|Ray Finch and Functional Matthew Partington|
This section was prompted by Finch's description of the word 'useful' as English, (no.6). Using audio recordings of Finch and other potters, we can look at Englishness in relation to Finch's approach to pottery and his lifestyle as a country potter.
'The Hard and the Soft'
The Newland interview includes several references to his idea that the Germans and French are structured, hard and organised whilst the English are soft and natural.32
It is perhaps no coincidence that Hale interrupts Finch when he is explaining why 'useful' is a better word than 'functional'. She suggests that useful is 'softer': the very term Newland used when she interviewed him for NEVAC three months earlier. Hale said functional and then when Finch corrected her, saying he prefers 'useful', she suggested it is a 'softer' word. The implication is that functional is a 'hard' word. Hale has introduced the analogy of English as soft and Europe as hard via an earlier interview with Newland. Finch's and Hale's words then become inextricably linked with another interview at another time, in another context
In his poem 'The Rolling English
Drunkard', G.K Chesterton is alluding to the sense that England is unplanned,
it has grown organically and continues to do so despite the Romans and
their roads and the rational orderliness of modern Europe. Finch was influenced
by Chesterton and his ally Eric Gill, and it seems throughout the interview
that Finch shared their sense of Englishness and the resonance their views
had in the early part of the twentieth century, as Modernism swept through
Europe. In their anti-industry attitude, discussed in detail in Martin
J.Weiner's book, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial
Spirit 1850-1980, they are championing a return to the land and manual
labour and away from the structured world of the machine.
A further interview in the
archive, recorded in May 1994, reinforces the perception of England as
natural and Europe as ordered. The potter Sidney Tustin, (who worked at
Winchcombe Pottery for over fifty years with both Cardew and Finch), describes
why he preferred Cardew's English pots to the ones he made in Africa:
Tustin equates the flowing, curving line of the full belly of Cardew's English slipware with the angular lines of the stoneware pots he made in Africa. He calls that abruptness or angularity, 'continental': a derogatory term in Tustin's language. His final analogy is that the English pots were alive whilst the ones he saw as continental were 'dead'.
Both Finch and Tustin remained at Winchcombe throughout their working lives, making pots in the Cardew tradition whilst Cardew worked in Africa and elsewhere. Cardew himself wrote that his pots, 'are very rustic and very country, the very antithesis of city pots it's a matter of the difference of temperament between porcelain people and earthenware people ... at heart I'm an earthenware potter.'34 Cardew, Finch and Tustin shared a common goal in making useful pots in the English tradition and the language of all three shares a common sense of England as natural - in opposition to the formality of the continent, and by association, the city and the machine.
The Lifestyle of the Country Potter
Finch happily reminisces about poaching with Sid Tustin,36 and bemoans the comparative violence and widespread nature of crime today. His view of England is perfectly summed up in Alun Howkins description of England's perceived rural image:
Finch is aware that he is harking back to the past, not least when he proclaims, 'Cheltenham has got so big now and noisy and so on. I'm speaking like an old man aren't I?'38 Despite this, his language throughout the interview is that of a man who considers an organic, rural society as the 'real' one. Whilst having been interested in the organic, back-to-the-land movement, he admits that it was an 'impossible dream'.39 It is in his pride at the success of Winchcombe Pottery, (which continues to make, 'a wide range of hand-thrown stoneware pots for domestic use'), that one can see the fulfillment of Finch's English pottery ideal.
31. NEVAC (National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts), audio interview with William Newland, 26 January 1994, NEVAC no.AC 783 (side 2), 00:31:22 - 00:34:58. back to article
32. NEVAC (National Electronic and Video Archive of the Crafts), audio interview with William Newland, 26 January 1994, NEVAC no.AC120 (side 2), 00:16:53, Newland:
33. NEVAC no.AC 135 (side 2), 00:03:12-00:04:15. back to article
34. Len Dutton, 'Michael Cardew at 75', Ceramic Review, no.40, July/August 1976, p.9. back to article
35. NEVAC no.AC 77, p.17 & p.65 of transcript. back to article
36. NEVAC no.AC 77, p.26 & p.78 of transcript. back to article
37. Alun Howkins, 'The Discovery of Rural England', in Robert Colls and Philip Dodd (eds.) Englishness: Politics and Culture (1880-1920), London, Croom Helm, 1986, p.63. back to article
38. NEVAC no.AC 77, p.17 of transcript. back to article
39. NEVAC no.AC 77, p.66 of transcript. back to article
|Ray Finch and Functional Issue 1|