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John Maltby Birds, Boats, Angels and Kings

December 20, 2021

What better way to end my blogging for the year by talking about one of my favourite Artists. Ceramist and Sculptor extroadinaire, John Maltby, who very sadly passed away in December 2020. I was very fortunate to notice that the Cheshire Art Gallery in Bramhall, had an exhibition of his work. Fifty pieces all in one space, obviously I had to go and was so pleased I made the effort. It was such a treat, they had examples of his very early work, right through to John’s last firing. Wonderful to see everything right before my eyes and not hidden away in glass cases in some museum-type display.

Born in Lincolnshire in 1936, John Maltby studied at Leicester College of Art and Goldsmith’s College in London.  He joined David Leach at Lowerdown Pottery in Devon in 1962, starting his own pottery at Stoneshill in 1964, where he continued to live and work, up until 2020. You can see some of his different potters marks for both Maltby and SP (Stoneshill Pottery) here.

Born in the coastal town of Cleethorpes in Lincolnshire to John, a fish merchant, and his wife, Gladys (nee Kay), the young John developed a love of the sea, and sailed for many years. But he did not want to go into his father’s business. He was also a fan of the work of Alfred Wallis which I think is apparent in both his seascapes …

and his wooden sailing Automata.

Here’s a glimpse of life in his busy studio thanks to Gallery Top.

After attending Clee grammar school he took a degree in art at Leicester College of Art, specialising in sculpture, and then spent a year studying at Goldsmiths’ College in London. For a couple of years he was an art teacher at Caterham school in Surrey, and it was there that he met Heather Helmore, who was matron there, and importantly, as John liked to relate, drove a Frog Eyed Sprite. They married in 1961.

By chance at this time he read Bernard Leach’s A Potter’s Book, and when he and Heather toured the south west of England in the Sprite in 1962, he visited Leach in St Ives in Cornwall. Bernard in turn directed him to his son David, who had his own pottery at Bovey Tracey in Devon. John then decided to give up teaching and join David as his apprentice, spending two years there, after which, he said, “I could throw like an angel”.

In 1964 John set up Stoneshill Pottery near Crediton in Devon and he remained working there until the end of his life. He started by making functional Leach-style pots, but quickly realised that making Anglo-Japanese wares was neither personally relevant nor fulfilling, and began to produce much more individual work.

In 1996 John had a major heart operation that stopped him performing the heavy work of kneading clay and manipulating large pieces, leading him to make smaller sculptural work. Many of his earlier themes were still there, but at the same time he introduced a new cast of characters: birds, kings, queens, warriors and angels. This was the style that he worked with for the rest of his life.

John Maltby was one of the best known British ceramic artists, and most of his shows sold out on the opening day. He was advised by some gallery owners to severely limit his output and equally dramatically raise his prices, but that was not John’s way. He wanted his work to be affordable rather than exclusive.

I really love his attachment to folklore, the sea and a sense of being English. He created his own characters which inherited his world and the world’s of all the customers who were lucky to acquire his fabulous art.

I saw this lovely passage by Terry Brett owner of the Pyramid Gallery in York, talking about the effect John’s work had on his business back in 2016. It says so much about how John’s work touched the lives of so many.

“His work changed in the 1990’s from wheel thrown pottery to the current hand formed figurative sculptures. Pyramid Gallery has been representing John Maltby since 2012.  Pyramid’s owner Terry Brett has been an admirer of John’s  work for much longer than that ‘ It took fifteen years to get my first batch of work from John. I visited Stoneshill every now and then, asking for work, but he always said we were too close to another gallery that was in Harrogate. Eventually, that gallery closed and because I had got to know John over all those years, he graciously agreed to supply Pyramid. This has been a saviour for Pyramid Gallery, during the very worst part of the recession caused by the financial crisis that occurred in 2008, John Maltby’s work attracted new collectors. We have sold over 200 of his sculptures and many other items to collectors in those 4 years and owe our survival and current success very much to John Maltby. My hero.’  TERRY BRETT owner of Pyramid Gallery 2016″

You might find interest in this article from the Ceramic Review. Thank you to The Guardian for the info used in this post.

Wishing everyone who reads, comments and regularly visits Fishink Blog a wonderful festive holiday and a relaxing break, a chance to recharge and to catch up with ourselves and those we love. Enjoy.

See you all in 2022 ! : )

7 Comments leave one →
  1. December 21, 2021 4:44 am

    Beautiful work lovely to read about him. Look forward to reading more of your blogs Craig in 2022

  2. Viv permalink
    December 26, 2021 12:17 pm

    Just love this blog, Craig. He is/was my favourite potter and I wish I’d bought more pieces over the years. He’s still a very strong creative influence for me .

    • December 27, 2021 8:18 pm

      Thank you Viv, I wish I had done this article sooner and perhaps could have distance interviewed him too.

  3. Wallace permalink
    December 26, 2021 4:42 pm

    Thanks for a fab posting on this inspiring artist.

  4. frederick anthony ledgard permalink
    December 17, 2022 6:23 pm

    Hi I have one of Maltby’s pots featuring a
    crow pecking out the eyes of a king and am wondering what the artist’s rationale was for this rather morbid subject. Was it just a general comment on the fact that death comes to high and low alike?
    Tony Ledgard

    • December 17, 2022 6:34 pm

      I think perhaps that John just liked to depict myths, legends and real stories from the past in his work. I can only imagine it was something along those lines. Or even a nursey rhyme …
      Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
      Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
      When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
      Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
      The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
      The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
      The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
      When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!

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