craft&design November/December 2012
craft&design November/December 2012
or nearly 50 years, the Harrow Studio Pottery Course trained some of the world’s ﬁnestceramicists, transforming a poorly equippedevening class into an internationally respected degree course. Christie Brown, JaniceTchalenko, Richard Slee and Kyra Cane are just afew talents who studied or taught at Harrow.Despite this, the course sadly closed down after itsﬁnal graduation this summer. But why was Harrowso inﬂuential? Why did such a promising hub close?Founded by Victor Margie and Mick Casson in1963, the Harrow Studio pottery course aimed totrain students to be fully independent potters, whocould set up their own workshops. It was unlike any other ﬁne arts course at the time, focusing onteaching ‘hands-on’ skills - kiln buildingwith scavenged materials, productionthrowing and clay sourcing. It was theethical optimism of the 1960s; the potter’slife and his connection with nature wereseen as a meaningful alternative toestablished careers.V&A Ceramics and Glass curator AlunGraves describes Harrow’s distinctivesubculture, “...its emphasis onimprovised technology and creativesalvage was a form of personalempowerment, the possibility to liveoutside the system”
.There was great camaraderie andenthusiasm, reﬂected by a strong workethic. Hours were often long and studentswere known to sneak outdoors to do extraﬁrings after dark.By the 1970s, Harrow’s reputation(especially in throwing) attracted studentsworldwide, from the US and Australia toEurope. Upon graduation many studentswere immediately employed as throwingtutors (Walter Keeler, for example) atHarrow and respected schools like theRoyal College of Art.Since the 1980s, the ceramics market,its cultural and social climate haschanged dramatically. The course hasalways adapted, ensuring students keptahead of the times, beyond making itself - understanding the importance of critical thinking, developing anindividual artistic identity, intersecting
By Christina Lai
and experimenting with concepts and professionalpractice.Harrow wasn’t simply about preparing ceramiccareers. For many staff and students, it was alife-changing decision which impacted their lives inunexpected ways forever. Carys Davies left her jobof 18 years as programmer at IBM to study atHarrow in 2004. “Disillusioned” by the “virtualiseddisconnection between people and things” of her job, she found Harrow’s “Reﬂection through Action”approach deeply rewarding. “It challenged studentsto develop and balance synthetic and analyticskills”, as well as “stamina, persistence, and theneed to test over-optimistic assumptions – aboutmaterials, technology and fellow students”
. Inessence, she rediscovered fundamental principleswhich she believes prepares people to work betterin many ﬁelds.
What reasons contributed to its closure?
In 2008, following a brief consultation, a decisionwas made by the university to shut down the course,due to rising costs. This provoked a huge publicoutcry; from ex-students, staff and prominentindustry ﬁgures, resulting in a Number 10 petitionsigned by over 1000, which proved futile. Ceramicscourses have always required space, equipment andstaff. With the falling demand of pottery as a degreesubject, it was deemed “currently unsustainable”
.Lawrence Epps, who graduated in 2011, believes theclosure reﬂects a “political move towards valuingeducation primarily in relation to potential futureearnings of graduates as opposed to education as aworthwhile and valuable end in itself.” In July 2010,Business Secretary Vince Cable announced thestate’s plans to focus on teaching STEM subjects(Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics),which offered high public and social return
.In the 21st century world of speed, technology and money making, it appears the self-sufﬁcientworkshop potter is no longer a relevant, fashionableor economically viable career. This is reiterated by the Craft Council’s report earlier this year, whichfound the maker’s national average annual grossincome was less than £20,000
. While studioceramics has never been lucrative, this is in starkcomparison to the 1970s, when there was anundersupply of trained throwers to meet the publicappetite of homemade tableware. Earlier in 2011,the Crafts Council released sobering ﬁndings across