This article is concerned
with one craftsman's understanding of the word 'functional'. Using an
audio interview of the potter Ray Finch, in which he voices his 'hatred'
for the word 'functional', the article looks at the various discourses
surrounding function, which are suggested by Finch's words. The areas
- Winchcombe Pottery and
- The Mingei philosophy
of the unknown craftsman.
- The making of production
wares and one-off pots.
- The class system and the
experiences of Sidney Tustin at Winchcombe.
- The influence of Chesterton,
Gill and the Distributist movement on Finch and Cardew.
- Englishness and the pottery
of Finch and Cardew.
- The lifestyle of 'The
This article begins with
a 1 minute 50 seconds fragment of a 5 hour interview. The fragment was
chosen because it addresses several important issues in twentieth century
sets the quote in the context of the whole of the Finch interview and
other interviews from the National Electronic and Video Archive of the
Crafts, (NEVAC). The methodology is to begin by looking at these few words
spoken by Finch, before discussing at length the wider craft discourses1
that are suggested by his words.
begins by looking at Finch's and Cardew's philosophy, examines the influence
of Eric Gill and GK Chesterton upon Finch and Cardew, asks what the word
function means to Finch and looks at the importance of his use of the
word English and his lifestyle as a country potter. The article does not
look at function as part of the modernist debate throughout Europe,2
rather it looks at function, modernism and Englishness through the very
particular lens of the interview with Finch.
This section of
transcript comes from an interview conducted in 1994 for NEVAC. The respondent
is Ray Finch, (born 1914), a potter who began his working life atWinchcombe
Pottery in 1935. Throughout the interview he discusses Michael Cardew
(1901-1983), the founder of Winchcombe Pottery, in its twentieth century
incarnation, and one of the major figures in English studio pottery. Finch
bought the pottery from Cardew in 1946 and it continues to this day to
produce, 'a wide range of hand-thrown stoneware pots for domestic use.'3
The interviewer is Anna Hale, an archivist from the University of Wales
at Aberystwyth. The interview was conducted at Finch's house, next door
to the pottery. (Each individual utterance is numbered to make it clear
in the paper, which is being discussed).
Can we talk a little
how Cardew evaluated what was good and how you umm,
how he communicated that to you, you know?
Well, I think
I think his essential philosophy was that potters
made things for use. You know that he said somewhere that 'my chief
inspiration in making pots is the idea that they should be used',
and that's, that was really the essential thing ...
To the function?
Yes, well not 'functional', I hate that word really. I much prefer
'useful'. I think it's a
English word and that's what he, I don't ever remember him talking
about things being 'functional' but certainly about things being
useful and all he made, really, related to that and no question
about it. I mean, he used to make big cider jars and things but
they still were useful pots you see, and big plates and
did make pots for flowers but then that's a perfectly legitimate
It is important to begin by
contextualising the quote itself. Ray Finch was interviewed over a period
of five hours by the experienced archive interviewer, Anna Hale. In totality
the interview touches upon Finch's youth, how he came to take up pottery,
his beliefs (both spiritual and social), his relationship with Cardew,
his family life and the history of Winchcombe Pottery.
up by Janine Partington from original hand-written manuscript
Before analysing the ideas
suggested by the quote, I will look at each part of the quote in detail
in order to identify the discourses suggested by the words.
- Hale begins by asking
Finch how Cardew evaluated what was good, (presumably in pottery terms),
and how he communicated that to Finch. She has identified an area of
Finch's experience that she wants to explore. She is searching for testimony.
- Finch replies by trying
to sum up Cardew's approach by describing his 'essential philosophy'.
He does this by the basic definition that 'potters made things for use',
and then goes on to quote Cardew. The quote is Cardew saying that his
major inspiration for making pots is that they will be used. Finch is
trying to give the essence of Cardew's approach. By quoting Cardew,
Finch is answering Hale's question by using Cardew's voice.
- Hale interposes with 'to
the function'. This doesn't work well grammatically but it is apparent
that she means, 'the function'. She uses it as a prompt to Finch, who
pauses regularly throughout the interview and is notable for the economy
of his replies.
- Finch begins by agreeing
but quickly checks himself by saying 'I hate that word really'. It is
the only time in the whole interview that he uses such a strong word.
Consequently, it draws our attention to this part of the transcript
as being of particular interest. He says that he prefers 'useful' as
a better English word. He doesn't recall Cardew ever using the word
functional, rather about things being useful. At this point Finch again
uses his 'master's' voice. He has been talking about his own dislike
for the word function but qualifies that by stating that Cardew never
used that word.
- Hale uses the words 'it's
softer' to prompt Finch. She has associated the word functional with
hardness and before Finch has mentioned England, she has defined the
word useful as 'softer'. She says these words over the top of Finch's
- Finally, he discusses
the larger pots Cardew made. This is presumably because he is aware
that a criticism was often made of Cardew that his big pots were too
big or expensive to be used by their buyers. His language at this point
is defensive and therefore addresses the criticisms: 'He used to make
big cider jars and things but they were still useful pots you see
he did make pots for flowers but then that's a perfectly legitimate
use' (my emphasis).
analysis of the text I have identified the following as key words and
address each in the article5:
These words represent the
topics discussed above: numbers 1 and 2 cover Cardew's 'philosophy' for
making pots, numbers 3 and 4 cover 'function' and 'useful' and numbers
5 and 6 cover 'English' and continue the discussion of function and use.
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The meaning of the term discourse has been stretched to the point
of imprecision in recent years. Vivien Burr defines discourse as follows:
'Surrounding any one object, event, person etc., there may be a variety
of different discourses, each with a different story to tell about the
object in question, a different way of representing it to the world.'
(Vivien Burr, An Introduction to Social Constructionism, London,
Routledge, 1995, p.48). In this essay I identify several major discourses,
which offer a particular model of the crafts world.
This article looks specifically at Finch's words and what they mean. Therefore
the debate around European Modernism is touched upon but is too wide a
research area to be discussed in detail. back
Winchcombe Pottery promotional leaflet, 1999. The leaflet was designed
by Nina Davis in 1976. See Ron Wheeler, Winchcombe Pottery: The Cardew-Finch
Tradition, Oxford, White Cockade Publishing, 1998, p.80, for further
NEVAC, (National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts), audio interview
with Ray Finch, owner of Winchcombe Pottery, Gloucestershire, 9 April
1994, NEVAC no.AC 77 (side 1), p.31 of transcript. The inclusion of Hale's
use of the word 'softer' did not appear in the transcript as given, rather
it was found on listening to the original tape.
There are clearly other words such as 'legitimate' that are important
words, but for the purposes of this essay, I have concentrated on these
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a fragment of an interview with the potter Ray Finch, this
article looks at his understanding of the word 'functional'.
The methodology has been to look at small elements of audio
recordings in great detail and then to work out from the words
spoken to the ideas and concepts suggested by them. Using
audio recordings from the National Electronic and Video Archive
of the Crafts, (NEVAC), it looks at Finch's philosophy, examines
the influence upon him of Michael Cardew, Eric Gill and GK
Chesterton and looks at the importance of his use of the word
'English' and his lifestyle as a country potter.
Finch, studio pottery, Englishness, function