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They were on offer in Lawrences’ sale held in Crewkerne, Somerset, estimated at £600-1000. After a strong contest among phone bidders the lot sold for £3400 (plus 22% buyer’s premium) on October 11.

The buyer has now been revealed as the Crafts Study Centre Museum in Farnham, Surrey.

Consigned for sale by his adopted son Maurice Leach, the letters – about 35 in total - were written by Bernard to Laurie Cookes, who became his second wife, in 1934-35 while spending a year in Japan.

In 1934 Bernard was invited to Japan as a guest of the National Craft Society and went out with his friend, the American artist Mark Tobey. Bernard stayed for a year and held several exhibitions of his work, both drawings and pots in Japan and Korea. In 1935 he returned to Dartington and St Ives and later in 1944 married Laurie Cookes. The archive had been passed to Maurice, the adopted son of Bernard and Laurie who originally was an infant evacuee during the war.

Informal insight

The letters are personal in parts and also discuss his day-to-day life in Japan at that time. The letters were punctuated with a variety of drawings and give a rare and informal insight into the ‘Father of Studio Pottery’.

They discuss life in Japan at that time, and are addressed from places such as Hiroshima, Kyoto, and Tokyo (one sent from Colombo). Some include designs for pottery. One letter dated 1935 has a variety of drawings of pottery and says: “These days have simply been full of potting, yesterday and the day before 200 slip decorations each.”

This lot also includes a long letter from Michael Cardew to Bernard Leach in 1938 (on Winchcombe Pottery paper) which starts “Dear Leach”, a Leach Pottery catalogue from 1954, and some photographs of Dartington Hall and Leach (camera study by Stuart Black, Torquay).

Lawrences auctioneer Simon Jones said: “This was a really intriguing group of letters and it was a pleasure to look through them. We are delighted they have been purchased by the Crafts Study Centre, so that they can continue to be seen and used for research in the future.”

Leach panels sell

Bernard Leach is often referred to as the ‘father of British studio pottery’ and prices for his work reflect that stature. On October 2 at Christie’s Un/Breakable auction in London two tile panels by him c.1930 sold for £42,000 (plus 25% buyer’s premium) against an estimate of £30,000-50,000.

For more details about Leach and the wider studio pottery market see ATG’s recent special report on the market.

Janet Leach provenance

Meanwhile, an interesting selection of Bernard Leach drawings given by his wife Janet Leach (she became his third wife in 1955) to the vendor are on offer at a Cornish saleroom on October 25.

WH Lane & Son has three drawings for sale. Estimated at £600-900, one shows plate designs in sepia ink and blue Biro on paper, 6 x 10in (16 x 25cm). Another, guided at £400-600, is for a vase design, Blue Biro on paper, signed with initials, annotated and dated 1962, 7 x 5in (18 x 13cm).

The other, indistinctly titled lower left, shows a Japanese hillside, sepia ink on paper, 2.75 x 5.5in (7 x 14cm). It is estimated at £400-600.