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The Yorkshire Tea Ceremony

The Yorkshire Tea Ceremony


Available as a fixed-page e-book through University of Chicago Press


This beautiful and absorbing book explores the remarkable collection of ‘Professional Yorkshireman’ W.A. Ismay MBE (1910-2001), the UK’s most prolific collector of post-war British studio pottery.

I really do not know any employment of money more productive of an enhancement of one’s daily life than that of buying good pots for daily use – they are so agreeable to handle that even washing-up becomes a pleasure rather than a chore!” - W.A. Ismay

W.A. Ismay amassed over 3,600 pieces by more than 500 potters between 1955 and 2001. Surrounded by his family of pots, he lived in a tiny terraced house in Wakefield, Yorkshire, and left his collection and its associated archive to the city of York upon his death. This eclectic collection contains objects created by many of the most significant potters working in the UK, such as Lucie Rie, Hans Coper, Bernard Leach and Michael Cardew, as well as examples of work by lesser-known makers. Once he discovered a potter, Ismay supported them throughout their career, carefully assembling groups of work that offer succinct visual overviews of development in style and skill.

What would become known as Ismay’s Yorkshire Tea Ceremony encapsulates all the aspects of collecting handmade pottery which were important to him. Seeing himself as a temporary custodian of his collection, rather than the owner, he was keen to allow access and share it. Ismay enjoyed inviting people into his home, encouraging them to pick up items and experience them haptically. This social side of collecting generated close friendships which are revealed through the anecdotes, gossip, obsessions, opinions and touching gestures of support documented within Ismay’s archive. The archive is a monumental and unique creation, which documents his extraordinary life and reveals intriguing glimpses into the development of his character, as well as the personal and societal changes that impacted his interests and activities.

New academic research into a little-studied collection and archive explores Ismay’s journey as a collector. This book off ers fresh perspectives on a marginalized area of British modernism. Tracing the collection’s journey from private to public ownership illuminates issues surrounding the acquisition by a museum of a large personal collection and archive, revealing the transformative eff ect it has had on both curatorial practice and the ambition of regional public institutions. The W.A. Ismay Collection off ers a well-documented example of the valuable contribution collectors can make to the British studio ceramics movement.

The publication of this research marks 20 years since the W.A. Ismay Collection moved from private to public ownership and to celebrate that anniversary, an exhibition of the collection will take place at York Art Gallery’s Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA).

  • By Helen Walsh

    OCTOBER 2021

    Paperback, 275 x 210 mm

    168 pages, Approx. 130 illus.

    ISBN: 978-1-913645-15-1



    York Art Gallery

    Opens 30 October 2021

  • About the author

    Dr Helen Walsh has been the curator in charge of York Museums Trust’s important ceramics / decorative arts collections since 2004. She led on the establishment of the Centre of Ceramic Art (CoCA) at York Art Gallery and the founding of the UK’s Contemporary Studio Ceramics Subject Specialist Network.

  • In the press

    "Before his death in 2001 the Yorkshire Museum answered the challenge of marshalling one man's obsession into a beautiful public resource... This monograph at the small fame concomitant with it ensure that Ismay's star continue to rise."—World of Interiors


    "Elegantly produced ... excellent book." —The Art Newspaper

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