Troika Pottery

Troika pottery was first produced in the 1960s and was part of the Cornish studio pottery group that was set up in St Ives, Cornwall by Leslie Illsley and Benny Sirota. Their aim was to present pottery as an art form and their pieces often resembled architectural forms and shapes.

Whereas most studio potters made individual pots on potter’s wheels Troika produced their pieces from moulds and were therefore able to produce their pottery in greater numbers.

Troika is easily recognisable by its rough textured surface and this was produced from the mid 1960s until 1983 when Troika folded.  Troika pottery was sold by many of the expensive London stores, including Liberty of London.  Apart from the rough textured pottery Troika also produced glossy tin-glazed pieces.  This type of pottery was much more expensive to produce and demanded higher prices in the shops.  This meant that these pieces were too expensive for the general public and therefore not many pieces of this type were sold.

Early Troika pottery had textured and smooth white surfaces which represented the landscape of Cornwall and the tones, textures and motifs used were heavily influenced by the Swiss artist Paul Klee.  The initial white pieces were not above medium size and often had abstract decorations of a plain disc of dark colours.  Although most of this pottery was supposed to be decorative Troika did also make a few pieces for domestic ware, i.e. mugs, bowls and tea and coffee sets.

By the mid 197os Troika produced predominantly textured pottery, not only was this preferred by the customers but it was also easier to manufacture.  Some of the sculptureal pieces comprised two or three interlocking pieces and as the white pieces produced more ‘seconds’ it was just as well that the public preferred the textured ware.

Early Troika can look quite austere with its dark colours and it is reminiscient of Scandinavian ceramic design of that era.  The predominant colours are black, brown and dull greeny blue.  There is more colour in the later pieces and they look brighter.  Early rough textured pieces are often decorated with glossy glaze but this is rarer in the later pieces.

In 1978 the London store, Heals decided it would no longer sell studio pottery as during the recession people were not laying out large sums for decorative pottery for the home.  This meant that Troika had to rely on gift shops and they could only sell the smaller pieces.  It was now possible to buy attractive pottery that had been imported at a fraction of what you would have to pay for English studio pottery and many small potteries went out of business.  Troika finally closed in 1983.

If you want to collect Troika pottery you should search at antique fairs and car boot and jumble sales.  It is still possible to pick up a good piece at a reasonable price.  The large sculptured pieces are the most valuable and they are quite rare.  One of the pieces you are most likely to find is the coffin vase which is instantly recognisable.  Be careful of fakes, but if you know your Troika shapes and designs you should be able to spot a fake quite easily.

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. Continue reading “Cornish Ceramics”