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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Bernard Leach and British Columbian pottery : subtitle an historical ethnography of a taste culture Vaillant, Nora E.


This thesis presents an historical ethnography of the art world and the taste culture that collected the west coast or Leach influenced style of pottery in British Columbia. This handmade functional style of pottery traces its beginnings to Vancouver in the 1950s and 1960s, and its emergence is embedded in the cultural history of the city during that era. The development of this pottery style is examined in relation to the social network of its founding artisans and its major collectors. The Vancouver potters Glenn Lewis, Mick Henry and John Reeve apprenticed with master potter Bernard Leach in England during the late fifties and early sixties. Upon returning to British Columbia they played key roles in the establishment of handmade pottery as a vibrant and expressive art form on the Canadian west coast. The style of pottery made by the former Leach apprentices and their students held a prominent position in the Vancouver art world during the 1960s. Its success was dependent not only upon the artists, but upon the support of a particular local taste culture. A taste culture is a group who can be identified by shared aesthetic preferences [Gans 1966]. Mapping the circulation and appreciation of this pottery enables the discernment of a larger social pattern at work. The taste culture consisted of the artists, the collectors, the dealers/gallery owners, and the curator/critics in Vancouver who were interested in modernism as an art movement with the potential to impact daily living. As a group they shared similar values and aesthetic preferences outside of their interest in handmade pottery. These shared values and aesthetic standards are examined through the operation of the taste culture in significant social spaces. My analysis of the social forces and networks underpinning the development of this pottery style is balanced by the acknowledgment of the need to recognize the pottery's expressive value. This is what Janet Wolff refers to as the "specificity of art" (1983). As an ethnographic analysis of the Vancouver art world and a local taste culture, this thesis answers the questions: Why was the pottery collected and by whom? How was the pottery displayed or used? How was it represented in private collections, galleries and museums? How did the taste culture arrive at a set of aesthetic discriminations? And finally, how did these reflect a particular social network and its social values? This thesis contributes to the anthropological literature in the area of art and anthropology, and provides new perspectives to the current museum studies research on collectors and taste cultures.

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