Cornish Ceramics

West Cornwall is one of the principal centres of the arts, having been home to the Newlyn school of painters, and such contemporary artists as John Miller. It was also the home of Newlyn Copper and in the 20th century sculptors of the calibre of Dame Barbara Hepworth and the father of British studio pottery, Bernard Leach.

This area was also home to four small but highly collectable studio potteries, culminating in a period in the 1970s when they were all situated in the small fishing town of Newlyn. They were Celtic, Leaper, Tremaen and Troika. Whilst the market for Troika and Celtic is fairly well established nowadays, prices for the two lesser known potteries of Tremaen and Leaper can vary considerably in price.

The three founders of Troika were Leslie Illsley, Benny Sirota and Jan Thompson (a Swedish architect and sleeping partner for a couple of years).  The talents of Benny and Leslie were complimentary, combining a knowledge of ceramics and glazes with an artistic and sculptural leaning.  The resulting type of wear soon found a niche market being sold through the London department store of Heals and in the same year that Troika was founded some of their pieces were included in a small exhibition at the Egyptian House in Penzance.

Much Troika production was rough-textured and most people will be familiar with the rugged and angular pieces such as ‘coffin’ and ‘wheel’ vases, lamp bases, the Troika ‘mask’ and ‘chimney’ vases.  Troika also made items such as tiles and smooth and boldly shaped pieces ranging from table ashtrays to abstract sculptural statements.  At David Lay Auctions in Penzance in 1998 a slipcast sculptural rectangular block, depicting the forearms and hands of Isobel Roberts made £2,000 whilst a ‘helmet’ lamp made £720.

The pottery was forced to move to Newlyn in 1970 and like Celtic its working premises were former fish cellars.  Production expanded throughout the 1970s but for various reasons, not least economic recession, the pottery closed in December of 1983.  Considering its short lifespan of some 20 years it has left a prominent mark upon the ceramics collection scene.

Troika always emphasised the sculptural side of functional items such as the lamp base, which was also very popular with Tremaen, who produced hundreds of different examples of lamp bases, ranging from large torso shaped glazed pieces to quite small and rugged examples.  With their mainly hessian shades made in India, they are a ‘must have’ for those into collecting 1970s style.

The pottery was established by Peter Ellery (who was educated at Bath College of Art) around 1965 in nearby Marazion and relocated to Newlyn in the late 1960s.  The pottery also used to retail its wares through the Tremaen shop in Penzance.  The pottery closed in 1988 and Peter Ellery died in 1997.

Celtic pottery was established in the mid 1960s in a fishing village just along the coast from Newlyn.  It was founded by Bill and Maggi Fisher and its best known for its Celtic ‘Folk’ range.  Celtic pottery later moved to Newlyn and joined up with Gwavas Pottery and the ‘Medalllion’ range was put into production.  Both are popular with collectors but the ‘Folk’ range is the bolder of the two designs and tends to command higher prices.  Horses and birds are commonly found as the background decoration on the pieces of Celtic ‘Folk’; more sought after are those which depict bulls and boats, which are harder to find.

Animal figures by Celtic are very popular such as bulls, horses and cats and Celtic also made lamp bases, bowls, vases, tiles, teapots and goblets.  The Celtic backstamp is a stuck on label.

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