CoCA : Centre of Ceramic Art, York

Last week was a very arty/gallery week for me what with the Whitworth on Tuesday and a re-visit to York City Art Gallery on Thursday. Back in April I first visited the recently re-opened Art Gallery in York with the local Art Fund.

Centre of Ceramic Art, CoCA.
York City Art Gallery
11am, Friday 1st April 2016
York’s wondrously refurbished Art Gallery is now host to the new Centre of Ceramic Art, a splendid addition to the Museum’s collection. On show are the collections of three major 20th century collectors of contemporary pottery in a display which rivals the works themselves. Helen Walsh, Curator of Ceramics, will talk about the bringing together of the collection before showing us round. In addition, a guided session on handling pots will give you a chance to learn much more about the making processes and understand the unique appeal of the items in the York collection.
This display of ceramics is a real eye-opener. 
Own transport starting in foyer at 11 am
Light Refreshments are available in the café of the gallery but space is limited. There are
numerous cafes adjacent to the gallery.

I’d seen some of the pots from York’s collection at Leeds a while ago during the renovation work at York. But that day was a ‘real eye-opener’ and I knew that I had to go back … and who would enjoy it with me.

After coffee we headed upstairs to the main CoCA gallery where Anthony Shaw’s collection of ceramics has been reassembled as if it were in his own home.

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.”

AS 1 AS 2 AS 3welcomeInside The Anthony Shaw “House”

On 1st April we spent time here looking closely at examples of Studio Pottery from Shaw’s collection and even handling some. The arrangement, despite being within the the confines of a much larger space, gave a suitable feeling of intimacy which I also felt at Kettles Yard in Cambridge. I loved the fact that the walls are filled with books which Shaw’s mother had collected over the years. She’d been an air hostess hence the opportunities for foreign travel by the Shaws.

The gallery offers a couple of ten minute introductions each afternoon and we opted for one explaining and highlighting pots from the Wall of Pots. Opposite the Anthony Shaw display glass cabinets stretch along the whole side wall of the gallery creating a wall of pots based on the colours of the rainbow. There’s a mnemonic for remembering the colours of the rainbow – Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain.



cuppa soup

Sorry to be a philistine but this cheeky chappy reminds me of the free novelty Cuppa Soup mugs we used to send off for the 1970s.


In the main gallery is a huge installation by Clare Twomey “10,000 Hours”. The bowls piled high on the scaffolding represent 10,000 hours of work which is thought to be the amount of time required to become a fully expert craftsman. Clare Twomey was helped in this project by a large number of volunteer potters and each pot took one hour to make.

In the video above you can also see how the display cabinets around the gallery fill with pots. Each cabinet is devoted to a particular potter alongside the work of potters influenced by them :

EF large flask

Flask by Elizabeth Fritsch


The Bather by William Staite Murray

As you would expect York City Art Gallery also own a Grayson Perry pot. Theirs is called ‘Melanie’; one of The Three Graces created for Channel 4 series Who Are You?


Finally, the huge archive of pots (3,600 in total created by over 500 potters) collected by the former Wakefied librarian W A (Bill) Ismay was donated to York Gallery in 2001. Many of these pots are displayed around the gallery in the cases and wall of pots. I wrote about my visit to The Hepworth in Wakefield to see part of this vast collection in an unusual setting.


W. A. Ismay, MBE by Peter Meanley


8 comments on “CoCA : Centre of Ceramic Art, York

  1. Martin says:

    Hi Barbara. I last visited the gallery about 4 years ago, just before the refurbishment started. I had a contact who was close to the gallery. Back then it really looked shabby and not very interesting. It has been transformed from what I can see so I must visit again soon x

    • Hi Martin, I had only visited once before, despite it being virtually on my doorstep, and that was to see a Stanley Spencer show which was excellent but it was just one room from what I can remember. x

  2. nilly says:

    It is very interesting to read your reaction to the definitely wondrous renovation of York City Art Gallery. I love the whole place, and, even though we enjoyed many excellent exhibitions in the old galleries, we are optimistic about its brave new incarnation. I too love the Anthony Shaw “rooms” but, as ceramics enthusiasts, we were disappointed in the digital descriptions of the pots in the Wall of Pots. Every time I spotted a particularly intriguing piece and looked it up on the digital screen I found the description of origin, maker, materials etc. lacking in accurate detail. You could blame the antiques dealer in me, but I’m sure that when I was a child, full of curiosity, I would have been disappointed too.
    We also enjoyed Mark Hearld’s Lumber Room exhibition and look forward to visiting the new WW1 art exhibition Truth and Memory.
    It is quite expensive to visit the gallery now, but we use our Art Fund membership cards for free access.

    • How nice to hear from you again, nilly. You are quite right about the very limited information about pots along the wall. Only a few of the several for which we asked for details were actually ‘catalogued’. Frustrating. And, yes, a few visits to York Gallery would soon cover the cost of the Art Fund membership (besides supporting a worthy cause). I carry my card around with me everywhere just in case. For The Lumber Room … watch this space. On neither visit was there time (or energy – all that standing!) to visit ‘Truth and Memory’. We have until 4 September to get there. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Fran says:

    Certainly plenty to see!

  4. What a great display, in an inspiring space. I see what you mean about Kettle’s Yard. I wish there were more places like that. Thank you.

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