Michael Casson – Special Suppliment
Pan Casson Henry interviewed by Moira Vincentelli
29 November 1994 and revised in April 2005
MV So what did the potters get from selling? The work was there on the basis of sale or return - did you ever give things back. Did you ever say to a potter 'Look this is just not going to sell'?
PCH Oh yes, I quite frequently said that the more confident I got, and I had been in business, although not that business, so it was a whole new world to me, but in a way business is business. I mean if you have any flair in some ways it doesn't matter what you are doing because there are certain aspects to it that you want to carry on in that way. So in those early days I used to ask David first, 'Look I want to do so and so, do you agree?'and he would say 'yes' - we couldn't be calling committee meeting every five minutes, that was ridiculous so it was he and I. I am quite sure some people thought us a couple of dictators, but if you don't have somebody at the top in a business... so yes and after a while when I had the bit between my teeth and I more or less knew what I was doing he gave me carte blanche and...
MV So you were able to direct people a bit?
PCH Of course
MV So what percentage did the Association take?
PCH I can't remember at what point - probably three years and I could see the type of work was selling best and whose work was selling better and David and I had a long talk about this and I said you know so and so's work is going really well but I can't get enough of it. Possibly because they sold in their own shop or they were getting the full amount of money in their own workshop which they wouldn't if it came to CPA because we were taking a percentage. David had the idea - he called it Pan's list - he said 'You know what is going on here, the type of work you want and the people whose work you want more' and he said 'We can approach them and maybe we can actually buy the work to sell'. So I said 'That is brilliant'. We had to call the committee and put this to them and their reaction was good and by that time we had a bit of money behind us. And I went to these potters whose work I wanted to buy, and it worked very well indeed.
MV When you bought work did you have a discount and therefore sell it at the same price?.
PCH I must admit to being 'hazy' on this after all these years but the main thing was that most pots would sell for far more in London than in a potters' studio and I was frequently advising some potters that their prices were too low. My special list for buying purposes was also popular for the quick payment they received when they brought in the pottery I had requested, and as I said previously - it worked well for sales in general.
MV Did it push up the prices?
PCH Yes but it was not so easy outside London. More potters were becoming more well known to the public, because we were helping to push this anyway, We always gave the name and address of a potter if requested. There were publications about the Association and there was more publicity. So, yes I suppose some potters work did go up in price.
MV What was the price range? What was a really expensive piece of work?
PCH Well I think, in those days, sort of £50 - that was marvellous and the mugs were very inexpensive.
MV What was their attitude to the setting up of the CPA?
PCH This is slightly dangerous ground. Because they wouldn't join we, David Canter and others, did make overtures to them. One day, a well known potter came to the shop, and I'd never met him before and I didn't know who he was when he walked in and he introduced himself and we chatted, and, because I'm a talker and he is too, we got on very well, and I made him coffee, and gave him all the treatment and he said how impressed he was. And I said as he went to go "Why don't you join us it would give us such a fillip?" And he said it was because of the non selection. But I said that was so long ago. And so I said 'Do please think about it?' And it wasn't long afterwards that he joined. The trouble is we did suffer from that non selection, as I said earlier. People got it in their minds that it was still non selection, and it wasn't and I really had to fight for that. (Oh and by the way, HE was David Leach)
MV Was Michael Cardew in it from the beginning?
PCH He was very enthusiastic for us, but of course he was in Africa. He wasn't making his own work. Every time he came over he came to see us. He gave us support.
MV What about Bernard Leach?
PCH He did become an honorary member. We were delighted that David joined, great support and gave lovely lectures. I can't remember who came next, but later on Johnny, his son joined and then Janet Leach joined.
MV What about Katharine Pleydell Bouverie?
PCH Oh, darling Beano, her nickname was Beano, She was the dearest person to me - delightful, interesting, charming one of the most wonderful women I've ever met. She gave us her support right from the early days. Her wonderful work was on the shelves from the beginning. At very modest prices. She was a naturally humble person if you like.
MV She was the kind of person who voted against selection?
PCH She was.
MV Tell me about what you remember about Beano?
PCH Well of course right from the word go, she was known for her glazes. She gave us two wonderful talks on glazes and we were packed out for those. And she was so naturally a humble person, that she used to say, 'I don't see what information I can give people but Pan if you really want me to talk I will' and of course they were terribly interesting and she'd bring all the information with her and she was very generous. She was known for her ash glazes, she used to burn all manner of things, and Lawrence Keen turned round and said 'Well you know Beano, she would have burnt down a stately home just to get the ash'.
MV What about the aristocratic background? How did it work with her humility, did she appear to have an aristocratic back ground and be well off in her own right?
PCH She was a very gallant lady, drove an ambulance in the First World War and held a rank in the Women's Auxiliary. Of course I went to her home several times - Kilmington Manor.
MV When she was living in Kilmington, she had another companion? Robin, who wasn't a potter.
PCH Robin was much younger - very pretty woman - very protective of Beano. Whereas, Beano you would never say was a pretty woman, but who cares. She had a lovely English speaking voice. In her home was the most gorgeous painting of an ancestor who had been hand maiden to Elizabeth I. And I have a photograph of Beano standing next to this, Paul and I had gone down to collect pots, and Beano had the same profile. This woman was in a red Elizabethan robe with a ruff and a hook nose like Beano had and a sort of black cap on her head. So they go back hundreds of years.
MV Beano's clothes, what kind of clothes did she wear? Was she always very casually dressed?
PCH Oh yes, no interest in clothes in that sense at all, just lovely comfortable clothes that suited her. Very straight absolutely black hair, very short and lovely big hook nose.
MV She was always very supportive of younger potters?
PCH Oh yes
MV But in the...but I suppose by then she was quite old, she wasn't taking people to train. What about Norah Braden?
PCH Norah Braden never had anything to do with CPA. She was teaching in Bournemouth and she and Beano were always very close but she often came with Beano. She'd look around and make comments. She was quite caustic. She was quite critical, had very strong views. Very strong lady.
MV What about Denise Wren and Rosemary?
PCH Denise and Rosemary Wren were always together. I don't think Rosemary ever came in to see me without her mother. They lived together, they worked together and of course they were very close. The significance of them to me was that they were two of the very few potters who were doing salt glaze. And they were known for their salt glaze, because this is all they did. It was salt glaze stoneware. Very few potters in the late '50s early '60s were doing salt glaze.
MV Were they one of the earliest?
PCH Well, salt glaze is the oldest way of glazing pots. Old hot water bottles were salt-glazed as well as drainpipes. After the war it was not fashionable. This gave their work was a certain uniqueness to the public. This was one of my roles - to let the public know more about hand-made pottery because they knew so little. They used to say what the devil is salt glaze?
MV When did Denise Wren start making the elephants?
PCH She'd always made them when I came on the scene, in '59. So probably she had been making them for years. But I particularly liked them and I was always very pleased when I sold one. Because you really had to like them to buy one, they were unusual and weird, it wasn't just an elephant, there were several elephants there and you almost had to look at it like one of those puzzles for children, when they say 'how many objects can you see in this picture?' And in the end you think, two elephants and...just a minute... there's three. .
MV Were there others making sculptural pottery?
PCH , Well Rosemary,
MV Apart from them, it was rather unusual, most people were making functional pots.
PCH Yes, There was a potter in '59 who was doing animals, but in quite a different way. Stanislas Reychan, he was Polish. They were highly glazed earthenware in bright colours. And quite different to Rosemary's animal and bird sculptures. Rosemary could make really big sculptures - all started from a small coil in the palm of her hand, and by the time she'd finished, it would be like two feet long and three feet high.
MV They were as big as that?
PCH . Oh yes they were as big as that. I remember putting an Anteater in the window of the CPA once and had to put out several shelves to get it in and it was really (spreads arms) two and half feet. And all started from a small coil in the palm of her hand.
MV What about figurative sculpture, Audrey Blackman?
PCH Well yes, she was working in stoneware unglazed. Very different again from the two potters I just mentioned.
MV But there weren't many people doing figurative work?
PCH No, I'm just trying to think back. I remember getting one or two sculptors who were a bit peeved because they were turned down. And they said 'You don't know how to look at sculpture'. We denied that of course.
MV Bill Newland? ...
PCH Bill Newland wasn't a member.
MV So there were people working in the fifties who didn't come in. Can you think of any others.
PCH Only a few of the 'high ups' Lucie Rie and Hans Coper they never joined . They did come. Good heavens if they hadn't, people would have thought why don't they, because of course their interest in ceramics and all their influence and everything. I did have a word with them, as did others. It would have been a terrific feather in our caps. They were always looked up to, but both said they did not want to join any association. Ruth Duckworth was a member. We had her sculptural work as well as her domestic ware - Wonderful, very simple shapes. beautiful ware. Cast salt and pepper pots, I never bought one myself. Harry Davis joined. Harry Davis' work was wonderful . It was wax resist decoration, very inexpensive, everything beautifully made. I have got so few pieces of his work because it was always there. One of the delights of my life was when Harry agreed to have an exhibition with us. It was always known as Crowan Pottery, and I always said 'I'll get that later', and then suddenly he left England to live in New Zealand and the lovely pottery was gone. We were so used to buying his pots - they were in other shops, not only at CPA and many of us felt deprived, wished we had bought more, but we didn't know soon enough of his and May's decision to leave. One day we were talking about Harry and one of us, can't remember who, but that doesn't matter, wondered if he would have an exhibition here in the larger premises. Considering he was well settled in New Zealand it seemed a bit of a long shot. Anyway, I phoned him, much to his surprise, and then much to my surprise, he agreed. I was overjoyed and of course it was very exciting for those of us who had admired his work for so long. I felt honoured to arrange the whole exhibition for he was such an extraordinary man in so many ways apart from being one of our finest potters.
MV Did you know May Davies?
PCH Only very slightly. It was Harry who came to London. It was Crowan Pottery, and yet we always said Harry Davis, we seldom said Harry and May. I can't think why.
MV A popular way of talking about them?
PCH It was in a way the popular way of talking about them. I dealt really with Harry and only met May a few times. She too was a wonderful and extraordinary woman.
MV Dennis Moore - can you say anything about him?
PCH Yes. He was one of the early members of course. He made stoneware and was known for his fantastic glazes. He used to get the beautiful sang de boeuf and chun glazes to name just two.
MV Was he quite an old man?
PCH He appeared to be in his sixties - but he had an oldish demeanor..
MV Tell me how you moved to the new gallery?
PCH . It came about through David, he was the one who got the ideas and he was the one that pushed us into spending money that we almost hadn't got!
MV Did you get grants?
PCH No, never, I'm very proud, we never once went cap in hand. It rankled a bit that the Crafts Centre got quite a lot of money... they got thousands of pounds. It was initially in Hay Hill, but then eventually it moved to Neal Street. Covent Garden. But it's called something else now.
So, David and I would thrash things out. David would get an idea and he would say this is what we are going to do. David and I always discussed things before we presented it to the committee. We seldom disagreed. David said one day, 'They are building a new complex behind us, building William Blake House. I have been in touch with the people behind it they are going to give priority to the shops that were there'. I asked 'Do you know how much?' and he said 'No this is the problem, I have been trying to get friendly with the lady who is in charge'. She must have been quite sympathetic to us, because we did put a tender in. I think I am right in saying not one of the committee was as confident as us, because even by putting in a low figure it was so much more than we could afford. But he was determined to get that place and he persuaded the committee to put in another a tender. They accepted it. We went back to the committee and said 'They've accepted it' and they were all amazed. And I said 'But we haven't we got the money' and David said 'No, no, I know we haven't' And of course he had this wonderful way of making it all sound so easy, and the rest is history. But he said to me when he and I again got together, 'Look Pan, I know we'll owe money when we first do it, and I want it to get it a really beautiful place, proper shelving, expensive shelving. All you have to do is raise the sales, hopefully fairly soon by 60%'. Although I'm not very good at percentages, that sounds an awful lot of work to me. '60%' said I, and he said 'Yes', and he looked at me and he said 'Do you think that is possible?' And I remember crossing both my fingers behind my back and I said 'Yes'. We got the shop and a lot of it we did ourselves again. Fate stepped in. Right opposite in Beak Street another building was being built. Before it opened, I thought I'd go up there late one night and there was a party going on. So I knocked on the door, and asked if this was a party. 'Can I ask what it is you're celebrating. Is someone taking over?' And he said 'Yes Jaeger, all the administrative staff of Jaeger'. Ah... I thought, great... dashed back home, phoned David... And I'd told them we were opening soon and they would have to wait and see what it was going to be. And it was all the staff and Jaeger, and they were of course all our new customers. So very quickly, certainly in the first year the sales were raised by more than 60%.
MV The new site, it had larger glass windows and you could up your profile. So you must have been helped, you were always in a fashionable area?
PCH We opened in 1967 and David Attenborough opened it together with Pamela Lady Glenconner, who gave one of her marvellous, witty, slightly scatty, hilarious speeches! Oh, she was such an endearing lady - we all loved her. David Attenborough had been a great friend to us.
He collected pots and had also given us a couple of super lectures when we were in Lowndes Court. The new shop had a 'fresh' look. It was so different in also most every way to a usual shop or gallery. David Canter had designed it of course and it was then quite fabulous. It was a corner site and almost adjoining were the two shop sites he had commandeered for Cranks, his vegetarian shops. The original one was in Carnaby Street. When you mentioned being helped, yes, of course it helped being in much larger premises in an up and coming area, also thanks to the Jaeger occupation opposite, we made a good start.
MV So Jaeger staff were your customers.
PCH . Yes and the flats above. People used to look down. Glass all the way round because we were on a corner site. I ran it for thirteen years and I built it up and when I left we were on the highest peak there had ever been .
MV Why did you leave?
PCH I don't think everyone understood. I had a very strong feeling that I should give it up - intuition. It was a sudden decision that I should give it up. I'd loved it for thirteen years, I'd nursed it for thirteen years and when I left it was at its busiest time.
MV What did you do?
PCH I resigned immediately - everyone was a bit thunderstruck. I had nothing to do at all. I had been at home for three weeks. David rang and asked me to come back to do the exhibitions display - once a week to do the display, because he knew that I loved that. I said let me think about it. I'll give it a try. If I weren't comfortable or the chap called Chris who was running it didn't like it, I'd stop. But he and I got on well I went back there for quite a while. I had a call from another gallery owner - who wanted help once a week, and off I went to her place and I stayed nine months. Then I said, I don't want to stay anymore. So I gave it up, and then my husband went to Canada, he was away just two days... and I suppose you could say it was sudden....
PCH Paul came back from Canada, and much to his surprise, I said, 'I've made a decision, I want my own gallery'. Paul said 'It's about time too'. It was just something I really wanted to do. So he said 'Where do you think you're going to have it, here in Highate?' and I said 'No I want the West End, I fancy Marylebone High St'. I couldn't get too near the CPA, I had to come away from that area. And I looked up Marylebone High Street, it's a residential area round there, lots of businesses and the medical world. It was a small gallery first of all, it was small, it had a ground floor and it had a basement. I opened in May 1974, so no-one could accuse me of leaving CPA to open my own gallery. I'd left the CPA three years before. I was doing quite well
MV You were selling much more diverse things.
PCH I decided I wanted more than pottery, because I was always interested in other crafts - work like modern original prints - nobody turned me down. I was known with a few jewellers, through being in ceramics. Ceramics was my main thing. I opened up and I was doing quite well. One day, thanks to Paul, he saw another place further up. So this was 73 Marylebone High Street, not in good repair, looked pretty awful when we walked in. So we went in, I was a bit... didn't want to know. I looked at it and as I got half way down... I said to the agent... what's behind that wall? I'll make the coffee behind there. Yes I'll have it. Paul said 'My wife does make up her mind very quickly'. The agent said, 'You haven't seen it all...' I knew I wanted it. I was still running the existing shop while we got this place ready, and it took four months. Paul helped me an awful lot and also Mick's father-in-law, he was a craftsman. I opened Oct 21st 1975 and never looked back.
MV It was a good time for crafts, better than now?
PCH A lot of things have changed in twenty years - and some haven't changed at all. Being out of that world now, I can't really compare them. It's only what I hear. I stayed there till 1988. I was open all together for fifteen years and loved it. I only dealt in ceramics, gold and silver jewellery, modern original prints, wood, and oh boy did I learn more about wood, and glass. I had some wonderful wood. Last was glass. I put on four special, major exhibitions a year. Which were so well attended it wasn't true, they were queuing outside on Sunday mornings. Nobody came in early, I made that rule at the CPA and got 'daggers in my back'. Nobody came in before anyone else and put red spots on - people could come to openings on Sunday. They could bring husbands and wives, they could park, they could bring children and dogs (if well behaved). My policy was that everything I had, had to be made in this country. My only exception was Gwyn Hanssen who was potting in Australia and I put on the exhibition in 1985. It was so lovely -all her work was wood fired. I opened my first gallery with my brother, Mick's exhibition and closed my second gallery in Marylebone High Street with my brother Mick's exhibition. This was all wood-fired, salt-glazed stoneware and introduced his 'Swimmers' theme.
MV So you again suddenly decided that you wanted to give up.
PCH . I wouldn't say I wanted to, because I didn't, but intuitively I knew that I would close it, not that I had to, I'd had my busiest year and my busiest Christmas. As I left CPA at the peak I also left my gallery at the peak. It was intuition. It was horrendous for me both times. Particularly closing my own gallery, because Paul had died eighteen months before, and although I had to go and face people every day, it was such a prop to me. When I finally closed down on March 24th 1988, it was like that (clicks fingers) One day I had a thriving business, next day I had nothing. But it changed my life.
MV So you immediately began to take up other things.
PCH . It wasn't immediate. I was determined to play golf and I love it. I've always been someone on the go. The club has changed my life, I'm on the Ladies' Committee. I do a lot of work for two charities, the North London Hospice, John Groomes Disabled, I do a lot of fund raising and help to arrange outings and help with the fete - also just recently, the North London Hospice, fund raising.
To say I enjoyed every minute of being involved in the CPA is not an over-statement. On the day when David, Mick and I went to see that dilapidated shop, just off an almost unknown Carnaby Street, I can truly say that my life changed and I am forever grateful. Talking about those days after all these years and now re-visiting them in my mind ten years later (it is now 2005) I have been able to evoke a time of friendship, comradeship, excitement, fun and laughter and certainly creativity in the world of pots. I am so fortunate to have these memories - thank you CPA.
|Michael Casson – Special Suppliment Issue 6|