With a background in museums and crafts, several diplomas and degrees in three-dimensional design, exhibition design and heritage studies, Helen Walsh brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her lecture for the North-West Ceramics Foundation. From 2004 until the present, Walsh has been the curator in charge of York Museums Trusts’ most important contemporary British studio ceramics collections and of the historical ceramics collections at the York Art Gallery in the North of England, United Kingdom. She founded the UK’s Contemporary Studio Ceramics Subject Specialist Network in 2012 and was instrumental in the establishment of the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) at York Art Gallery, which opened in 2015. She is the author of numerous publications and conference papers, and, in 2017 she will complete her PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University on the WA Ismay collection, the subject of her talk for the NWCF.William Alfred Ismay MBE (1910-2001) was the most prolific collector of studio pottery in post-war Britain, gathering over 3,500 pieces by approximately 500 potters between 1955 and 2001. Using his wage from his day job as a librarian and later, his pension, Ismay proved that it was possible to develop a world-class collection with very little money. Ismay called himself the custodian of the pots, not their owner, saying he often felt that he was not the possessor, but the possessed. A visit to Ismay’s home, a tiny suburban terraced house in which he lived surrounded by pots, was an unforgettable and extraordinary experience, involving careful negotiation of floors and surfaces piled high with ceramics. Visitors would often spend hours in the house looking at his collection. Several recalled the terrifying exam in which Ismay would quiz them on who made the pots, but they were rewarded by the opportunity to choose a cup from his collection from which to drink.
The Ismay Collection offers the opportunity for a greater understanding of post-war British studio pottery as it encompasses the work of both well-known and more obscure potters. It offers a broad overview from one collector’s perspective, showing the development of potters and their work over a number of years, along with a vast archive of information on exhibitions, events, publications, market values and changing tastes.Helen Walsh’s lecture will trace Ismay’s background, how he began collecting and what his impact was on the British studio pottery movement. It will also reveal the transformative effect his collection had on York Art Gallery and how it sparked plans to develop the Centre of Ceramic Art. For more information on the York Art Gallery Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA), please see their website at https://www.centreofceramicart.org.uk/