John Maltby obituary

Other Lives: Ceramic artist who took up his trade after meeting the potter Bernard Leach

My friend John Maltby, who has died aged 84, was a ceramic artist whose work was inspired by English landscape, the sea, architecture and music.

By the 1980s John had become 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.

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.

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.

Cup form by John Maltby.
Cup form by John Maltby. Photograph: Nigel Dutt

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.

Heather died in 2007. He is survived by their children, Joe and Philippa, and grandson, Sam.

Nigel Dutt

The GuardianTramp

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