Design & Shopping: Earthenware: A New Brew Can It Be True That Walter Keeler Has Abandoned His Signature Salt-Glaze Stoneware for `the Joy of the Commonplace'?

By Jackson, Lesley | The Independent (London, England), September 11, 1999 | Go to article overview
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Design & Shopping: Earthenware: A New Brew Can It Be True That Walter Keeler Has Abandoned His Signature Salt-Glaze Stoneware for `the Joy of the Commonplace'?


Jackson, Lesley, The Independent (London, England)


There's a great sense of excitement and expectancy in the ceramics world at the moment. No, it's not the announcement of the Jerwood Prize for the Applied Arts. It's being awarded to furniture this year. The trepidation centres around Walter Keeler's latest one-man show which opens in London next Friday. Rumour has it that the old sea dog has abandoned salt-glazed stoneware, the medium he has pioneered over the last two decades, and is about to launch a radical new collection made from - shock, horror - earthenware.

Are the rumours true? Well, yes and no, Keeler told me when I spoke to him. Yes, he will be exhibiting pots inspired by the dainty creamware and mottled tortoiseshell-glazed tablewares made by potters such as the young Josiah Wedgwood during the 18th century. But no, he has not sloughed off his crusty old salt-glazed stoneware carapace entirely. "I'm exploring the two materials in parallel," he explains, "making groups of works in batches. My salt-glaze pots have a more austere quality. They're darker in colour and weightier in form and physique. Very much in the Modernist tradition: severe, cool, robust, architectural. My creamware, on the other hand, is more delicate and subtle. It's a gorgeous warm material with strong sensual qualities, and I can use it to explore other qualities such as proportion and fine detail."

As Keeler points out, he has been potting for a good many years now, and one of the pleasures of working in the 1990s is that there are no rules anymore. Potters can do whatever they want. Back in the early post- war period, it was rather different. Then, the Anglo- Oriental tradition promoted by Bernard Leach was the prevailing influence, but try as he might, Keeler never felt comfortable adopting this model for his own work. Instead he discovered that his natural affinity lay with the semi- industrial pottery made in Staffordshire during the 18th century. "My pots are hybrids," he confesses. "Through reading Leach's A Potter's Book, I absorbed the idea that there was a right and a wrong way to make pots, and that basically they should be as simple as possible. Leach taught that you shouldn't go over things twice or attempt to refine them. But what I have tried to do is to reconcile the ethical approach I learnt from Leach with the lyrical qualities I instinctively appreciate in early industrial pottery."

Stoneware, the material with which he has been associated to date, is much tougher and more resilient earthenware and has traditionally been used for making functional wares, anything from wine bottles and beer mugs to water filters and underground pipes.

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Design & Shopping: Earthenware: A New Brew Can It Be True That Walter Keeler Has Abandoned His Signature Salt-Glaze Stoneware for `the Joy of the Commonplace'?
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