Tanya Harrod: “Michael Cardew – the last sane man”. Biography

Tanya Harrod’s biography of Michael Cardew has just been puiblished. My thoughts on it….

“The Last Sane Man”, Tanya Harrod’s excellent biography of pioneer potter, Michael Cardew, is a must not only for potters, artists, and ceramic collectors, but also for those who just fancy the gripping story of an extraordinary life.

Anyone, but especially a potter, who was touched by the Cardew flame, could be inspired, maddened, or even burnt out by his presence. He called himself a “mud and water man”, but his personality was firey, at times eccentric, opinionated and contradictory. I was fortunate to have spent just enough time at Wenford Bridge in the summer of 1973 to be infected by his enthusiasm for honest, well-made functional pots.

However, Tanya Harrod’s book is not written from a potter’s point of view. The potmaking is always there, at Winchcombe, Vume, Abuja and Wenford, but it is Cardew’s complex personality that takes centre stage. Her access to a massive trove of private letters has allowed her to spell out the difficulties he had in his relationships with other men, particularly Kofi, his great Ghanaian love, with his tolerant wife Mariel, and with his children.

The contradictory elements of Cardew’s life were resolved in his work. An uncompromising vision coupled with an instinctive sense of  rightness resulted in majestic, heartfelt pots. They will survive when our virtual, conceptual culture is not even a memory. Which brings me to my one criticism of Tanya Harrod’s book. There are not enough colour photographs, particularly of the later stoneware, while the black and white photos of the people, places and African pots that so inspired him are plentiful, but too small.

That said, this is a brilliant account of one of the great characters of the 20th century.  I read the book from cover to cover almost in one sitting. Un-put-downable.