Leach and Hamada: Bequest of Kenneth Hood


Kenneth Hood (1928–2002) was a staff member at the National Gallery of Victoria from 1961 to 1992. He was Curator of Decorative Arts from 1965 to 1976, becoming Deputy Director in 1976 and Deputy Director, Collections, in 1982. Studio pottery was one of his many passions and in addition to his extensive development of the NGV’s collection in that area he also developed a refined collection of Australian, British and Japanese studio pottery for himself, eventually numbering several hundred items. His taste for ceramics formed during the mid 1950s and was firmly centred on the Anglo/Japanese stoneware tradition. In his will Hood generously offered the Gallery the opportunity to select works from his collection and to sell the residue, using the funds raised for the purchase of pottery to further enhance the Gallery’s collection he had so carefully developed.

The desire to build a collection of ceramics by leading potters was clear in Hood’s systematic approach. Work by Australian potters, especially those in Melbourne, was not difficult to source and, predictably, represented the greater number of pots in his collection. By far the largest number were by H. R. Hughan, whose work Hood admired immensely and bought extensively. Other major Australian potters represented included Les Blakebrough, Col Levy, Gwyn Hanssen Pigott and Peter Rushforth. The British works included pots by Michael Cardew, Hans Coper, Bernard Leach, Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie, Lucie Rie and William Staite Murray. The Japanese potters represented included Hamada Shoji, Kawai Kanjiro, Kawai Takeichi, Shiga Shigeo and Shimaoka Tatsuzo. Works by all these potters and others have now entered the NGV’s collection as the Bequest of Kenneth Hood.

Bernard Leach and Hamada Shoji through their work and teaching influenced a generation of potters and were seminal figures in the development of studio pottery during the twentieth century. Leach and Hamada first met in Japan 1919 when Hamada wanted to become a studio potter. Leach had been working in Japan and was establishing a reputation. When Leach returned to live and work as a potter in Britain in 1920, Hamada travelled with him and remained in the UK, working with Leach at his pottery until 1923 when he returned to Japan to establish his career there.

Although Hood selected pots himself when travelling or enlisted travelling friends, family and colleagues to select and transport pots for him, several of the pots by overseas makers were purchased directly via correspondence. To collect works by potters of such stature as Bernard Leach and Hamada Shoji without travelling from Australia required tenacity and the faith to rely upon the judgement of others. Hood corresponded with Leach in Cornwall from the late 1950s, obtaining ceramics and drawings from 1958 to 1963. Mostly he had to rely upon a typed description, the judgement of the artist and, only occasionally, if he was lucky, an actual sketch. Via this method Hood acquired two of his finest Leach pots – a stoneware celadon bowl with an incised fish design and a large vase painted with oxides. Leach’s secretary offered Hood three works in 1958, recommending the ‘Stoneware bowl … with small turned foot. Darkish celadon through which the texture of the stoneware shows pleasantly. Engraved on the inside with two fishes in a simple design … Price £3’. Hood wished to obtain a large classic vase by Leach and the selection of this was aided by a pen-and-ink sketch of three Leach vases on the aerogramme. These were offered from stock, each priced at £15, and ‘although not exactly like the one you mention, are similar in size and quality’. He was further advised that: ‘Should you prefer a copy of the original, Mr Leach would of course have to make it specially, and in fact two would have to be made in case one fired unsuccessfully in the kiln’. Hood subsequently purchased several other Leach pots, as well as three of his drawings of Japanese subjects and one of a pot.

Hamada Shoji was a reluctant correspondent and Hood’s letters to him went largely unanswered. This was despite the intervention of Hamada’s son Atsuaya who worked at the Leach Pottery and encouraged Hood to continue to write. His persistence paid off and two and a half years after first writing to Hamada, the Hamada Pottery sent a ‘small square moulded bottle with a wax-resist brush work’. Embarrassed at their delay in dealing with his order, the pot was a present and the cost of postage was absorbed by the pottery. Hood acquired a further six pots by Hamada, including a slightly larger version of the square bottle vase donated to him by the artist.

Over the years Hood eventually acquired the twelve pots by Leach and Hamada included in his Bequest and these works, along with others, completely transform the NGV’s holdings of British and Japanese studio ceramics. Works from the Bequest of Kenneth Hood are included in the permanent display at NGV: International.

Christopher Menz, Senior Curator of Decorative Arts, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2004).