Michael Cardew was born in Wimbledon; he studied humanities at Exeter College, Oxford and learnt pottery during the summer vacations at Braunton Pottery. From 1923 until 1926 he was a pupil of Bernard Leach. He then branched out on his own and acquired the Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire. Here he endeavoured to produce simple artistic ware that would be of practical use in the home, and of reasonable cost to the general public. Apart from this domestic ware, he produced single pieces for his own enjoyment. By the 1930s there was a feeling of dissatisfaction with the Winchcombe pieces and a move to a new pottery at Wenford Bridge in Cornwall gave Cardew the opportunity to experiment with new ceramic shapes and decoration without comprising his feeling for form and function. From 1942 until 12945 he was ceramicist at Achimota College in Accra, Ghana. In 1945 he started his own pottery at Vume on the Volta River. Of this period Cardew has said that 'The fundamental idea of that work was to bring to West Africa a new industry, capable of developing as a modern West African art-form side by side with the traditional potters’ craft already existing there. The earliest residents of Vume had made the village a centre for pottery production and Cardew’s intention was to make this local household craft a paying proposition. His Vume pots are particularly noteworthy for their dramatic dark green glaze, glowing with vibrant red pigment. A number of these works are in the British Council collection. Cardew left Ghana for Nigeria in 1950 where he became Senior Pottery Officer in the Ministry of Trade. He was awarded the MBE in 1964 and returned to Wenford Bridge the following year. A retrospective exhibition of his work was mounted by the Crafts Council in 1976 and he was awarded the OBE for his contribution to British ceramics. His biography A Pioneer Potter was edited by his son Seth and published posthumously.
Cardew’s work is exemplified by honesty to materials and function. His original pottery at Winchcombe had produced domestic and farmhouse earthenware; but Cardew had also experimented with producing prototypes for mass production by Copelands but these were never made.
Further reading :
Michael Cardew, A Pioneer Potter, An Autobiography , London, Collins, 1988