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Janet Leach: a top-ten potter

IT'S hard to explain to non-booklovers what makes book collecting so rewarding. They think that, once a book is read, it is of no further use. Wrong. In fact, resoundingly and emphatically wrong.

I have books I bought more than 50 years ago. There are some I haven't read since 1962. But I keep them because they have been lifelong companions, vital parts of the infrastructure of my existence. They have helped me acquire whatever erudition I possess.

Even more importantly, they sometimes spring surprises. The other day, I was flicking through A Potter's Book by Bernard Leach, bought more than 30 years ago. Out fell a letter I received in 1996 from Janet Leach, Bernard's Texan wife, who also happened to be one the leading potters of her day.

In it, she thanked me for writing a 'sensitive' article about her in the magazine Cornwall Arts, one of several publications I was editing at the time.

I had been to see her at the famous Leach Pottery in St Ives, where she and fellow potter Trevor Corser continued the great Leach tradition.

At the time, Janet was producing small, hand-built slip-trailed pots because a bad leg had forced her to stop using her beloved kick-wheel. She died the following year. I was one of the last journalists to interview her.

Her note was a priceless reminder not only of Janet herself, but also her much older husband Bernard, who died in 1979. Both were schooled in the great Japanese ceramic tradition, but produced pots of such soulful individuality that they both earned places at the very peak of the pottery premiership.

Bernard was, in fact, arguably the greatest British potter of all, and certainly a front-runner in the international arena. His work influenced several generations of ceramicists and is still revered today.

When I met Janet, I asked her where she stood among world potters. 'Definitely in the top ten,' she said, a Texan twinkle in her eye.

Actually, most experts would agree with that. Her pots were superb.

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