William Marshall – pottery master

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I admired the pots of William Marshall long before I had the pleasure of meeting him, on several occasions, during my regular springtime trips down to St. Ives in the late 1990s. William Marshall, usually referred to as Bill, was born in St. Ives and taken on as the first apprentice at the Leach Pottery in 1938 when 14 years old, straight from the local school. However, Bill was even then quite well versed in art and culture. His grandparents were live in servants in London and Bill told me of visiting and staying with them during his school holidays and being allowed to peruse the books in the library of the house. That with the consent of the owner, who seemed delighted that a young country boy had an interest in such things.

Bill Marshall: 59 cm. tall stoneware vase with hakeme glaze decoration.
59 cm. tall stoneware vase with hakeme glaze decoration.
Bill Marshall: 43cm tall stoneware vase with glaze splashes.
43cm tall stoneware vase with glaze splashes.

Other than when he was conscripted during the Second World War, Bill remained at the Leach Pottery until his retirement in 1977. Originally trained by David Leach, he worked alongside David and then from 1955 with Bernard Leach. He become the senior craftsman, foreman and thrower of most of the outstanding pots made at the Leach Pottery from 1960 onwards, even if some were not marked with his own personal seal.

Besides being an exceptional thrower, I believe that it was Bill’s inquisitive nature and willingness to absorb influences from many sources that made him the superb artist and craftsman that he became. Certainly, his pots showed influences of David and Bernard Leach but I think, more importantly, they showed a considerable affection for Japanese pottery and the Japanese potters that he met and worked with, such as Shoji Hamada and his son, Atsuya Hamada. Although a quiet man, he was undoubtedly a deep thinker and a man of integrity.

Upon his retirement and until his death in 2007, Bill continued to make pots at his home in Lelant, a few miles from St. Ives, where he had his own two chambered wood and oil-fired kiln built with the help of his son, Andrew, who is himself a potter. During this period galleries and collectors alike were always asking him to make more pots and fire his kiln more often. However, as Bill said, making pots had been his job throughout his working life and in his retirement, he wanted to relax and do other things that interested him. This meant that he spent much of his time fishing and, as he regretted the loss of many trees in the area around St. Ives during his lifetime, he would also grow tree seedlings and when of sufficient height plant them where he remembered trees used to be when he was a child.

Bill Marshall: Teabowl and tenmoku with green glaze vase.
Teabowl and tenmoku with green glaze vase.

This post was originally written to accompany a Harlequin gallery exhibition that took place in August 2017 and has been updated to include images of work by Bill that will be included in the Anniversary exhibition that begins on Friday 1st March 2019.

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