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Remembering Richard Godfrey

by John Wheeldon and Richard Dewar

Published: March 2015

Remembering Richard Godfrey

As many of you will have heard, shortly before Christmas the Ceramics world lost one it’s best loved characters. Richard Godfrey died at home, on December the 13th in a sun-filled room, surrounded by his family.
I had known Richard since the mid 80’s when I had a phone call, late one night, he had been given my number and was trying to find out about exhibiting at Keramisto in Holland.
A group of potters from the UK had been invited to attend the show and Richard wanted to get involved.
I still remember that conversation, his enthusiasm for what was in those days a quite radical suggestion, attending a European ceramics event, was completely infectious and led to a friendship that lasted nearly 30 years.
As a result of attending Keramisto we were invited to Diessen in Germany, Gmunden in Austria and many French shows.
We travelled to many of the European shows together in Richard’s big red Citroen dropping in to interesting looking Gasthofs to spend the night, eat hearty meals and drink the odd Wiessbeer.
These events usually meant camping, which he loved, and he always turned up at shows with a new acquisition to add to the experience, a new coffee maker, a new stove and latterly his Coleman event shelter, which always ended up being a communal venue for the many friends who joined us.
These evenings always involved him singing and playing his beloved ukulele and next morning taking on the task of providing endless bacon rolls for breakfast even when he could no longer eat them himself. The fact that his illness severely curtailed his ability to sing and above all eat, as he loved both, was a particularly bitter irony.
As I got to know him better I was impressed by his complete devotion to his family and as his son Dan described at his funeral his individual parenting style. This came home to me when he asked if I could find him some old fashioned black catapult elastic as he wanted to build a “launcher” to fire planes over the sea from the cliffs near the workshop to educate his grandchildren in the art of extreme model plane building.
What most people will know him for, however, were his potting skills, which were wider ranging, and more diverse than anyone I know. He was a very efficient production thrower who started his career making tableware for Cranks but it was for his coloured earthenware that most people would associate him.
Unique is a much overused epithet but I can’t think of any more appropriate way to describe his work: bright, colourful and completely his own he developed clever ways of press moulding alongside clean throwing to make inimitable tableware which became very collectable.
He described his latest work as being the culmination of years of practice and experience that had finally come to fruition with a body of work of which he was very proud, he felt he had been practicing to make it all his life. He had developed intense coloured slip recipes over which he had complete control that gave him a painter’s palette to decorate his wonderful landscape pieces.
He was always searching for the next idea, refining and developing new colours and ways of application, never satisfied, “as it could always be improved.”
He was fascinated by the possibilities offered by new materials.
Our monthly phone calls usually included sharing of information about new discoveries. The last things we talked about were a new black paint for display stands and the results of his experiments with a plastic tube I sent him to make slip trailer nozzles from, he was using them on the latest pots and was excited about the marks they made.
He believed that the best way to ensure that your ideas live on is to give them away and the generosity with which he shared his knowledge has helped countless potters over the years. We will all be the poorer for his passing but I for one will feel forever enriched for knowing him.
John Wheeldon


Richard Godfrey – Potter Extraordinaire
I met Richard for the first time in 1991 on a potters’ market in Milsbeek, Holland. In fact I heard him before actually meeting him in person; I well remember that distinctive infectious laugh of his floating across the field where we were setting up. A laugh that caught me unawares and made me think – I’d really like to meet that guy.
Well meet we did and became firm friends from the start, a friendship which matured through the years although we lived in different countries. Of course on that day in 1991 we did what so many potters do at these events – we did a pot swap. It is a strange phenomenon which is difficult to explain and which is dearto potters: swapping work. You have something I made in exchange for something you made. A bond is formed.
Richard took his work very seriously for somebody who came across as being a joker and a clown, but he wasn’t averse to informing colleagues and public alike that it was only mud we were playing around with and that in fact we shouldn’t take ourselves too seriously at all. Richard and I were nearly always neighbours at pottery fairs and so I saw at close hand the terrific talent he had with visitors to his stand. He treated them all equally and took immense time and patience explaining his techniques, his way of working and especially the influence that the countryside and seascape around his South Devon studio had on his work. He was always ready and willing to impart his vast knowledge of ceramics to amateurs and professionals alike and would carefully explain how the pieces were made and decorated. Then he would turn to me and say “Well now they know how it’s done they’ll just have to go home and try it for themselves!” Knowing full well that no one else could come anywhere near making superb pots like his. Nor was he averse, when things became somewhat calm in front of his stall, to whip out his ukulele and perform one of his signature songs just to drum up a larger audience. Then he would call out something like “please don’t throw coins, we only accept notes”, or “the music is free but you have to pay for the pots”.
The outpouring of praise, acclaim and sheer love for the man that has happened since his death is witness to the effect Richard Godfrey had on all our lives. He will go down as one of the really great ceramic artists of our time, not only for his stupendous pots but also for the way his presence reached out and touched us all.
One of hispotter friends from Holland, Harm van der Zeeuw, christened Richard “Mr Milsbeek” in honour of Richard’s favourite Dutch pottery market. I think I would go just one step further and name him, quite frankly, “Mr Pottery”.
Richard Dewar

 
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