issue 6

Articles & Reviews


Obituary: Alan Barrett Danes


Alan Barrett-DanesAlan Barrett-Danes, who has died at the age of sixty-nine, will be remembered as both an inspirational teacher of ceramics and as a maker of the highest order. He belonged to that generation of people who revolutionised ceramics as a discipline in the 1960s and 1970s, expanding the range of practice beyond that of pottery making and opening up the medium to a new set of expressive possibilities.

Although he was innovative and curious as an artist, always experimenting with glazes, surfaces and forms, he never lost touch with his pottery roots. He came from a long established family of artisan potters and could trace his ancestry at least as far back as the 1830s and to Thomas Baker, a potter living at Hoo, near Rochester In Kent. He was particularly proud of the achievements of his grandfather, Edward Baker, who eventually bought and ran the Upchurch Pottery, and he spent time there as a teenager carrying out some of the many menial tasks that were required in a working pottery of that kind.

Alan's ambitions, however, went beyond what was available in the family firm and he became a student of ceramics, first at Medway College of Art and then at Stoke on Trent. He stayed in Stoke for a few years working in the ceramics industry and this gave him a thorough grounding in the principles of ceramic design and glaze technology. In the mid sixties he came to teach in what was then Cardiff College of Art and he stayed on for nearly thirty years, eventually retiring from UWIC in 1991. As a teacher he was much respected both for his extensive technical knowledge and for the way that he was able to encourage students to put such knowledge to creative use. He was also a person who cared deeply for the welfare of those in his charge and many past students have cause to be grateful for the gentle way in which he encouraged and supported them through their studies.

In 1962 he married Ruth, who was herself a ceramicist and printmaker and together they enjoyed a long period of artistic collaboration, producing a range of powerful figurative work in the 1970s and 1980s that was unlike anything else being produced at the time. They achieved considerable success, with their work featured in many exhibitions and publications. In recent years Alan had returned to pottery making, throwing pots again on the potter's wheel. He was a consummate ceramicist, having the background and the range of skills required to produce work in any style or process, although it was a mark of the man that his work was never just a vehicle for showing off his considerable talents but was always made in response to genuine artistic concerns.

He lived happily with his family for many years in Abergavenny, in a house with a large, lovingly attended garden; Ruth looked after the flowers and Alan grew the vegetables. He is survived by Ruth, by his sons Simon and Jonathan and by his three grandchildren. Jonathan is following in his father's footsteps in establishing a successful career for himself as a maker of ceramics.

Alan Barrett-Danes, born Rainham, Medway, 20 February 1935, died the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, 12 October 2004.

1 Lidded pot by Alan Barrett Danes with 'hare' decoration by Ruth Barrett Danes.

1 Lidded pot by Alan Barrett Danes with ‘hare’ decoration by Ruth Barrett Danes.

2 Alan Barrett Danes in the ceramics department at Cardiff, mid 1970s.

2 Alan Barrett Danes in the ceramics department at Cardiff, mid 1970s.

4 Lidded jar by Alan Barrett Danes.

4 Lidded jar by Alan Barrett Danes.

5 'Predator Pot', Ruth and Alan Barrett Danes, porcelain 1979.

5 ‘Predator Pot’, Ruth and Alan Barrett Danes, porcelain 1979.

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Obituary: Alan Barret-Danes • Issue 6