Michael Casson – Special Suppliment
Mick Casson interviewed by Anna Hale
Date: 25 February 2000
Tapes 561/395 to
Tape 1 Side 1
Early life in North London, Born 2 nd April 1925. City boy. Family background, cockney , 'nouveau riche', description of home, art nouveau, spacious, billiard room, five bedrooms and servants and 'nannie' who bought the children up. Clarice Cliff pots in the house (lost in the war). Hedonistic, Father hardworking, Mother singer, a bit of painting. From earliest days could always swim and could always draw. Parents divorced when he was 10 in mid 1930's, looks back on childhood as happy. Earliest memory is crawling under bed and looking into mother's handbag. Described as "Micky (don't use!) would have a good laugh just walking upstairs". Silent films, Sunday School,. After divorce and mother's remarriage, middle of seven children. Relationship with brothers and sisters, still a close family. Father died 1953, mother died 1990. Relationship with father. Failure of business, hardworking, kind, amusing, gambler, Arsenal football, not literate or intellectual, not 'handy', no craftsmanship, generous, stature, City restaurant, 1000 dinners a day, Peace and any price. Other family relationships, family legends. Mother, Doddy (Dorothy) Casson, profligate, very powerful woman, dominant, stories about mother. Eccentric, better educated than father, came from a family of restaurateurs. Education of MC and others. Neither parents collected anything. Description of Irish 'Nan' who bought children up. Increasingly part of family. Maternal grandparents.
Tape 1, side 2
Maternal family, family closeness. Values, self employed, self reliant, importance of stability, rebelled against family political values. Religious values, liberal upbringing, parents too busy, freedom. Manners, Nan's influence - can't remember name. Brother and sister relationships. School friends, continuing friendships. Active, toys, drama, slow developer, 11+, felt in charge of the 'language' at art school, Tony (brother) brighter. Photographic 'experiments', transfers, visual
First things made - with wood. Fretsaw cutting out sayings to sell. Models, lead soldiers in Museum of London, made forts, emplacements etc. modelled with plasticine. Figurative, soldiers, greeks etc. Sociable, loyal, Exploring Muswell Hill and Alexandra Palace, Ideal Home Exhibition, first tasting 'Marmite'. Nan took them out on excursions. No visiting of museums and galleries. Outings included boating on lakes, bus rides, films several times a week. Hollywood was the most important cultural factor of life. Bad - frightened of women, false images. Family rituals, holidays at the seaside, Bournemouth, sometimes parents would come down. Christmas great festive time. Food, masses of food because of restaurant. Food one of father's great loves. Sunday lunch, special. Parents had the latest things - MC not like that. Parents had latest cars. Hispano Suiza.
Schooling - know tables by rote before 5 years. Tollington Prep. School, academic, teachers, subjects, drawing, country dancing.
Tape 2 Side 1
Drawing, line colour, no pottery at school. Early art lessons, favourite subjects, History, School reports, learning aptitude, influences, qualities of a teacher, gregarious. Practical tasks. Parental encouragement. Fracturing effect of WWII,
Tollington Grammar School, school life, excelled at History, Art lessons, influence of Joan Casson's drawings. History teacher, reading Plato and Cannery Row - John Steinbeck, school made one think, Ernie Allen - History teacher. Encouragement in swimming and diving from Johnny Johnson. Competitive. Joan Casson. Art at Hornsea at 14. 1939 Evacuated, introduced to modern art. Evacuated 60 miles north of London. Immune to Depression in 1930's. Adolescence. Youth Clubs. Reading and buying books, painting watercolours. University aspirations, Evacuation experience. Buckton Towers, Left school June 1941, awaiting call up. Brother v. ill. First job - Office boy for £5 per month (net £1 as week), bought books, reading, painting and drawing, went to classes. Medical for call up, Grade 2 (end of tape). Told in reserved occupation (working for Oxo), disillusioned with job and War. Govt. encourages teacher training, Woodworking course in Shoreditch, suddenly could do, could excel, entertainment, taught teaching, practical. Family during the War, Father's restaurant destroyed by first bomb of War. Father worked in BBC catering dept. Later went to Scotland, Mother with new family, Joan in Brighton, Pan trying to follow husband around. End of war. 1945, Pat Millard at Shoreditch, art teacher. Elected to go to Hornsea to do pottery. Tutor Mrs Strong - handbuilding, no plastic, put each evening's work into box with 'tow' to keep damp, didn't work. Didn't enjoy clay, reinforced ideas to become a painter. In 1948 decided to go back to Art School. Primary school teacher, Southgate. Back full time to Hornsea, no grant for first year, suggested he join a craft course. Started to throw, Victor Magrie, Sheila, Sheila McNulty, Eileen Hull, Pamela Bailey, Doreen Lobb. All became potters - terrible teacher. Stoke on Trent man. Art School experience was magic. Living at home, looking after father (glaucoma). Failed first time, did another year and got distinction. Another course, wonderful time - these are the people I want to spend my life with, all creative people. Did last teaching course - 15 year old girls bookbinding! Phoned about a teaching job, evening class at Harrow. Boss Jim Hall. Had started own Pottery in 1952. Hornsea - stiff dead pottery. Work all kept by Hollinshead the teacher (still in possession of family). Regimented. MC's view doesn't meet with Victor Magrie's view - he thought it good because he was a designer. Fine at History of Ceramics. Aesthetics - nil. Lived in V&A - wonderful place. Hornsea basic but not radical - drawing very important - still sketch. Memories of Victor Magrie. Sheila Casson - married in 1955. Both teaching - no car, carrying everything. Evening classes v. busy. Victor Magrie and MC at Harrow from 1956. Evening classes - "Mums & Dads classes", throwing, handbuilding, press moulding. Very active classes. 1953 Father died, Sister v. badly injured (paralysed). Father left £300, bought lease of ironmongers shop he was running, worked v.v. hard. Sold out to brother Tony. Relationship with Sheila.
Tape 3 side 1
(trouble with tape - bit indistinct - especially questions)
Working together with Sheila. Children. Married on birthday! Developments toward functional pottery. Leach's book. Vernacular. Bodies and glazes. Decoration. Function main motivation. Arts & Crafts ideals. Bernard Leach. Central School. William Newland. Reading associated with Ancient Greece, Fascination with Greece and Greek culture, Mycenaean (?) form - influences on his own work. Seeking freer, more 4 th dimension, in his work. Working fast. Wish it was freer. Not satisfied with I am doing. Picasso exhibition. In early '50's looking at slipware, David Eels, forms and almost tied up with socialist idea - pottery for everyone. Parents'/ family attitude to MC's progress. Festival of Britain. Lucie Rie/Hans Coper. Marchmont Street by Russell Sq tube station. Kenneth Williams (comedian), David Storey, other potters, creative community. Learning Greek. Living accommodation. Mother's support. Items in family collections. Relationship with Pan, Pan leaving CPA. Byers of MC's work in 1950s. Like to know who is buying. Prestwood, growing family, learn to drive, failed test. Found Prestwood, made pots for the passing trade. Gave up most of teaching, but Harrow had started. Green glaze ware. Main bread winner, Sheila bringing up kids. 1962 Pottery burnt down. No insurance. Rebuilt and started again. Back teaching at Harrow
Tape 3 Side 2
How MC and Sheila worked together. Worked hand in hand, 1973 stopped repetition work and looked for a move. Such different people. Good critic. Sheila looked after children, too difficult financially for MC to give up work. Work compliments each other. 1960s exclusively domestic range. All MC's influence has come from history or function. We admired Ray Finch, Harry Davies' standard - techniques rather than pots themselves inspirational. Mycenaean form. Medieval, jugs, British, northern Europe, largely earthenware, salt glaze. 1960's financially successful. Happy good days. Working very hard. Closely involved with CPA and Harrow. Not good with machines! Kilns are not machines, I have feeling for that. Prefer wood to gas or oil. Ill from 1995. Cardew, Sven (?), Doug Phillips, Andrew(McGarva). Important Potters - Leach, best made in wood fired kiln. Re-emergence of wood. Admired Hamada, Leach, Andrew McGarva (son in law) Nick Collins, Jeremy Steward. Cardew a great eccentric, away in Africa for most of MC's early years. Miscellaneous memories of Cardew. Leach - remain historically important, dubious 79-81 but agree now. Craft/Art debate. Pretentious. Many friends in the pottery community. Most are potters. Move to Wobage Farm in 1970s, most importantly to do with work - wood firing. Bigger place. Prestwood changing. Settled in with Andrew & Clare to work, Ben, Lucy at college, Sheila's father. 1990 A&C left for France so bought young people in to work. Found Wobage in 1976, clean empty, derelict too strong, falling down, everything gone yellow. Huge buildings. Planning permission obtained. Managed to rebuilt business. Went to USA to earn £3000. Did much of the rebuilding themselves, whole family. Democratic society (every now and then I am Hitler!).
First arrived 1977, busy renovating. Kilns from day 1. Andrew v. strong, stubborn, Scottish. 1980s AmcG not selling, but MC was doing well. Work changed, experimental. 1982 road accident, year off. Peter Starkey head of pottery at Cardiff. Went back to teach history of ceramics for 10 years. Met Paul Greenhaulgh at Cardiff. Did some surreptitious teaching, Geoffrey Swindell. Course ran out of money. Rachel (?) Patty Davies, Petra Reynolds....chosen to work at Wobage. Own children, Clare, Lucy, Ben, best thing ever. Girls showed aptitude for art. All on wheel when two years old. Excelled in painting and drawing. Clare - textiles, Farnham. Lucy Camberwell. Ben chose Science at 14 and Design Technology. Degree at Cardiff. Rejected office life. Building kilns for a living from age 22. Turned to wood - now a wood worker/furniture maker. Lynne (Ben's wife). Lucy making models, automata. Using waste - strong political views. Immensely proud. Art & craft a good way of life. Craft community at Wobage.
TAPE 4Tape 4 Side 1
Rather faint & distorted at start.
......The community, the way we lived first 10-13 years different from now. Worked as a family, not demands on each other. Andrew a loner. Clare, weaving and tiles - people working for her. When A&C went to France, sea change, house 'empty'. At Cardiff, saw wonderful students. Decided to provide space, couldn't pay them but didn't want to do our work. Invited to work for summer. MC work out how much do for 'us' i.e. community, clearing, planting trees, etc, and they would get place to work and materials free. Didn't work 7 days a week! Provided workshop and materials free, four hours work a week. Pattya Davies, John Eleston, Jeremy...all chores done. Flexible. MC better than Sheila with people. Jeweller - pays a small amount of money. Helps to pay rates. All three children to inherit. Ben right hand man. Living in Cinderford. Six potters, two wood workers and jeweller. Work independently, 'chores' shared, grew organically. Towy Community, Bill Marno, old friend. Marvellous initially, fell apart through avarice. Wobage not a community but a collective. Need leadership Mostly harmonious. Like young people around. Workshops and Summer schools in 1980s- exhausting. Commercial. Good introduction to earning a living for children. People came for advanced courses. Documents and slides and reasons required. 12 at a time. Potters' camps. Teaching, communicating. Keeler, Yasuda - different. Curated 3 man show at Aberystwyth with Angus Suttie. Like demonstrating. Went to America 20 times, workshops. Countries with ceramic traditions - France and Germany. Australia, Mediterranean on holidays. Bad traveller. 5 Star treatment. Other interests History, Jazz, musical, looking at painting, fine art. Visit galleries, V&A, BM. Contemporary conceptualism - sold out. Awaits revival of painting. Like Freud, Auerbach, Josef Herman. Turner prize. Saw "Sensations" - phoney. Ceramics as often as can, don't like, wants to keep up. Went to CPA few months ago - young hopefuls exhibition. Cinema - 20 th Cent. Art form. Americanisation. French, Italian films - great programme. Actively interested today. Les Enfants du Paradis. Seven Samurai, Casablanca. Books - Greek, Plato, The Republic, The Dialogues. Zen and the art of motorbike maintenance. Socrates. Heredotos, Cannery Row. Leavy's book on the Periodic table. Etc...not many novels. European literature in translation. Classical era. Active life, "doer", argument, disputation. When not making pots, reading. Newspaper, politics. Guardian. GM debate, alternative medicine. TV - hates soaps, phoney debates, likes drama, films, nature, archaeology, news. Listen to music. Painting. Royal Academy, Hayward, pretty limited. Matisse. Bonnard. Take Crafts magazine, some London exhibitions. Reactionary. Point beyond which innovation can go wrong. Turner Prize. Crafts magazine - pity about new for new sake. Keeps up to date. Ceramic Review - interesting/rounded. Studio Potter (American)
Tape 4 Side 2 (distorted at start)
Current affairs, Spanish Civil War. Politics. Left. Green issues. OBE. Joke from John Pollex. Pan's gallery destroyed by a driver. Make use of OBE to help other causes. Palace. Sheila and Pan. Religion. Spiritual, interested in religion. Next 1000 years. Ceramics, next 10 years - education failing, funding direction. Optimist or Pessimist? Both. People will make. Pressure and challenge. Quieter life now to make more pots. New challenges - some respond to. Bath Study Centre. Joe Finch scheme. Craft Study Centre history and involvement. Henry Hammond, Richard Batterham. 1990. Cardew pots, Staite Murray - good and bad! Financially strong. Grandchildren - four. All wonderful. All call me Mick. Hope grandchildren get involved in crafts.
Hopes for future in ceramics - spectrum not to get over weighted by any one facet of ceramics.
How would you like to be remembered. Some one who made a decent jug now and again and someone who said "lets see what you've got to say". Most important things - having a family. Achievement, being a team worker, helping others.
|Michael Casson – Special Suppliment Issue 6|