issue 6

Michael Casson – Special Suppliment


Mick Casson interviewed by Anna Hale

Subject: Harrow Course

Date: Uncertain, but possibly November 2000
Location: Mick Casson's home at Wobage Farm, Herefordshire.
Two tapes, 559/393 & 560/394 held at the Ceramic Archive, University of Wales, Aberystwyth.

Tapes 561/395 to



Art education in early 1960's, Coldstream Report which issued guidelines. Criteria for Dip A&D and BA. Students required academic qualifications, courses would include sessions on 'writing and thinking', students would have to be literate and numerate. Victor Magrie and Mick Casson working at Harrow in West London, Victorian building. Pottery in basement. Old guard, pre-war attitudes in Art department. Submissions for approval under Coldstream Report - many pages but only half page for ceramics. Victor Magrie (VM) made the most of application, but facilities at Harrow very poor. Therefore VM and Mick Casson (MC) decided to develop own course. Differing personal motivations. MC because of experience of very poor teaching at Hornsea. Decided to run a workshop course, teaching skills. Early '60s demand for type of work unfulfilled. David Canter and another person from Heals wrote to Harrow authorities confirming that there would be a market. VM's objective for course to turn out high quality work, MC, motivation for a course for people to earn a living. Influence of CPA's ethos.   Needed someone who knew workshop practice, idealistic and optimistic. '60s were liberating, new. We now say "what tired old brown pots" but they were new in '60s. Bought by middle classes. MC was running ironmongery shop, making own pots and teaching evening class. Colin Pearson joined, good a workshop practice. Principles of course - VM new ideas, new concepts. Started with one full time student (Margaret Shotton) and 2 part time. Course started in '63. One overriding concept all adhered to "Train people to go out and earn a living as potters" Significant life. Vocational course, first of its kind. Error in Harrow Connection book that VM started course, it was joint effort VM and MC.

Criticisms from establishment. Meeting at Central School of Art, critics - Bill Newland, Harding Green and Ken Clark - none had visited Harrow. Reason for criticism. Day to day routine - 3 days on wheel, 1 of repetition, thesis writing, drawing and painting - contrary to other colleges. Not going backward to artisan feel but moving forward, VM very innovative. First Art School Bernard Leach ever visited, persuaded by son David. ("Father they make pots"). Only Farnham similar to Harrow but they did no repetition work. Colin Person, vital person "One of the most important potters of this century" Scientist, mathematician, formulation of clay bodies and glazes, feldspar convention.   Harry Davis' ethos "We must equal industry at their efficiency and beat them". Work/ethos mix of Leach, Davis and Cardew. Students and staff closely linked, learning from each other. Av. Student age 25. First name terms, no "them and us" feeling     Liberal sixties, anything goes, 'skill' a dirty word, seen as reactionary. Support of Ken Illingworth (Head of College). Use of limited funding. Collecting and recycling materials. Creative means of acquiring items. Student selection. Max 15 students. Looked for determination, tenacity, innovation and creativity. "Down-shifting". International/Commonwealth students. Using skill to move forward to individual solutions. (Compare to Gus Mableson and Joe Finch courses)

Length of course, 2 years, commitment. Students working very hard, round the clock, 7 days a week, just like real life. MC taught history, repetition, throwing, teapot making. Demonstrating - show and tell - method of teaching largely rejected by other colleges. Course included technology, clay making and business studies - particularly suited to potters. VM & MC very different characters but mutually supportive. VM had high standards, meticulous. Very good at dealing with college authorities, a very able administrator. VM didn't formally teach, but would 'plant a seed' with regard to design.

Atmosphere in the college "could feel the knowledge coming off the walls".

Members of staff - all important Colin Pearson, Gwyn Hannsen - very charismatic, Bryan Newman, Mo Jupp, Wally Keeler, firing of kilns,

Visitors - VM & MC would find out who was coming through the country and get to visit. Hans Coper. Students watching film of Issac Button. Leach visited, Harry Davis did demonstrations, for a week. Bernard Leach against art schools but visited and talked. David Leach very important to the course - demonstrated.

Key qualities of teaching - tolerance, anti-dogmatic, open viewed, unprejudiced. Communication skills.   Importance of tutors being makers, throwing pots. Reason to support Joe Finch and Dartington. Practictioners as teachers. Wally Keeler's own training. Came to Harrow as kiln person. Importance to Harrow. Salt glazing.

David Leach first external invigilator/examiner. Supportive of course - a Leach 'connection'. Chatted and demonstrated to students.

Course had bad press with some colleges, but CPA shop welcomed work. Major supplier. Impossibility of the wide range of the course - stiff goals. Very tiring courses. Micki Schloessingk - working flat out, long hours and commitment. Personal motivations. Only two students dropped out. Staff worked very hard, 7 days a week. Anyone who didn't pull his or her weight was out. MC left in 1973, took over from VM in 1971. Changes. Funding. Lord Eccles set up Crafts Advisory Cttee and VM took job there and MC took over for six months. Difficult year - committed to own work, not suited to administration and paperwork, had a poor technician. David Harvey took over. 1973 MC left, only went back to teaching following an accident in 1982.

Course changed after MC left. Harrow close to closing. David Harvey struggled with mature student profile.. Changed from a vocational course into a full BA Hons course. Now probably one of the best schools for throwing. Initially devastated at changes. Through 70s and 80s too many BA courses, too diffuse, no specialisation. Present time, too many, lack of resources, too thinly spread. Theory in place of practice. Passion for teaching continues - need for specialisation, learning specifics - like Joe Finch's course on throwing and kiln building - materials and processes rather than ideas and concepts.   Taught history at Cardiff. Importance of History. Importance of starting an art and craft experience as early as possible. Nurtured.

Connection with 'Craft of the Potter' BBC programme. Appointment as presenter, arrangements. Other potters involved. Three million saw programme. Publication of book . Influential to cause of pottery. 40,000 copies of book. Other TV experiences.

Own two books. Problems of developing first book. £100 fee. Three editions.

Dartington. CPA not a major force in its development. Geoffrey Whiting's letter to David Leach proposing a course to help graduating potters, David Canter got the ball rolling. VM approached to help with Crafts Council grants. 1975-6 set up with money and place to work. Students to have time to develop own work. Peter Starkey largely good at running the course. Lack of success of the workshop. Marianne de Trey/David Leach - significance of position on the board. Underfunded, no heating, all from scratch, problems with getting things done on time. Good atmosphere, excellent students. Pete Cook. Not viable because not sufficient work of right quality - slightly dated. Stephen Course. Insufficient funding. MC too much voluntary work in 1984. Janice Tchalenko invited to be a designer and pulled round. Bought out and now run by Stephen Course.   Influenced development of project at Wobage Farm.

Dart Pottery, now a 'factory'. Stoke on Trent in trouble partly occasioned by rise of small factories.

Present and future hopes - Jo Finch enterprise. Possibly based on Harrow, but also a scheme in Ireland, organised by Irish Crafts Council. (Thomastown) Gus Mableson - successful in Ireland - waiting list. Participate if making pots on wheel is incorporated, drawing, painting, individuality as well as skill of making. Combination of abilities and bringing in other people to make a rounded course. Not just turning out a technician.

Woodfirers. People using materials, ways of making, processes is essential. Art education, very worried about.

Crafts Council's role in promoting ceramics. Worked with CC from 1971. Backed it wholeheartedly. Brought in grants. Support for innovative work. Mistakes, committee for the Index. Good people turned down. Reinstated under "reassessment". Assimilation into Arts Council. Could be death knell of CC. Future very uncertain. No structure to assure that the CC will continue. Could democratically stop grants to students.

"Obscure of object of desire?"....obscure? No, object of desire? maybe.   It's been part of our life for thousands of years. Don't like the phrase.

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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