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Sidney Edward Tustin (1913-2005)


The world of ceramics lost a remarkable character with the death of Sid Tustin on 9th November 2005. He was ninety-two and had been in failing health for many months. Born in Winchcombe in 1913, Tustin had been the mainstay at Winchcombe Pottery for fifty-one years before his retirement in 1978. His entry into the world of ceramics is best described in his own words. A countryman through and through, he had been in South Wales with his mother for a short period but had not settled, and returned to Winchcombe to stay with his grandmother. It was 1927 and, aged fourteen, he was told that the 'new man' who had re-opened the old pottery was looking for 'a smart young man'. Said Sid, 'I got the job, mind you, I was the only one who applied otherwise I might not have'.

Michael Cardew, Sidney Tustin, Ray Finch   Slipware by Sidney Tustin

From left to right:
Michael Cardew, Sidney Tustin, Ray Finch
Photograph courtesy Ron Wheeler.

  Slipware by Sidney Tustin

The new young man at the pottery was Michael Cardew, an Oxford classicist, trained as a potter by Bernard Leach at St. Ives. The 1927 team was somewhat unconventional: a patrician Cardew, with small, deaf Elijah Comfort almost of retiring age, and the young Tustin, whose first job was to turn the wheel for Comfort. A mundane beginning, but he watched, learned and had great respect for the old man. Tustin also carefully observed Cardew, with whom he had a mercurial relationship. This led to Sid working on, and experiencing, every aspect of the pottery and its management, and he became indispensable.

Cardew is said to have wanted to reinvigorate English slipware. Tustin became a recognised and accomplished thrower, a decorator of flair and a potter whose name is widely known. He loved slipware, with its warm and invigorating colours, but later in his career he was to become as skilful with stoneware. Cardew left for Wenford Bridge, Cornwall, in 1939 and Sid, on his return from war service with an injury which troubled him all his life, then worked alongside Ray Finch, who bought the pottery from Cardew in 1946. The twenties and thirties had been pioneering years, with Finch joined in 1936, and he and Sid were to handle changes and weather difficult times before Sid retired in 1978. Muriel Rose in her book Artist Potters in England (1955) wrote of Tustin as Cardew's first pottery boy, 'who developed into one of the finest throwers in the country. His jugs in particular have a lightness and balance of form which distinguishes them'.

Sid married Marie Smith in 1935, being devoted to her and their extended family. He loved gardening and was a keen sportsman, always maintaining an impressive physique.

After the war the pottery took apprentices and other trainees. In this respect Winchcombe has been every bit as influential as the Leach Pottery in St. Ives, training, amongst others, Bernard Leach's grandson John. There are potters worldwide who are grateful to Tustin for the generosity of his time and his encouragement, alongside an infectious humour. His work is widely collected and available in museums and academic centres. He has an established place in twentieth century pottery; a leading potter and writer said on hearing of his death - 'sad news about Sidney, something of a legend in the pottery world'.

This legend was unassuming, honest and loyal, with a countryman's sense of fairness and of life's natural rhythms. During his working life he made over one million pieces, and he can also be said to have been a man in a million. His family, and his art and craft are his lasting legacies.

Ron Wheeler
Shurdington, Cheltenham
March 2006

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Reviews by:

Linda Sandino
(book review)

Garth Clark
(book review)

Richard D. Mohr
(reply to Garth Clark's review)

Wilma Cruise
(exhibition review)

Ron Wheeler
(obituary of Sid Tustin)

Sidney Edward Tustin (1913-2005) • Issue 7   Interpreting Ceramics