issue 6

Michael Casson – Special Suppliment


Mick Casson in conversation with Jack Doherty about the Craftsmen Potters Association (CPA)

Transcript of video recording made at Wobage Farm, Upton Bishop, Herefordshire

26 February 2000


(Recording made by Jeffrey Jones)

(Audio available indicated in bold text in script)

JD We are in the kitchen of Mike and Sheila Casson here in Wobage Farm Herefordshire for what I think is the start of a discussion about of the CPA and its origins and talking about how it has developed over the past 40 years and getting Mick's thoughts on that. I first became aware of the CPA I think in 1971 when I was given a copy of Ceramic Review as a wedding present, but realized very quickly that the CPA had been going for a quite long time before that. And looking at... through some of the archive material recently I realized that the foundation date of the CPA was in February 1958. But I believe there must, there must be a long history before that of why the CPA started and of the people who got together to make this organization work. Do you know anything about that time? You were a founder member but...

MC Yes I do, I remember the feeling at that time, and I remember that I must have been at several meetings before that date, '58? There was memorable meeting down at Potters Croft in Oxshott in '58. Sheila and I went with our young daughter, Clare, in a basket. But before then in '57 there were meetings, there was a memorable very big meeting at the Coram Hotel in Coram Fields, behind Marchmont Street where we lived at that time. But before that there was discussion, I remember going to Rosemary and Denise Wren's sometime... during possibly 1957. But it all started I know with that order that certain potters got together with Oliver Lipton of the RIB, and had this order from New Zealand, at it was about exports and about money and purchase tax and the rest of it.

JD The purchase tax bit's interesting because that seems to be a trigger for the whole thing, because up until that time there was no purchase tax on domestic I sense it...but this suddenly seems to trigger people's fear about how would they survive how would they sell work. That's how it seems to me from a distance, a very practical a very functional response to that 'how do we live?' 'How do we make and sell work'. And this order that came from New Zealand, how did that come about?

MC I don't know how it came about, I wasn't in on that but what I do feel about it is that that feeling you mentioned about, it was to do with practical things, about how to earn a living. From the very word go, that seemed to epitomize what the CPA was about. And if you look at what else was going on at that time, the only other organization at the time was the British Craft Centre which was set up in '48 by the Labour Government and was running at that time, but you had to join a 'club' to get in by that sort of rather devious method of getting in. But the atmosphere there was totally different from the CPA, once it got going, which was any one was welcome. And I think at that time the potters who joined the New Zealand action and the potters who joined later were concerned about earning a living, way of life, becoming a potter and going on from there. So the CPA epitomized that for me.

JD So it started, anyone could join?

MC Any one could join, any one could put in, there was no selection.

JD And was nothing said for example about the size of workshops?

MC Yes there were stringent rules laid down, once the rules were laid down. But they all stressed, you see, this phrase 'high quality work' and it was evident after at least a year if not eighteen months that the rule that said 'high quality work' from workshops or where-ever and 'any one can join, anyone can put in anything' those two things were going to fight each other.

JD Any was there a particular time when that happened... were you around when this particular debate began?

MC Yes I was I was and I must say that I embraced the idea of everyone joining and everyone putting in initially but it was only when I saw the work that came in, I thought 'this can't survive', and I don't think it would have survived, it would have had credibility problems in the larger potters' world. If the pots that came from all over the place, were obviously, I won't say 'amateur' because Pleydell Bouverie always said she was an amateur , which meant 'I do it for the love of the thing', but they were very bad pots and you can't run high quality institutions on that premise.

JD And you know, there must have been a moving force behind that kind of change because I can see...I was reading a little did seem quite a radical idea didn't it.? This wasn't a conservative organization, I think it was probably quite left wing to begin with and embraced all that sort of ideas at the time. Who were...?

MC Well first of all, I think most crafts people I know are either mildly or more left wing than that. But I think the forceful members of that first, very first committee were the Wrens, Denise in particular, people who either wouldn't or couldn't have got in to one of those 'clubs' at the Crafts Centre. I actually was a member of one of those 'clubs' at that moment. I was an enthusiast and still am and I wanted the thing to go, but it seemed to me from very early on that the people who really forced the pace was Denise and Rosemary... and they were there for a very long time

JD Rosemary was the first chair?

MC The first chair, chairwoman I should have said

JD Was she a chairman?

MC She was the chairman...we weren't correct in those days.

JD And your council was composed of what .mainly...?

MC Well they were people like Henry Watson, Craig Drew people who ran potteries with quite a few people working for them and with them As well as individual people, Eileen Lewenstein, at Briglin at the time. Um...a variety of people. This was always one of the tenets of this early time that we had people on the committee who represented not only the regions but also different types of pottery. But there again this was very difficult to implement.

JD Do you remember how the constitution was devised?

MC Dennis Moore I remember being very much the forerunner, the front runner.

JD What was his background?

MC What was Dennis's background?   I remember him as being a very cultured man who played the cello and made aubergine glazes.

JD Right, did he have a professional background?

MC I don't know. I don't remember

JD I ask that question because that constitution is still...pretty much in force you know and it is surprising that it has survived the years that it has done with the changes that have occurred. It is a very sound one. Its got a lot a things there that simply define what this organization is about, but there is still room within it to kind of change and develop and I thought it was a very good piece of...

MC It was, it was, I'm afraid I can't actually give you chapter and verse on who, who put it together, but I agree with you, it stands, it's stood the test of time. It's had to be interpreted. ( Of course ) I mean from the very word go, this 'high quality' business had to be interpreted and eventually of course brought in selection, about two years later I think. It was very painful.

JD Tell me about the first selection, because that as you say, must have been very difficult to do

MC The first selection was very painful, very difficult, because we asked around, people like Cardew said 'Don't do it' and we asked him what we should do and he said 'You have to wait for them all to die!' Typical Cardew remark.( laughter ) It was decided that we had to do it and we had to do it in one go. No matter how long the shop was closed, because by then the shop was open in Lowndes Court, and in actual fact it took and day and a night and by abut four or five o'clock that morning we'd gone through every pot.

JD ...and you'd revised the whole membership list (overspoken)...people were no longer...

MC There was a group of people who were going to be advised and they could resubmit if they wanted to but there was then selection in play.

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JD And you survived this...

MC Yes we survived it. Yes. Yes I remember one of my own pots was chucked out. Quite rightly.

JD But very typical isn't it. From that point on the CPA has been an organization that has selected members and all of the things we do, it is still probably the most painful, the most difficult sort of thing ... Could we just talk about the shop, because you mentioned that that started in Lowndes Court and I think, again from my reading of the minutes, that was one of the very first ideas that came up at the early meetings, the idea of a centre, or a retail outlet, a focus, or focal point for studio pottery in London. Who again was the sort of...people behind all of this?

MC By then you've got to realise we were having meetings at Lady Glenconner's house and David Canter was Honorary Secretary and I think it was a general consensus that we must have a retail outlet and it was David Canter who found the Lowndes Court just off Carnaby Street, which was just about to break onto the international scene with the Beatles and things, in fact just before that, but I think every member of the committee agreed that this was going to put us on the map and we found that ...rather ...stinking... place which David and I cleared up before the Committee saw it.

JD The work for renovation was carried out by members?... you shared the work.

MC I think I've gone one record in that 25 year book that the potters issued that it was mainly built by David Canter, Laurence Keen and myself but we had some great helpers, Wally Keeler reminded me only a few weeks ago that he was actually there as a 17 year old lad helping to do some of the painting. And I'd forgotten that Wally was in that. But we did have some good help who painted things. It was we who did the wood work and laid the Delabole slate down on the pavement, on the floor and all the rest of it. But it was a great effort. My memories of the CPA at that time, possibly because I was in the middle of it, was... tremendous help from the members... everyone wanted to get in and do something.

JD It is interesting again to look at that from a distance, there are...many of those attitudes are still around at the CPA, because people do want to get involved and do want to help, but things have changed and now people expect more from an organization, so in other words instead of paying the subscription and being the CPA, they do tend to see the CPA as slightly more remote, er... equating us maybe with the Crafts Council or the CA a separate organization. In the early days everyone sort of got together...sort of...mucked you think that had any detrimental effects on the way the association question is, has the CPA developed as a sort of shoe string DIY organization... as a result of that o...?

MC   I don't think so, I think the change in society has been so great in those 40 years, er... I think the main ... almost... the main achievement of the CPA has been on an educational front, and what I mean by educational is all of us learning together to do things. The standard in 1957/8 was pretty low. It went up rapidly because of communication between potters; potters getting together. Now it still goes on the CPA does admirable things, the things they do around the country, they're still doing that. I do think that ... it had to start that way, having... given the society we had at the time.

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JD Follow that one a bit later on because it is just something that's current. I just sometimes have to be aware of the real change that has happened, and the way society has changed and our responsibilities have changed because I think...   the early the shop reports, and I can't remember the exact figures, they were impressive at the time, but they weren't a third of a million pound, which they are now, and this sort of affects the responsibility of the council members And I think now instead of taking the professional advice that we should do. We think that 'I know someone who can do that' or 'oh I can do that' or 'I can get in on that' the shop started in what 1960?

MC Yes, 1960 with Ray Finch's first exhibition

JD And then it moved to Marshall Street, 66, 67.

MC 66, 67, yes something like that.

JD And everyone, again correct me if I'm, wrong, every Fellow, full member rather than Fellow was entitled to sell in the shop, again correct me if I'm wrong, and they could bring any quantity of work at any time, they could mount a truck   (that's right) park it outside. How do you think that the gallery shop has survived over thirty odd years like that?

MC How do I think it's survived? I think it's survived because the society of the time wanted that work and on many occasions, that shop was under-stocked because it couldn't get the work. I remember Pan Henry, my sister, begging a potter down in Devon, Metcalf I think, I forget his name, for 1000 goblets and he couldn't supply, he could send up two hundred and something. The demand was there. The whole business of the Harrow course, which started about the same time, was that there was the demand for useable pots of this kind, the shop couldn't fulfill, it couldn't get enough.

JD How did that work? At the time there used to be a section on newly elected members and it seems to me that everyone was at Harrow or ex Harrow.

MC There was time when I think about 50 per cent of the CPA membership, full membership, was connected in some way with either Harrow or maybe Farnham, but mainly Harrow. There again, the sort of pots they were producing were the sort of pots that the Sixties wanted.

JD And at that time, the whole of the shop I suppose and David Canter's, 'Cranks', you had all of that, it was a package (that's right) everything was there (that's right)

MC It was quite an enclosed world, it didn't last of course, nothing lasts, everything changes and must change. But at that time, that's what the shop did... and very well..

JD There was pain I think when changes were sort of introduced I think later on there were grants from the Crafts Council (that's right ) that caused the renovation of the shop for the first time

MC That's in the Seventies, yes

JD Were you involved at that time?

MC I wasn't involved, I was involved on the Committees of the Crafts Council at that time. I wasn't involved in that grant. I personally didn't like the renovation at that time, just as I like the renovation now, I like the shop as it is now. But I could see... why they wanted to change, society was changing around them and you can't stand still.

JD No, and I think the CPA is...a sort of reflective organization, because of the way that it looks at a very broad range of work. But it wasn't always like that. I wrong in thinking that er for certain ...quite an elitist club?

MC Well, I don't see that, I don't see that you know.   I remember a committee meeting in particularly where some sections of that committee wanted to separate pots and sculpture or ceramic sculpture as I think it was beginning to be called. And David Canter in particular hit that on the head and helped hit it on the head... and I agreed with him. And I said what do we do with someone like Brian Newman, who makes wonderful sculpture and wonderful pots? And I think you look the time the membership had people like Gordon Baldwin in there and I don't think it was elitist...I think the British Crafts Centre was elitist, I think the CPA has kept a fairly wide remit

JD That mention of Gordon Baldwin I just looking through some old 'Potters' recently and there are some very illustrious names of potters who are not members of the CPA but were...why is this... how do people treat the association?

MC Yes people do come and go for odd reasons. Some of them very personal and difficult to understand. Some I think because the actual market has expanded, when you think of the auction houses, when you think of some of the current galleries, dealing in very exclusive pieces when you think of the escalation of prices. I mean ceramics is still nowhere near the price range of top painting, but there are some very expensive pieces about and people don't make many expensive pieces. Therefore if they get them into what they deem to be more prestigious outlets at higher prices they will go for it. But don't forget this is the CPA, the success of the CPA engendered the rise of the galleries. The galleries wouldn't have been there if they hadn't looked to the CPA and seen its success.

JD Where do you think we are now in that sort of progression of things I... mean I think that...I have my views and you see it sort of differently. I know that you don't sell much work...well you don't supply regularly...why is that?

MC Well for two reasons, first of all, I can't get my car up there and park it. In the old days when I was on the committee or in the chair, there was a delightful little spot round the back where I used to park my car um...but secondly...I do make...I do make a lot of pots still, but I feel I'd like to know the buyer more...face to face... so I know who's buying it. Secondly, I do think the mark up is high, very high. Now, I understand that galleries have to make a living and I know that in London in particular you know there is a high... fee for being there

JD Well you've got to pay for the privilege of being in Soho...

MC That's right, but I mean I'd like to have more pots there. I want to ask Marta or who ever it is, that after Sheila's had her window display, I'd like to have a window showcase if they'll let me. And then I can drive up maybe only once...or maybe I'll get you Jack to take them in....but there other problems like that. Because actually just getting to London, because just think of the traffic change in the last 40 years. London is now very difficult

JD Do you think that's a barrier in any other ways to the CPA the fact that it has a retail outlet like that, a gallery in the West End. Do people see the CPA as being... South east based or...?

MC Slightly...what, expensive you mean?

JD No, I mean without influence outside of London or interest to any other people.

MC No the CPA is still a benchmark, particularly as it is allied to the magazine. People still look to it. Was that your question?

JD mentioned communication also, that seems to be a sort of ...we've actually got to make an effort to get beyond just being a shop, seen as a place in Marshall Street, we've got to...

MC But you are making these efforts, ( we are, oh yes ) these fairs you have here there and everywhere spread the name. The association with Rufford has... And I think you kept your standards high. Over the years, you know, I've always had my ups and downs with institutions, but I think the CPA is good, it's doing very well.

JD You talk about this word communication, I think this is one of our key things...and you started Potters' Camps didn't you with David in Hampshire I think

MC Yes Potters' Camps, absolutely in my element.

JD They expanded I suppose the people at Aberystwyth, which is I suppose the classic Potters' weekend now, um that does a lot for...ah... not just professional potters but expanding the market and understanding of pots among a wide range of people   I think that Rufford was one of those things we did because...there was a real need for it ( yes ) and I think the CPA again has always treated the fact that potters making a living out of it require sales outlets and it was done really as a completely trial event the first time. We didn't know whether we could get people to come it, whether we could get the sort of quality of potters to put their work in there, you know the idea that you took this place in Nottinghamshire...I think you did the first selection with... Colin Pearson? You know it was amazing, and the one comment I think it was from Wally Keeler he said that he enjoyed coming up because of this... fraternal atmosphere and the fact that it wasn't...You were there to sell work...and the fact that...there was an over-ridding sense of being potters and being together. It amazes me that that has stayed right throughout those all of 40 years (It has ). Can you think of other Crafts where that's sort of...

MC I know of other crafts where it doesn't happen and I know of other countries where it doesn't happen. But it is part of Britain. You see it in Canada, Australia and New Zealand, and you see it in America. But there are parts where it doesn't happen...But I think it is something cardinal that belongs to potters in particular. My own view of that is because something is always going wrong with potters and their products. And this breeds a resilience, first of all you've got to get up and start again, but secondly a kind of humbleness that you know you're never going to know it all because there could be a disaster tomorrow, so you'd better have good mates you can have a talk to.

JD I always think when I go to Rufford about the number of late night firings about the week before, they'd be up until 3 o'clock in the morning and they all know that.

JD I'd like to think about the CPA council for now. You know, I'm sort of, I've been doing this for a while and you get into a way of running meetings and organizing meetings. How were decisions taken about first of all the starting of the shop and the running of the shop? Was there tension and was there general consensus?

MC I think there were always arguments, always factions, potters by their very nature are very individual, they have their own bias - a better word than prejudice. There were always works, types of work that came up that you knew certain members of the committee were going to put the thumbs down on. And I for one, who could be very devious in my way, was determined that if I thought the potter coming up was a good potter, I would try to get him or her in and I would argue my corner, fight my patch all the way. They were quite stormy things... in the end there was a vote and I say democratically controlled. But yes there were always factions. You tended to know how people were going to split... which was useful.

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JD I think that's always the case um but we're would be fair to say that we see maybe a broader range of work in terms of processes and materials now.

MC Now?

MC What the CPA represents now to me is a spectrum of may be all that goes on. Maybe we haven't got some of those very famous names, maybe they've gone off to very selective galleries. But the types of the work that the CPA shows I think is maybe across the board. We didn't have that in the early days, it just wasn't there. The whole idea of the sculptural aspect of using clay...well what used to be called modeling or even sculpture wasn't there in the middle 50s. Its all in now in the Potters' camp...this made selection much more difficult because you had to be concerned with 'Is it good of its kind?' Rather than what I think is the worse possible scenario for selection is 'Do I like it?'

JD Of course, but I think that's the one thing we try very hard to avoid, this business of 'Do I like it?' To a certain extent these decisions are subjective, they've got to be, but you have to let people try to understand what is behind the work, what the potter is trying to achieve, what they are trying to do. It's still very difficult.

JD We talked a bit about the council. I just like to think from when Ceramic Review started... 1970 (1971)...that came from a Newsletter, the background. Was there a newsletter published regularly?

MC The newsletter was the only written, printed form of communication. It sometimes took the form of small booklets, sometimes it was just a series of printed papers to begin with stapled together. It was usually done by my sister Pan, it was sometimes done by me it was sometimes done by other members of the Council. It was always a chore. It was difficult, there was so much work to be done. And the magazine came out of my sister finally saying 'I can not do it, the Newsletter, anymore ...I'm running the shop, I'm doing the minutes of all the meetings and this that and the other and being the editor of this newsletter is not on' and David Canter called for volunteers. I'll never forget the meeting, I hope Emmanuel and Eileen see this video, because I remember very well the hushed silence that met that request and again I think it was Emmanuel first, I'm not sure, Eileen and Emmanuel both said they thought perhaps in a few months' time they might be able to take it on. And David Canter said 'No, we're doing it now' and he was on the first committee to do it and to their great credit they built that magazine into what it is today. And I think it is the best, I think it is the best in the world. But I remember that meeting and it was very tentative.

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JD There are changes to the magazine now, I remember my first copy when I was a student. It was always the CPA new members bit which was interesting and the Association News. And that changed didn't it and that was taken away from the magazine. What do you think about that? The fact that the magazine is not now so closely linked with the CPA?

MC With the CPA? Well, I would have thought the advent of the'er... newsletter, the bit that's slipped in...what is it called (CPA News)...CPA News. I would have though that takes care of that link. The fact is, if the CPA was going to reach out to a more national and especially international clientele it had to do something like it has done. And what... I don't think they are... I think that's alright (slightly overspoken).

JD And where we are now, we had two good co-editors, Eileen and Emmanuel, ( Yes ) We now have just one, what do you think about that?

MC Well I was worried what would happen when Eileen went but er... Emanuel's answer to me was 'Well you can't replace Eileen, I will see what I can do' and I think he has done very well.

JD I think that's right and I think the way that the magazine has developed has pushed it from being the Association's newsletter into being quite a prestigious and useful publication...

MC Very good...

JD ... I know this conversation is rambling in all sorts of ways, but I think it's good we keep talking about it, particular things like communication and how we deal with contemporary communication, you know for instance the Internet... the Web and what ever.

MC Well, the trouble is, it's difficult for me because by nature I'm a 'Flat Earther', so what worries me about the Internet... I can see its value of putting people in touch with each other and then I can see at the end of it, a case of a potter somewhere remote in the country, how does he or she get that product, that pot to the customer. Now recently there have been phone calls and letters coming into Wobage Farm about companies which call themselves galleries. One is on my desk now, saying that we are a gallery, but what they really are is an Internet company which will take your products or a photograph, put you in touch with customers, and then you get the pot to the 'gallery' and they will post it off and charge the customer the moment I'm worried about that. Maybe the whole thing needs refining, maybe it needs different centres, Rufford Centre, they will cope with this, they will do all the packaging etc. I'm just worried about the nitty gritty of getting a pot from the countryside, or London for that matter, to someone in the USA. The Internet deals with first part brilliantly, throws up an image, customer comes along and buys, maybe this is such early days and I'm an old fuddy duddy saying that... but it could be difficult.

JD You're a CPA Honorary Fellow, do you think that that's a way we should be looking . Should contemporary ceramics now be dealing with e-com, we should be taking work from people and selling it?

MC Well if you do do, it's going to need a whole new personnel, packaging areas, you're going to need to know about freights and so on, it will be a new dimension and you still need to get the pots from those people in the country. It can be done, of course it can be done. If you've done what you have now, you could do that

JD The decision is if the membership think that it's a good idea, worth following through, we take it forward that way. We say well "okay, how do you think we do it?", a retailing area, as you say a packaging area. But I think there are moves in the next year that will give us I think a major web site, with you know web pages for every fellow or professional. I think that will help our powers to communicate beyond the UK

MC It would, it would certainly make you global. There's no doubt about it. I mean we've sold here several pots to America on the Internet, but we've had to do all the packaging ourselves, at my age I'm not interested any more. But looking at younger people and looking to the future, I think you probably will have to do it. But I won't be involved. I'm at that stage now that if I make a pot and it's any good I can sell it, but I think if the CPA has always been about helping people earn a living making good pots, it probably has got to come.

JD A question I picked up on reading one of the newsletters, was that studio potters need support in an affluent society?

MC Do studio potters need support in an affluent society? I believe the answer is 'yes' at a certain time in their life. I still see this huge gap between leaving your education, what ever it is and setting up, and making your life viable. Surely like something over 90 per cent or something like that must fail? I mean we set this up here at Wobage Farm so at least four or six people could be helped to earn a living. So do they need help, yes, I think so, they need grants, they need support, they need the CPA to start showing and selling their work. I can't see that getting any less needed.

JD That hasn't changed has it (No) I think there's this terrible gap, I mean you see it as well as I do, of very talented people, graduates who come out every year from college and suddenly they fall into a chasm and they don't get that sort of help for making. I mean we started this 'Setting Out' scheme exhibition, I suppose six or seven years ago, which does something, but it still doesn't do enough to my mind. How do you think we could help them further?

MC If you had enough money you could institute a grant system yourself. If you had enough money you could possibly bring back the one scheme the Crafts Council could never get off the ground, which is the Apprenticeship Scheme - you probably wouldn't have to call it that - but you could help in direct financial ways, but it would need money to finance it. My worry is that that money would go from the Crafts Council. Who knows? They're now part of the Arts Council, by democratic process they could be voted out in ten years time.

JD Training too. Do you feel that there is a real lack of direct studio pottery training?

MC You are now really asking me about art colleges and education?

JD I'm asking that and I'm asking you really if the CPA has a relationship with that

MC There is no doubt about it, the CPA could set up, if not its own Training scheme, a scheme to bridge this gap, like the Dartington Pottery training workshop, which half failed, half succeeded. It could do that, again it would need financing. I could see that could succeed. It could take x-number, maybe twelve, twenty people, talented people from colleges, nurse them along for a few years, yes it could happen.

JD We have that role, haven't we, and I think that a sentence that always appears in CPA publications is to 'promote the work of its members and to broaden awareness of the craft' (that's right, that's right ) That's kind of the key statement, the mission statement, that's the kind of contemporary phrase, that's been there that's been, been sort of worked on since then. Should that change? Is there anything we can add to or develop from that statement?

MC Let's go over it again, 'Promotion...'

JD 'Promote the work of its members and to increase awareness of the public'.

MC 'Increase awareness of the public'... the second one I think it has done a wonderful job, We now have in this country a sizeable proportion of our aware population who know about ceramics, and are very discerning and buy well and support the potters. Should it go on? Absolutely it should go on... should it be added to...?

JD Well what else could be done...any gaps?

MC Anything else you do is going to take money. When will the CPA ever have money, that sort of money available.

JD That's a good question, it's a very relevant one. I have a lot of thoughts about it. Because I came back from a meeting on Wednesday, we'd been dealing with finances and current audit which has just taken place. I've got ten years on the council   The CPA has always had been doing things in a shoestring kind of way. You get help if you've got a friend who's a web designer...cut costs. But the reality is that over the past I suppose five, six years, the CPA has been successful financially and it's actually making quite a lot of money which has been salted away, invested, whatever, and it's not to my mind being directed to fulfill that first element, for supporting the members...I'll give you an example I suppose, the CPA could probably lay hands on half a million pounds in cash at this moment if it were necessary, without affecting its operation. And my first role with the council is to think how can we use that now, how can we give benefits to our members and to younger makers, but putting in place systems that will use future profits and that's the responsibility that's going to drop on the council at the moment because of the talents of previous councils who worked for the Association. Do you think there's anything we could do with some of that money?

MC Just before I answer that, I'd like to go back to an earlier question, I hope the CPA never completely severs the idea of sort of self help and the sort of human face of potters working with each other.

JD It would be a disaster if it did.

MC It would be bad news.

JD That's the balancing act.

MC That's the human part of it and what has fostered it all along. How you should use your money, it's up to the committee of the day, but I feel the one gap you could use it to do this Internet thing and promote sales that would be one very pragmatic way, but I still think the big gap is in education, and education is...

JD Education into work

MC Education into work, I still think money could be put to that, this is the age of sponsorship I think that would be a good avenue you could go down.

JD , The idea of um...a CPA centre, or a CPA focal point aside, apart from the shop, I suppose from almost day one when people talked about, there have been many attempts to think about first what this should be, whether it should be, I've talked to you about this in the past...It's become kind of current again, because there may be more finance around that we thought we had. What should the CPA contain?

MC Well, first of all I'm glad it's come up again, because I've always thought we need that um it would be a centre, more than anything else, of communication again and education. In other words it's got to be a centre which emanates er ...the fact that this is ceramics, this is what the British public or international public is going to look at and it has centres of learning within that. Again you might bring your student population, your ex-student population, there. That's a big question, I'd like to have time to think about it, but I'm glad it's come up again. It's got to be in the country, it's got to be two or three things going on, conferences, lectures, educational, communication. That would be a very good way of using the money, if fact that could be a way of using the money that would encompass things like the Internet and the 'gap' if it's the right place, but I remember the searching we had to go in the past to try to find a place, and nothing came out of that.

JD It's sort of happened, it is a big serious commitment, we'd be tying our successors down to looking after this thing ( Exactly ) and I think it is one of the structural sort of weakness in the CPA - people do come and go, the council changes every three years, people are...Should there be changes to that structure do you think, for example should sub committees be appointed more, from the Council, for specific areas, do you think should council members should be paid for what they do?

MC On the last point, I think 'No', they should get expenses. I don't think they should be paid. But I do believe in sub committees, I've worked with the Crafts Centre, worked with the CPA and the Crafts Council. It wasn't long before I realized that the real power was in the sub committees, especially the finance sub committees, they're the ones that call the shots. I don't see why sub committees, a sub committee, couldn't be formed to (a) investigate these problems, always reporting back to the big committee as they do and (b) to actually run this thing But you're asking a lot, and in the same breath you're asking should these people be paid, well in that case I said no, but they should be reimbursed, which is something quite, a little bit different.

JD Because I feel we do ask people to give a lot of time a lot of commitment and energy and it's from people whose time in a sense is their income, isn't it because there are only so many hours in a week and in they're not making pots...should that be reimbursed in some way? I know it radically changes, the concept of the constitution and all of that, but is that maybe, not me but another chair should be thinking about for the future?

MC I think you want to look at it, and I think you want to look at it by sub committee. I don't know how big the committee is now?

JD It's now reduced from twelve to nine

MC To nine, well that's more manageable. You know a three person committee could do a lot and then report back. I think you would find to get the right people, the reimbursement would have to be fairly generous, but actually paid on salary basis so that they change their status, in a way that they're no longer potters I think, I don't know about that

JD It's that balance isn't it, it's always been interesting in the CPA that people are prepared to give time, ( yes ) for whatever reasons they do it, I don't know ( yes ) but it always seems to be someone or three or four key people.

MC Well David Canter was the key person for long time. He was as the Hon Sec. a very dominant...

JD Tell us a bit about him, because he was very important.

MC He was very important, I think people who came later don't realise how much. He had vision that's why I backed him. It is too bad to say he was a benevolent dictator?  

JD No....

MC I don't mind as long as there is the 'benevolent' bit. He had a vision, and his vision helped to form the CPA. What he'd be doing now I don't know because things have changed so radically since he died, in '81 I think. Yes, yes individuals are very important, you've got to look back and see, so-and-so was the chair at that time, so-and-so was a committee person at that time.

JD That has changed a little hasn't it, because that role of the Honorary Secretary which David Canter probably established and made his own for so many years was very important wasn't it?

MC Very important.

JD It always seemed he or she had his or her finger in all the Association pies around. That changed about two years ago or whenever we appointed Tony Ainsworth as Administrator and I think there's lots of discussion now again about how we would use a very highly qualified, quite dynamic sort of person, surely not to do things like take the minutes at Council meetings and all the rest of it but to be a sort of strategic planning role you know that would help the council or advise the council. What do you think, should it always be potters or should we take advice?

MC I think you should take advice, knowing that it's a dangerous step or a step that has dangers. The last thing I would want to see is administrators taking over and calling the shots. The arts schools in this effect, should sound a warning note, certain managers, line managers or things like that, well to me they're an anathema, but that's my own personal opinion. But if they start taking over and the advice doesn't come say about business administration but starts talking in terms of aesthetics etc., that's bad. But yes, I think you need advice.

JD We do. And I think it's increasingly the case, I mentioned the level of finance I suppose for a start and the responsibility that suddenly happens when you realise we now employ fifteen people, full or part time, and their livelihoods depend I suppose on the decisions that a crowd of potters, who happen to be on the CPA council, make. I think we take a lot of very sound professional advice, having changed our auditors and accountants recently and I think it's been remarkable just to think of contemporary thinking of what the organization does.

MC You've got a new structure with the charitable status.

JD The charitable status too, that's something else. You're involved with us on the Charitable Trust, (Yes yes) I've always felt that was kind of a sleeping giant of the CPA

MC Which is now happening.

JD Which is now happening and that can be a driving force... How do you see that developing?

MC Well you see money could be channeled through that. That committee. Invested, I don't think that's radical enough, but it could get more... could have more money.

JD There's an issue, I don't want to tie down to specific issues ...but this one is interesting me, the CPA applied to the Charitable Trust for some money recently to fund an exhibition, a full membership exhibiton. And it just struck me as extraordinary that the organization which had earned the money and given it had to apply to get it back.

MC It's a legality.

JD It's a legality and that is something I feel we have actually to change.

MC That's a legality, it's a fine point.

JD But perhaps the CPA is full of legalities like that.

JD What can we do? The Charity which meets once a year.

MC Yes, once a year.

JD Should that be two, three times a year?

MC Yes, once a year is pretty extraordinary. I'd go for twice a year certainly. Once a year you really do forget what you're at but then again if more money came through you wouldn't have to. I mean most committees sit four times a year don't they? ( Yes, yes ) But at the moment it hasn't got much money to dispense.

JD I think that the big changes to the structure, the changes to the name, it started its life as the Craftsmen Potters Association, altered, to many people's horror, to the Craft Potters Association. What's your view of that?

MC Well I voted for the craft potter thing, to take out the 'men', because craft potter seemed to be more specific, I liked it, more exact, I voted against the Contemporary Ceramics change, ( the shop ) it was like a fish and chip shop saying it was selling something else, but it's obvious they're selling fish and chips. But its changed again and maybe take the craft out.

JD That's the discussion now, how the word craft become so devalued that it kind of slants people's opinion of the CPA in a particular way.

MC It brings into question this whole business of fine art and craft which argument that is going to run for ever, but if you did call it just the Potters Association it brings in other grey areas, what kind of potters - I mean Stoke on Trent, factories,

JD That tends to alienate another group of people who might see themselves as ...

MC Yes, you might be out of the frying pan into the fire.

JD Have you any thoughts, can I ask you to think of some names...?

MC Another name, another name...

JD...That combine the letters C, P and A.

MC I don't know, at the time of that debate, I remember the people who wanted to change the name to Contemporary Ceramics saying they'd taken advice from advertising people etc and they'd been told yes, change the name to a new image, a new image will bring in new customers. And I also took advice from advertising people and they said if you've got a good logo, a good name, stick with it. Look at Joe Lyons, Joe Lyons got rid of the gold lettering and became 'Jolyon' or something, and no-one's heard of 'Jolyon' again    If you've got a good concept stick with it and more and more people will know it. I mean it really depends on what you're selling, 'though I personally still go for CPA.

JD Right,

MC Craft Potters, yeah,

JD Or whatever it is.

MC The debate on fine art and craft is going to go on. It's been defined and redefined and whatever, and it will go with fashion, it will come and go.

JD Fashion is an interesting word, it is really the whole bit about the style in the shop and change, I mean now you're seeing the CPA retail outlet, for want of a better word selling a range of things from fine porcelain to figurative work. In your time as chair would you have sensed that that would have happened?. Would you have sensed that CPA would have been setting a standard or imposing a standard on the work in the shop?

MC That's the middle sixties. ( Yes )   I don't think I envisaged the change that has come about, I didn't think that the sculptural aspect of ceramics would be so acceptable and would escalate so much I hadn't reckoned with the fact that education would change and would become more diffuse and thinner spread over a wide area. I hadn't reckoned with the MA, with the inclusion of MA people meant that with the one or two years at the very most, far less at times, to get your MA meant that most MAs would go for sculptural or non throwing aspects of ceramics, which has meant from now on, more and more courses would do, more and more art colleges would do MA courses and more and more MA people would come on the market with sculptural aspects of work. Back in the sixties, no I didn't foresee it, I was wrong, I wasn't perceptive enough to know what was going to happen. But I don't necessarily disagree with what's happened, I accept the spectrum, but what I would like to see in that spectrum is all the different facets of ceramics in due proportion. If one starts to dominate completely I think that would be a bad day.

JD Yes, I agree with that. Do you see now the CPA having a role as being, you know, not so much educating the public, but our role within the pottery fraternity if you like by maybe focusing attentions on particular things, like as we're doing this 'wheel conference' in the summer time. Who would have thought that it would be necessary or interesting even to do this on the potter's wheel, everyone has one, it's popular, it's common...But it's not the case.

MC It's not the case at all, and I think the CPA is doing a good job in focusing in highlighting certain things, which at least people should address, many may say that the wheels gone, it was going out in the sixties, it wasn't really going out but in the art colleges, it was in some art colleges of course, but I think that's a cardinal point that the CPA can say 'hey look at that, that may be slipping, let's talk about it, why?, lets show it'.   It is amazing isn't it that you should have have one on the wheel when you think what a fundamental thing it is to many ceramics.

JD ...behind the CPA as it is.

MC I think you should do more of those, again it's about communication.

JD Can you think of any others that we should do?

MC I take it you're doing one on hand building.

JD We haven't thought about hand building no, the first one was the wheel, the second one might have been the glaze, glaze surfaces, in other words the application to leaded glass.

MC Well I mean you've the whole of ceramics to chose from. You could focus on a technique, you could have, you know, burnishing, low firing, high firing... But I think you should keep it up, one a year, two a year, but again its money...and commitment.

JD Its money and its time and energy isn't it?

MC Yes.

JD To take what you just said. I went through these and was looking at some of the early evening meetings, some things like slab building, ( sorry ?) the early evening meeting on slab building, ( that's right ) there was one on throwing, ( That's right ), there was one on handle pulling,( I didn't know that ...)

So the cycle kind of turns and we're back now reevaluating these things, what is it that is special about these things?

MC It's strange you know...   If ...the CPA does this, I think certain aspects of the, the potters' community will say... 'oh they're just talking about techniques'. In those early days we were just talking about techniques. How to pull a handle, I remember giving that one. How to throw a spout and fit it on. But if you do them today, you're not going to stop at that, you're going to have discussion, everything else is going to come into that much more.

JD Just shows the development of all that.

JD Are we critical enough in the CPA, do we look at ourselves hard enough?

MC In selection?

JC That and what we do for our membership as well. One part of it is the selection of course which is difficult, I guess because the council changes from time to time there will be different slants on the...

MC This whole business of vital. I am very concerned at some of the criticism that one reads in magazines. They seem to be very unhelpful. Most of them are couched in very intellectual terms, most of them are written by non practitioners, so they come at the potter from an angle that is not helpful, especially for young potters, or even old potters, to evaluate their work. If the CPA can do anything to help the writing about the business of using clay, by commissioning certain people who they think are better at this sort of communication, I think that would be good. Probably largely a job for the magazine

JD Well, I mention this...

MC The answer to your question is yes, I think there should be more criticism, constructive criticism.

JD One of the talks we had last week was about developing um CPA publishing side. Perhaps thinking about having a...using it as a publishing house for specialist...books, treatises, criticisms and doing exactly what you're saying, being critical with our potters perspective if you like, not necessarily with the writers or the intellectuals. I think there is something there that could be very good and very useful.

MC I like that idea.

JD Adding to this communication...

MC Because we're dictated to by what A&C Black and people like that can get out of the potters um, it's almost a rather arbitrary sort of way the CPA can make it quite special, quite specific.

JD It's almost a question of thinking of a new title and what, always imagine the cover design.

MC Yes that's a good idea.

JD It may not be books, it may be back to writing pamphlets or whatever.

MC You see if you did that it would counter the accusation that Paul Vincent made, that I actually got round to writing a letter to him that he published, about er what he was really saying the cosiness of the CPA , he didn't actually mention the CPA, what he was after the International Festival was cosy, non critical, non intellectual. Well forget the intellectual bit, but non critical and cosy should be addressed. So if you came in with specific books and articles and pamphlets etc that hit the nail on the head, I think that would be good.

JD Challenging.

MC Challenging yes,

JD So um from your perspective now, you see the CPA after what, forty three years, lets choose a date.

MC Forty four years yes.

JD We've made the millennium just about.

MC We made it, we got there

JD We got through that barrier through .um five years from now, are there anythings we should be doing. Five years from now you think?

MC Five years from now you should have thought what you're going to do. In other words I think you've got, if the shop is successful, if the magazine is running well, you've got a five year period of inspection and I think you should look at the various options, then you've got the hardest decision of all, you've got to decide what you're going to do. You can't just do it, you've got to look at it, look all round all these options. Would it take five years? sounds a little long. I would have though three years to look, two years to implement and jump in some where, and I would like to see the CPA jumping in into an area that helped the younger potters, because they're the future.

JD I think they are and I think that we've started to do that, we've started to look at that bridging period between university and working, I'm just trying to find effective ways of doing it.

MC Well you see what you were saying then about criticism and about publishing it's all grist to that mill, if young people read appropriate criticisms of work and attitudes, not just how you do it, why you do it and all the rest of it. I think that's going to help. 

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Michael Casson - An Appreciation

by Emmanuel Cooper

Pan Casson Henry interviewed
Moira Vincentelli

29 November 1994 and revised in
April 2005

Michael Casson at Aberystwyth, 1999

Michael Casson and Walter Keeler discussing a collection of jugs

5 September 1995

Michael Casson and Walter Keeler discussing a selection of French country pottery

5 September 1995

Michael Casson in conversation with Jack Doherty about the Craftsmen Potters Association (CPA)

26 February 2000

A summary of an interview with Michael Casson by Anna Hale (No.1, The Craft Potters' Association)

24 February 2000

A summary of an interview with Michael Casson by Anna Hale (No.2, Biography)

25 February 2000

A summary of an interview with Michael Casson by Anna Hale (No.3, The Studio Pottery Course at Harrow)

probably February 2000

Michael Casson – Special Suppliment • Issue 6