RIP Christopher Magarshak: Potter’s wheel is spinning again at Well Walk Pottery
PUBLISHED: 17:34 05 March 2018 | UPDATED: 11:14 08 March 2018
The late Christopher Magarshack ran the Well Walk Pottery since the 1950s, creating beautiful ceramics and passing on his love of clay. As his quirky corner shop returns to life ceramicist Matilda Moreton looks back fondly on learning to throw her first pot.
Hampstead’s Well Walk Pottery, in its prominent position on the corners of Willow Road, Gayton Road and Well Walk, has attracted a lot of attention over the years. How many of us, passing by between the Heath and the High Street, have peered through the panes of this Georgian curiosity shop at the intriguing ceramic and glass creations within, and wondered what is going on inside?
Potter Christopher Magarshack, who passed away on January 10, worked here for most of the last 50 years, although the death of his mother in 2000 and a long period of failing health resulted in the increasing neglect of the shop. Christopher made ceramics of all sorts, as well as woodwork and in later years stained glass. His work – whether gently curving bowls and coffee cups, dragon-covered fountains, owls with lit-up eyes, matchstick guitars, model ships or stained-glass sea horses - is full of his unique character.
The pottery was a life-saver for Chris. He was the youngest of four, a quiet child, whose learning difficulties created challenges for him. His father, David Magarshack, who had emigrated from Russia in 1920, became a successful translator of the Russian classics for Penguin, with the help of wife Elsie, a Cambridge graduate. In 1957 they bought the Well Walk property and Elsie turned the former Sidney Spall’s Grocer’s Shop on the ground floor into a pottery to nurture Chris’ gifts. Through the pottery Chris, who lived above the shop, enjoyed many close friendships, particularly with artists who visited and worked with him in the studio. He was happy to share his love of clay and making with others and was fortunate to be helped and supported by many of the friends he made through his creative life. His niece Emily Morris puts it well: “Christopher had special needs and also special gifts. Pottery was one of them. Another was to bring out the best in so many good people.”
One could also say that clay brought out the best in him.
Chris taught pottery to many local people, giving quiet advice on how best to handle a lump of clay. I was lucky enough to learn to throw at Well Walk myself, over 20 years ago, my baby gurgling in his pram by a serpent-covered water fountain in the shop at the front. I remember Chris as a gentle presence in the background, offering encouragement while allowing me the freedom to figure out for myself the considerable challenge of throwing, through endless practice. A friend who lived nearby as a child remembers that she and other local kids, while slightly scared of him, used to come to the pottery to buy “a sausage of clay extruded from the pug mill wrapped in newspaper for 6d and take it home to make into pots and cook them in the oven.”
Many local people are coming forward with fond memories.
The pottery was part of a post-war Hampstead of artists and writers and became a focal point for the local creative community.
The artist Barbara Jones lived in the house on the opposite corner and among the visitors was the late Ann Stokes, a resident of nearby Church Row, who brought her son Philip to the pottery for a lesson in 1957 but caught the clay bug herself and became a well-known ceramicist.
Many will have noticed the quirky OPEN/SHUT sign on the pottery door as they passed to and fro. This card, that had been turned to SHUT for so many years during Christopher’s illness, has recently been turned round to invite visitors back inside.
In December last year, Islington-based ceramics community-interest company ‘Claytime’, with the approval and participation of the Magarshack family, initiated the pottery’s gentle revival.
Some of Christopher’s unfinished pots have been carefully glazed and fired and are now on display in the shop, available for purchase, along with those of the Claytime potters.
Lessons are beginning here once more. In homage to Christopher Magarshack’s lifetime of quiet dedication to pottery, new work is being made using his favoured materials (terracotta with coloured slips) and some of his equipment and tools.
Well Walk Pottery is coming back to life.
To find out more or to book courses see the Well Walk Pottery page of claytime.london. Anyone who would like to share their memories of Chris Magarshack and Well Walk pottery email: firstname.lastname@example.org