scholarship to Trinity College which launched a distinguished university career. A student of English and French, at the end of her second year she won a further scholarship and was the only Modern Languages scholar that year. At Trinity she became the editor of the university newspaper, leaving university with a first class degree.

Carol met her future husband Geoffrey Holland when they were both considering Civil Service careers. Carol, however, chose to work for Shell where there was an opportunity to work on the corporate newspaper.

Carol worked for Shell for several years, and also had time to sing for the London Choral Society before moving to work for Arthritis Care and exercised her talents to building Arthritis News into a substantial publication for the charity. Her work for the disabled was recognised with an MBE.

Carol and Geoffrey spent many walking holidays in Cornwall and came to love the county. At a service of thanksgiving for her life held at St John’s in the Fields, St. Ives, her brother David recalled: “In time the love of St Ives, in particular, attracted them to set up home here. The appeal was not just the geography of the region but also their increasing fascination with its art. This has resulted in what will be their enduring legacy in support of the arts in Cornwall. Carol was herself a talented amateur painter but, typically, she let it dwindle as she did not feel she was good enough.”

The couple moved to Carbis Bay in 1988 having purchased Little Parc Owles which had previously been the home of the artist Margaret Mellis and Adrian Stokes then later Peter Lanyon and his family.

Following the Tate Millbank St Ives 1939 – 64 exhibition of 1985 there was renewed interest in St Ives art. The idea of a ‘Tate of the West’ began to be talked about, although few at the time thought is a possibility. Reading an article about the idea in the St Ives Times & Echo Carol expressed interest and was invited to attend the very first meeting of the St Ives Gallery Steering group at County Hall in 1988. Living locally she was also invited to be the president of The St Ives Tate Action Group (STAG) which fundraised for the new gallery which, in 1993, became Tate St Ives. Following the dissolution of STAG, Carol remained close to Tate becoming Chairman of the Friends of Tate Gallery, St Ives and a member of the St Ives Tate Advisory Council. However, other major art projects were looming large on her agenda.

In 2008, Carol received an Honorary Fellowship from University College Falmouth for her contribution to the arts in Cornwall. Before turning her attention to the School of Painting where Carol managed the transition from a small but much loved art school to a larger and more professional organisation.

In 2002, Geoffrey and Carol launched their own arts education Trust. The Little Parc Owles Trust was set up to support projects and events that engage audiences of all ages and backgrounds with the Fine and Applied Arts in Cornwall.

In 2003 Carol became Chairman of the Leach Pottery Restoration Project. Carol was a fantastic advocate for the Leach Pottery and was instrumental in the setting up of the Bernard Leach (St Ives) Trust which was able to save the pottery from being lost forever. She worked tirelessly for many years to see the development of the pottery into a museum thereby safeguarding the site and its legacy.

Carol’s life in the town, with its great art heritage, was summed up by a local activist and often a chairman of many important arts projects in Cornwall, Ross Williams who said: “Carol was a great force for good in St Ives.”

John Bedding, Honorary Potter at the Leach Potter wrote;
“It was a great experience working with Carol through the six years of the “Leach Restoration Project” and beyond. As Chairman she led us with her enormous energy and passion. She kept our spirits up when the task looked too great, and celebrated with us in our successes. To deliver successfully this project was for me one of her crowning achievements, as it saved a historic and internationally significant site for the town, and for the “Studio Pottery” community. Throughout the process I gained enormous respect for Carol and came to regard her as one of my friends, and both I and the St Ives community have lost a friend and great champion of good causes.”

Prepared with extracts from an obituary from The St Ives Times & Echo, Friday 4th November 2022.

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