York Art Gallery boss REYAHN KING introduces a figurine sculpted exclusively for the gallery

Figure of W.A. Ismay by Peter Meanley

Peter Meanley presented York Art Gallery with this figure of WA Ismay MBE in 2015, in celebration of the launch of our Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

Ismay was the most prolific collector of post-war British studio pottery in the UK.

He acquired over 3,600 pots between 1955 and 2001, using only his librarian’s wage and later his pension.

For almost 50 years, Ismay was a prominent figure in the studio pottery world, always recognisable for his uniform of overcoat, beret and the magnifying glass he used to scrutinise pots.

A proud Yorkshireman, Ismay died in 2001 and bequeathed his collection to York.

A fellow Yorkshireman, Meanley was born in Huddersfield in 1944 and has lived in Northern Ireland since 1969, making pots and teaching at the University of Ulster.

He retains strong links to Yorkshire and to York Art Gallery, where he studied painting from 1962-1965 when York School of Art was based in the building.

He went on to study ceramics at the Royal College of Art before heading to Northern Ireland.

Meanley produces ceramic works in salt-glazed stoneware, a technique that is thought to have emerged in Germany in the 15th century.

It involves throwing salt into a kiln, whilst it is fired at high temperature, resulting in a characteristic ‘orange-peel’ surface texture.

Salt-glazed stoneware is a very tough, hardwearing material.

Meanley’s work initially consisted of strikingly engineered teapots and other functional forms.

But as he researched the technique, he became increasingly interested in historical examples of salt-glazing and began collecting them.

"I have a large collection of historical teapots and Toby Jugs, and whilst many are badly broken they still provide me with great pleasure,’ he wrote.

Meanley was particularly fascinated by Bartmann jugs with their iconic face masks which have their origins in northern European folk tales of a mythical bearded Wild Man, Classical satyrs and fauns, and depictions of the Roman god of woodlands, Sylvanus.

The jugs later became known as Bellarmine jugs during the 17th century as a way of ridiculing the Catholic Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) for his opposition to alcohol.

Meanley was also interested in early examples of Toby jugs (a pottery jug in the form of a seated person) and character jugs. He began to experiment by making contemporary versions.

He shot to fame in 2009 when he made a large Toby jug of BBC Antiques Roadshow expert Henry Sandon, which was featured on the programme.

Since then, Meanley has made other famous figures including HM Queen Elizabeth II and Barack Obama.

Ismay had often met Meanley at pottery events and had also allowed him and his students to visit his home to view his collection on a number of occasions.

In the 1990s Meanley exhibited regularly at the Rufford Craft Show in Nottinghamshire and Ismay would admire his ceramics but complained that he could never afford to purchase a piece.

In thanks for Ismay’s hospitality and support of students and the pottery world, Meanley promised that at the next private view of his work, he would let Ismay choose a piece for his collection.

Sadly, Ismay passed away before this happened.

Meanley always deeply regretted not fulfilling this promise and made this figure in memory of Ismay and as a gift for York Art Gallery to celebrate the launch of CoCA in 2015.

Meanley’s sculpture of Ismay took many months of slow, careful modelling to complete.

Despite having to work from photographs, he has managed to create an extraordinary likeness to Ismay, choosing to depict the quizzical way he studied pots, finger on chin.