Alexandra Lambley

Mingei and its Transnational Reception: The Translation and Appropriation of Mingei Theory and Practice by Bernard Leach’s four Vancouver Apprentices (1958-1979)

Potter Bernard Leach (1887–1979) stated, towards the end of his life, that he had ‘a hope of something in Canada.’[1] He was referring to the establishment in British Columbia of a studio pottery movement rooted in Mingei (folk craft) theory and practice, by his four Canadian apprentices, John Reeve (who apprenticed at the Leach Pottery, St. Ives from 1958-61), Glenn Lewis (1961-63), Mick Henry (1963-65) and Ian Steele (1963-65), all graduates of the Vancouver School of Art (the VSA). This thesis explores Leach’s role in disseminating Mingei theory and practice transnationally, and evaluates the multiple and differing receptions of Mingei and ensuing transcultural issues, with a particular focus on south west England and west Canada, specifically St. Ives and Vancouver. In 1920 St. Ives, it was late Arts and Crafts that attracted Leach with his Mingei sensibilities to establish a pottery in the town. In the case of Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s, it was Vancouver’s long standing cultural relationship with St. Ives but also the contemporaneous North American counter culture and associated Zen Buddhism, that sparked an interest in Leach and Mingei.

This research project considers the differing translations and appropriations of Mingei theory and practice by the four apprentices, their counterparts and students in the context of postcolonial, multicultural Vancouver and its environs. It draws on multiple narratives from: primary material uncovered through archival research, as well as extensive oral history interviews carried out by Lambley; secondary material (monographs, academic articles, theses, exhibition catalogues); as well as studio, museum and gallery visits to view and handle relevant pots.

[1] Leach 1975: An Interview with Marty Gross. London: British Library.