Phil Rogers obituary | Ceramics

Phil Rogers, who has died aged 69, was one of Britain’s leading potters and advocates for his craft. From his rural studio near the village of Rhayader in Powys, Wales, Rogers created work that drew on an eclectic range of global styles, from medieval German salt-glazed wares to 15th-century Korean porcelain.

His jugs, platters, bottles, teapots, bowls and cups were decorated with abstract brushwork, impressed marks, designs painted in wax-resist, or simply by a swipe of the fingers through a still-wet glaze, combining robust forms with a sense of spontaneity.

These pots embodied his lifelong belief in the value of potters using natural materials, sourced from their own environs. Rogers mixed a palette of soft greys, greens, browns and black glazes from wood ash, burning trees that had fallen or needed to be felled; he also used stone dust from nearby quarries and a red clay dug in his local woods.

As a chair of the Craft Potters Association of Great Britain (serving four terms, the first in 1991), a member of the International Academy of Ceramics from 1999, and director in 1999 of the Festival of International Ceramics (among various other appointments), Rogers took part in the global potting community with vigour. His belief in the importance of cultivating the next generation of potters was manifest in his work as a trustee in 2009 for the apprenticeship-support charity Adopt a Potter. In his own studio, he cultivated a succession of apprentices who would go on to become professionals, most notably the Danish potter Anne Mette Hjortshøj.

Phil Rogers in his studio in 2014. Photograph: Jay Goldmark

Rogers was an author of books and articles about ceramics, of which Ash Glazes (1992), a historical overview and practical handbook, sold very well in the UK and North America. Other titles included Salt Glazing (2003) and Throwing Pots (2005).

Born in Newport in south Wales, Phil was the son of Raymond, a design engineer, and his wife, Florence (nee Marston), a solicitor’s secretary. Wishing to become a painter, he enrolled at Swansea School of Art in 1971. However, as he was newly married to Lynne, and they had a daughter, Claire, family responsibilities took precedence over his artistic career. After an introductory class in ceramics, he spent the next five years teaching pottery at comprehensive schools in Cambridgeshire.

A squared bottle hakeme and iron brush pattern from Phil Rogers’ May 2020 exhibition at Goldmark
A squared bottle hakeme and iron brush pattern from Phil Rogers’ May 2020 exhibition at Goldmark. Photograph: Jay Goldmark

His discovery of Bernard Leach’s seminal text A Potter’s Book (1940) was a turning point. Rogers was enthralled by Leach’s account of rural self-sufficiency and creative fulfilment. Leach’s anglo-oriental aesthetic and philosophy would go on to inform the rest of Rogers’ professional life.

During this time, Rogers often visited the Primavera craft gallery in Cambridge, where he scrutinised ceramics by Walter Keeler, Ray Finch, Richard Batterham and Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie to understand how they were made. Considering himself self-taught, he described these potters as his “absentee tutors”.

After an argument with the headteacher of St Peter’s school, and disillusioned by staffroom politics, in 1977 Rogers stopped teaching in schools. The family moved to a cottage that had belonged to his grandparents in the village of Rhayader. In 1984, a government grant and other loans allowed them to buy Lower Cefn-faes, a 17th-century hall house near the River Wye, where the couple opened Marston Pottery. Here Rogers built a 75-cubic-ft oil-fired kiln in a stable and potted in a stone cowshed. Later additions included a salt glaze kiln and a wood-firing kiln, from which he experimented with a wide range of firings.

Rogers was benefiting from the fashion for what he called “wholemeal pots”: rustic tableware designed for a wholesome lifestyle, as popularised by the Cranks chain of vegetarian restaurants. However, as the 1970s waned, this aesthetic was replaced by the brighter, bolder hues and hard-edged industrial-chic of the 80s. He was a vocal critic of this new approach to ceramics, arguing in magazines and journals that the studio potter was wrong to attempt to compete with the slick effects of factory production or the intellectualism of postmodern art.

A collection of Phil Rogers’ work.
A collection of Phil Rogers’ work. Photograph: Jay Goldmark

Tutoring adults, with which he had supplemented his income, became increasingly central. Demand for his teaching took him to the US, Canada, South Africa and Germany, and he led more than 60 workshops. A 1997 trip to teach at Chungnam National University in South Korea proved formative, as exposure to Joseon dynasty-era Buncheong pottery inspired him in a new creative direction, to work in dark clay, overlaid with white slip and iron brushwork. Other trips abroad included visits to Ethiopia in 2000 and 2002 in the aftermath of its civil war, where Rogers helped to establish a pottery for local women in Gondar.

Rogers’ work is held in the collections of more than 50 museums worldwide, including the V&A, the British Museum, the National Museum of Wales, the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, and the Museum of Modern Ceramic Art in Mino, Japan. Many of his fellow potters remember the generosity with which he used his international reputation to help them secure their own exhibitions overseas. His final major exhibition took place at Goldmark gallery in Rutland in May 2020, shortly before he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour.

His first marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Hajeong Lee, whom he married in 2012, their son, Ethan, and by Claire.

• Philip Marston Rogers, potter, born 28 May 1951; died 22 December 2020

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