I never knew Ray personally, but knew so much about him through Peter and Sue Finch that I feel as though I did know him! I have eaten many meals off his wonderful plates in Luxembourg and even found a dinner service at a friend’s house in Port-Vendres in the South of France. His pots will definitely live on.
Ray’s pots give me pleasure to look at and use every day of my life and I treasure them. I was honoured to meet him and shake his hand a few years ago. He will be an inspiration for generations to come. That is a true legend.
I met Ray a good few times over the years, but regrettably I never had the chance to really get to know him well – I wish I’d had more opportunity.
I know a lot about him though, through close friends whose lives he has touched. He was a greatly loved and respected man.
He was an exceptional craftsman and I owe a huge debt to him. It was after a visit to Winchcombe Pottery many years ago, that I decided I wanted to become a potter. There’s a bit of him in every pot that I make.
His spirit will live on through the hands and minds of the many, many people whose lives he has enriched.
I don’t know if Ray Finch had any clue how honored I was that he let me spend time with him. I was studying ceramics in England as part of my U.S. college studies. It was during this year in England that I decided to switch from sculptural ceramics to studio pottery. One of the reasons I decided to pursue a career as a potter was because of the time I spent with English potters such as Ray Finch.
I first met Ray when Toff Milway took me to Winchcombe for a visit. I returned later on my own to help Ray fire the bourry box kiln. There happened to be a film crew there at the time making some sort of documentary about Ray. I could tell that Ray felt this was a total invasion of his privacy, and he looked for any excuse to escape them and find some solitude. To this end, Ray invited me in to his home while he ate his lunch. Our conversation during the meal covered topics such as firings, potters he had worked with through the years, and an explanation of his homemade chutney, a food stuff that was totally foreign to me as an American.
At the end of that day, Ray showed me some of his pots and told me about a particular order that he had made for a cider jug with the Winchcombe name carved into it. He had made two of them, and I was fortunate to be able to purchase the one that was left. To this day, it is one of my personal favorites in my pottery collection.
It is now some six years since that day spent with Ray Finch. I regret not contacting him again now that I am set up with my own pottery. I would let him know how important his influence was on me and I would thank him for making such a difference in a young potter’s life. It might have been only one day, but I would tell him that I will carry fond memories of my time with him for as long as I live.
Randleman, North Carolina
I think through most of our school years, from the age of 7-18, Lisa and I would see grandpa and grandma once or twice a month, with extended stays during the summer holidays. During the holidays, once we were old enough, we would be allowed to work (probably more get in the way of work) at the pottery to earn some extra pocket money. We would mind the shop and rub down pots. It was during one of these extended stays, I remember getting up one morning early for once and catching grandpa for breakfast. I think he was unused to the role of ensuring the sustenance of pre-teen children, and asked me what I would like for breakfast. Grandma I’m sure would have set this up as a closed question “would you like muesli or yoghurt or perhaps even both?” Grandpa’s question seemed to be borne out of genuine curiosity, so I looked around the kitchen and gave him a truthful answer. I still remember grandpa’s conspiratorial and some what mischievous grin as grandma caught us both tucking into my mum’s fruit cake and recieving a verbal dressing down.
When grandpa died, I spoke to my friend Paul who reminisced about grandpa’s equanimity and good grace when aged 12 we had decided it was a good idea to climb on the pottery garage roof. When we had empirically proven that it was not a good idea with a couple of minor cuts and bruises and a hole in the roof that was exactly the size of two 12 year old boys, grandpa’s response was “it’s about time we sorted that roof out anyway”, and that was that. Throughout the rest of our teenage years Paul proceeded to elevate grandpa to the state of Jedi master when he talked about him, and indeed even now holds him with the same reverence. To him Grandpa was Obi Wan Kenobi.
My good friend ‘Young Ed’ is quoted in Edgeler’s book as describing his time at the pottery like being in the film ‘The Karate Kid’ with grandpa very much in the role of Miyagi the humble gardener and karate master. I think what Ed was trying to get across was that grandpa was a great teacher, but the lessons were not easy. He taught by example, and you learnt from grandpa without being aware that you were being taught.
In my first mid life crisis – I’ve had several and I’m sure I will have several more – I was about 27 and had decided that I ought to be doing something else with my life. ‘Be a potter’ I thought. When I spoke to grandpa he was unenthusiastic. “You’re too old” he said. In my mind I knew it was a test – Cardew had told him to go away and learn how to make some pots when grandpa first arrived at the pottery in 1936. For a couple of weeks I would go into the pottery and practise throwing for an hour or so. One evening he stopped to look at my efforts, and said to one of the other potters “not bad for a beginner”. I don’t think he was being sarcastic. I think he was impressed I could centre a pot – but on the other hand I learnt to do that when I was seven or eight years old. If I was meant to be a potter I think I might have progressed in 20 years. I think he knew I would fail the test and sure enough after a couple of weeks I was onto my next idea.
He was my hero. My view of the world – philosophical, political and religious – was informed by my discussions with him. He bought me a subscription to CND and the New Internationalist for my fourteenth birthday. He was a religious man but never dogmatic. He was always open to the possibility that cake for breakfast might be a good idea. I think any one who ever met him would tell you that there was something about him, something spiritual or holy. That he made beautiful pots goes without saying. Grandpa’s pots, even to a layman like me, are special. It’s the whole pot. You feel it in how the pot is weighted, in the subtleties of the glaze. That balance of chance and science. I remember how he used to browse through his little black book of glaze recipes and firing times. I remember him trailing glaze over one of his plates. On one occasion he was still trailing glaze across one of his plates when the ambulance arrived to take him to hospital for a ruptured gall bladder. Genius artist. Dedicated scientist. The Master Potter. And yet he was so humble. In stark contrast as a teenager I was obnoxiously arrogant. Scratch the surface and I probably still am.
Later on in our lives – when I was at medical school – he would tell me “I wish I had had the opportunitity to go to University.” Grandpa was a deeply intellectual man and I think he imagined that university was a rarefied atmosphere, where people would discuss quantum physics, Kant and Expressionist art over a kit kat between lectures. Actually most of us were only just sober enough to manage grunts of acknowledgement. He once said “I wish I could have done something useful with my life like be a doctor…” I told him something about how his pots, and his legacy, would touch far more lives than I could even contemplate making a difference to. For one, without his moral leadership and influence tempering that teenage arrogance, I could well have been a banker! I wish I had told him the truth – a cliche, but many truths are – that for all the letters I can write after my name, I am not fit to tie the shoe lace on his shoe (in Grandpa’s case to wash the clay off the soles of his crocs).
“Without a doubt the best human being I ever met, and there are very few people you can say that about…”
That’s what my friend Tim said to me, when he heard the news that grandpa had died. What was special about grandpa was that this is a sentiment that is reflected in everyone whose lives intersected with grandpa’s, even for the shortest of times.
Dee and I met Ray Finch at Winchcombe Pottery in Gloucestershire, U.K., about ten years ago. Toff Milway took us over to Winchcombe from his pottery, which is nearby in the Cotswolds. Ray was in his late 80s then, but still making pots. So was his co-worker Eddie Hopkins. Ray was gentle and courtly and seemed pleased to meet one of Dan Finnegan’s students from the U.S. Eddie was lively and joking and wanted to be remembered to “Dan the Yank.”
like a warm-hearted smile
Rough to the touch
like an unshaven beard
A glimmering glaze
like a twinkling eye
A simple form
like a familiar face
A natural colour
like a brown cardigan
A powerful impression
like a soft expression
like a hard-working man
like a skilled artist
Hard on the outside
Like a father figure
A newly-fired masterpiece
like a memory,
in our hearts.
I was just 17 and preparing to go off to college at Farnham to study ceramics when I first met Ray.
He was sitting back on his wheel behind a long plank of beautiful big glistening jugs each one perfectly, identically formed and so full of life that they could have leapt off the board. He was smoking his pipe and his flaxen haired daughter had wriggled up onto his lap in front of him.
He peered at me over his glasses, such a powerful handsome man I was immediately so in awe of him that I was struck dumb and clean forgot to ask him all the questions I had carefully prepared.
And I continued to be in awe of him for the next 48 years
Later, when I was lucky enough to be working at this prestigious pottery in my holidays, I found it both an amazing and terrifying experience.
I spent a great deal of time trailing after Pop on an endless search for his specs, lighters and pipes which he abandoned all over the pottery. I also to weigh and knock up his lumps which I found very worrying indeed, it was a deceptively hard task for a beginner to perform without trapping air bubbles which would make his pots impossible to centre. When this happened, or whenever I did something stupid (which was sadly quite often) he would say in exasperation ‘Oh Trudi D E A R’
But the worst job of all was lifting and carrying the long plank of his freshly thrown pots outside to dry. He and the lads would casually lifted the board full of wet pots onto their shoulders balanced with one hand, I tried that once and the long board whip lashed sickeningly and I had to revert to, not very successfully, holding it with two hands in front of me and sweating profusely, setting it gently down on the trestles outside.
He helped me so much and with endless patience even when it became obvious that I was never going to be a good repetition thrower. Eventually, when I came to work in the pottery full time after marrying Joe he found a range of pots for me to make that allowed for some deviation and encouraged me to develop my love of brushwork.
He taught me how to really look at a pot and understand its shape, form and balance.
I loved watching him pull big handles which flowed so gracefully from his pots strong and firm and when I asked him a question he would hesitate for a while and then would look at me over the top of his glasses and puff away at his pipe ‘ mmmm, puff puff puff’ before replying.
Pop spent many happy summer holidays with us and although we tried to interest him in outings to local tourist attractions, beaches or gardens he was always happiest when making pots in Joe’s studio ( although he thought Joe’s glazes very ‘flamboyant’!) His needs were simple. good food, long walks and a lump of good malleable clay then he was a contented man.
He was a dear Father in law who I loved and respected greatly (even when he refused to believe that I was more deaf than he was and shouted at me lots!)
He never wavered from his principles, believing that his pots should be used and enjoyed by everyone and was horrified when they started to become expensive collector’s pieces.
He was a unique, modest, warm and humorous man who consistently made beautiful pots and will now be so very missed by everyone lucky enough to know him.
On Wednesday the 18th of January 2012, Ray Finch, a much loved father, grandfather, great grandfather, and inspiration to many, died in bed at his home after a short illness. He was 97 and had lived and worked at Winchcombe Pottery since 1936.
He is someone who has given so much, not only to his family, but also to the wider world. A humble, honourable, honest, hard-working man, an inspiration to us all. He will be missed but not forgotten and his life’s work, his pots, will live on for a thousand years.