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Lucie Rie: Modernist Potter (Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art) (The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art) Hardcover – 18 May 2012
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About the Author
Emmanuel Cooper was a distinguished potter, writer, curator, and broadcaster. The founder and editor of Ceramic Review, he was also visiting professor at the Royal College of Art, London. He was the author of, among other books, Bernard Leach (Yale University Press, 2003). Emmanuel Cooper died in January 2012, shortly after completing Lucie Rie..
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Cooper had a secret weapon in accomplishing this monumental challenge, he had known Rie, he had visited her and watched her at work and his circle included many who were willing to help him compile a dizzying array of facts and historical events around his subject who had spent most of her life avoiding blatant publicity and often surprised even friends with her modesty and humility. He had other tricks up his sleeve too, he was a leader in glaze development and formulation, his forms were severely modernist in their aesthetic and he was a witness to the growth of awareness and excitement that Rie's work generated in the society of collectors and exhibitors, all factors that lent a special empathy to the task at hand.
The book is indeed a deep and detailed account of many aspects of Rie's life, in particular her youth in a troubled Vienna and her subsequent early years in London. Cooper has taken great pains to unearth family relations, her education, marriage to Hans Rie and the parting of the two shortly after their arrival in London. Against this, Cooper has also painted the social backdrop of enormous change in the Austrian political scene which was soon to overwhelm much of Europe as the situation worsened into the inevitable war against fascism.
Once the book reaches the stage of Rie's life and work where fame and fortune begin however, Cooper then retreats mysteriously into discretion. I was surprised to read relatively little about her techniques of making and of firing, certainly there were little hints like using bits of wood in the electric kiln to achieve reduction with some glazes but where he had gone into tremendous detail with her life and training, there was suddenly a paucity of facts and steps in the techniques where the production of the work was concerned. Although he mentions that she made her own porcelain clay and developed glaze recipes which she shared with him, Cooper does not supply any of these in his book. So I looked to his portrayal of Rie who comes across as cautious in her interactions with people, who had a tendency to being introverted and was wary of fame, publicity and talk of prices for a clue as to why Cooper might have refrained from leaving no stones unturned. I therefore suspect that Cooper was respecting her privacy with this distance, a little disappointing perhaps but we can but trust to the better judgement of the writer that this was what Rie might have preferred. He does say that she kept meticulous notes which only serves to highlight the absence of step by step detail in this section of the biography.
The writing is lucid, impeccable in tone and at times piercingly intuitive. My favourite is his description of Rie's work which is fundamentally domestic but belongs in the living room rather than the kitchen. Another is the neatness of her throwing, Cooper recalls that she used so little water and was so precise in her handling that there was no mess either on the floor or on her apron to indicate that she'd actually been in a throwing session. He also injects many vignettes of her personality like her fondness of baking, her generosity to those she valued like the Leaches and the Copers, her gentle humour and her acceptance of her fame so we do get to see some of her life and thinking, albeit from a safe distance. This book is a valuable and significant account of an extraordinary artist, carefully and intelligently written by a pillar of ceramic history and both are much missed.
Reproduced with kind permission by London Potters News.
The great tragedy is that he died shortly after completing this wonderful book. It perfectly describes Rie's amazing progress from Hitler oppressed Austria to her perfect mews home in London which was an Aladin's cave of beautiful pots that never failed to enchant the many visitors she graciously recieved. The book is beautifully illustrated. A real treat and very sensitively written. It will be a standard work. And a must read for anyone interested in modern ceramics.
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working potter Birk's book is much more valuable to me. Cooper's book includes Lucie's career from 1987 to her death in 1995.