York Museums Trust has extensive collections of ceramics dating from prehistory through to the work of contemporary artists. Our collection of British studio ceramics is one of the most important in the UK.
Containing the work of over 600 artists and in excess of 5,500 objects, it continues to grow through gifts and purchases.
The collection began in the 1950s when the Very Reverend Eric Milner-White, Dean of York, left his collection of studio pottery to York Art Gallery.
Milner-White began collecting in 1925 when there were few other collectors interested in modern pottery and he was able to buy some of the biggest and best works. He considered stoneware the ‘aristocrat’ of clays and focussed almost entirely on that.
To him, William Staite Murray, Shoji Hamada and Bernard Leach were the three master potters of the 20th Century and his collection contains many iconic early works by them.
W.A. Ismay was the most prolific collector of post-war British studio ceramics in the UK. A librarian from Wakefield, Yorkshire, he began collecting in 1955 and left his collection to the Yorkshire Museum on his death in 2001.
Ismay used his modest wage and later his pension to build a collection of over 3,500 pots, living surrounded by them in his small terraced house. He had a fondness for pots he could use in his daily life, but also collected more sculptural works.
His collection contains important groups of works by Michael Cardew, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Bernard Leach and many others.
In 2009 Henry Rothschild gave York Art Gallery a group of ceramics from his personal collection.
Rothschild founded the Primavera gallery in London at the end of World War 2 and became a leading retailer of craft and design during the post war period, selling furniture, glass, textiles and ceramics.
He made no distinction between hand or machine made, just aimed to sell the best quality. He gave York Art Gallery some of his favourite pieces, which include works by Lucie Rie, Ian Godfrey and Beate Kuhn.
As a child, collector Anthony Shaw travelled widely with his parents and his early purchases were chosen as they reminded him of things seen in international museums.
He began collecting in the 1970s and after meeting artists Gordon Baldwin and Ewen Henderson, developed an interest in sculptural ceramics.
He now has significant groups of work by Baldwin and Henderson, as well as other artists including Gillian Lowndes, Sara Radstone, Ian Godfrey, Bryan Illsley and a collection of more than 550 buttons by Lucie Rie.
The collection was set up as a Charitable Trust in 2002 and continues to grow. He has given his collection to York Museums Trust on long term loan.
York Museums Trust continues to grow the collection and aims to acquire works of significance that tell the continually evolving story of British studio ceramics.
The collections of British studio ceramics are supported by a vast archive of information gathered by the collectors Milner-White, Ismay and Shaw, which provides the context for the works in our collection. These archives deepen our understanding of the collectors, artists and how the objects were created, sold and used.
Containing correspondence, draft texts, receipts, photographs, exhibition invites, leaflets and price lists, catalogues, journals and books, they offer a rich resource for research.
The archives are currently being digitised and made accessible alongside our ceramics collection
through our website. Visitors to York Art Gallery can access the collections in CoCA through a collections database, and a growing body of online exhibitions, films and research, as well as examples of ceramics to handle.