Memories of the School’s Art Service

Posted on by Fay Curtis.

by Sue Stops, member of the public

The current exhibition of pots from the School’s Art Service Collection has brought back many memories for me.

In the 1960s my husband, John Stops RWA, was teaching pottery at Bedminster Down school. During this time and into the 70s the School’s Art Collection (SAS) was built up by a gentlemen we knew who bought pots from many sources. Some were from the Bristol Guild where my husband would eventually run the gallery for 20 years during the 80s and 90s.

It was a wonderful collection on a termly loan to schools who were keen to use it. The items borrowed were usually displayed in a glass case in the entrance hall at the schools – but it’s thought a number of items found their way into the teacher’s homes too! Of course, we hope all were returned.

During the heady 60s and 70s when exciting things were happening in all branches of the arts in Bristol, an organisation called the SEA (Society for Education through Art) held meetings.

'Ibex' pot by Bernard Leach. A brown pot with wave decoration.

Bernard Leach (one of the potters featured in Radical Clay) was invited to talk to the teachers. He agreed provided he could stay with a family, preferably in the country. That’s how he came to stay with us!

The evening he arrived most of the local potters came round for a drink but Bernard decided he was too tired and went to bed. The next day, he apparently gave a brilliant talk to a lot of Bristol’s art teachers, followed by a trip to Clevedon to visit an old potter friend.

The next morning I was left with a new baby and Bernard, as my husband had left for work. Bernard’s taxi was due at noon to take him to the station but until then he needed to do something to kill some time. He expressed his need to use his hands; looking at my new Hoover he said he had always wanted to try one. Trying out all the attachments he proceeded to hoover every bit of my house – it had never been so clean nor Bernard Leach so happy!

It was tragic when times changed and the cost of running the SAS became too much. I discovered the collection was being stored at the Schools Library Service and some were still out on loan. Thankfully the pots were at the museum and being looked after by the Schools Museum Service; sometimes they were even on display in the Schools Room.

Radical Clay was a real trip down memory lane and I have to say how wonderful the pots look.

As one person there at the time remarked:

These are more wonderful than anything they’ve got in the Tate
at St. Ives.

Radical Clay: Teaching with the greatest potters of the 1960s is at Bristol Museum & Art Gallery until 10 June 2018.

Images: Pots by Bernard Leach on display in Radical Clay.

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