Maggie Angus Berkowitz obituary

Other lives: Ceramic artist who was held in particularly high regard in Japan

My friend Maggie Angus Berkowitz, who has died aged 91, was a ceramic artist whose tiled artworks blurred the boundaries between art and craft.

At a time when contemporary British studio pottery was obsessed with Leachian thrown stoneware, she drew on alternative ceramic histories to reanimate the painterly surface.

She created paintings on industrial tiles using a complex palette of glazes and oxides. These ranged from small vignettes to large architectural pieces, decorating bathrooms, kitchens, swimming pools and gardens. Her first commission was for friends in Belgravia, central London, in the early 1970s – a wildly decorated bathroom, with the bath tap incorporated into a dragon’s face.

How to Wear a Cat by Maggie Angus Berkowitz
How to Wear a Cat by Maggie Angus Berkowitz Photograph: Picasa 2 7/None

Public works include the swimming pool in Appleby, a town mural in Kendal, both in Cumbria, and a hospital dining room in Leeds. Her work has featured in many books and articles, including a chapter in Chris Blanchett’s 20th Century Decorative British Tiles. I first interviewed her for Tile UK magazine in 1998, and commissioned her to make the “trophies” – a series of organic, decorated quarry tiles – for the magazine’s inaugural awards later that year.

She was held in particularly high regard in Japan, where Maggie travelled to and worked in from the 1990s onwards, after one of her daughters settled there.

Born in Skerton, Lancaster, the oldest of six children of Kitty (nee Walsh), a weaver at Storey’s cotton mill, and James Angus, a labourer, Maggie went to Lancaster girls’ grammar school, then on to Lancaster College of Art to study illustration, and the Institute of Education, University of London (now UCL Institute of Education), for a teaching diploma.

It was while teaching in London that she discovered a basement pottery run by William Newland and Kenneth Clark, who proved useful contacts. An ex-service colleague of theirs, George Cook, had started a pottery in Ambleside, Cumbria, and he offered her an apprenticeship. This, she says, is where she learned to work. While there she also taught evening classes.

A residency at the Istituto Statale d’Arte per la Ceramica in Faenza, Italy (1958-59), developed her skill with glazes and tiles. She then travelled to pre-independence Tanzania and taught at Tabora girls’ high school. She married Marvin Berkowitz, an American, and they settled in New York. Following their divorce she returned to the UK in 1970, a single parent with four children.

Maggie Angus Berkowitz’s tiles bring life to the hydrotherapy pool at Chapel Allerton hospital, Leeds
Maggie Angus Berkowitz’s tiles bring life to the hydrotherapy pool at Chapel Allerton hospital, Leeds Photograph: None

In 1974 she started teaching pottery at Milnthorpe secondary modern school, Cumbria, a job that allowed her to use the facilities for her own work. Her artistic career took off the same year when Mary Burkett, then director of Abbot Hall Art Gallery, Kendal, offered her an exhibition. Many others followed and in 1984 Maggie was able to retire from teaching.

She campaigned tirelessly for public arts funding, and was a founder member of the Northern Potters Association and honorary member of the Craft Potters Association.

She is survived by her children, Nathalia, Mela, Gregor and Ameena, and five grandchildren.

Joe Simpson

The GuardianTramp

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