Matthew Darbyshire: The W.A. Ismay Collection

The Hepworth Wakefield

12 Oct 2013 – 2 Feb 2014

The British contemporary artist reframes one of the world’s most significant assemblages of post-war studio pottery.

Librarian and lifetime Wakefield resident, William Albert Ismay covered all the available surfaces of his small terraced house with an extraordinary collection of 3,600 ceramics.

From 1955 he began to collect works by prominent makers such as Hans Coper and Shoji Hamada, as well as items crafted by local Yorkshire potters, Barbara Cass and Joan Hotchins.

Using the architectural footprint of Ismay's house, contemporary artist Matthew Darbyshire combines examples of the collector's domestic furniture with modern-day white goods to reframe the pottery archive.

In doing so, the installation raises questions on issues of taste, fashion, availability and value in today's consumer society. 

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Helen Walsh, a leading scholar in the field of ceramics and curator at York Art Gallery devised a special selection process for choosing the artefacts included in the exhibition. It reflects Ismay's own habits and methodologies, with every potter in his collection being represented and including ceramicists from A through to Z (excluding the troublesome X).

What this reveals is that there was a deeply social aspect to Ismay's method of collecting as, although a solitary man, he devoted his life and income to ceramics, developing decade-long relationships with the artists he supported.

These emotional attachments lead him to adopt a non-hierarchical attitude to collecting, meaning he made no distinction between the ceramics from well-known makers such as Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie, and the pots that had little or no commercial value.

Venue information

Opening times

Tue – Sun, 10am – 5pm
Closed Mon, except bank and local school holidays
Third Thu of each month, 10am – 9pm

"Art Fund" is the operating name of the National Art Collections Fund, a charity registered in England and Wales (209174) and Scotland (SC038331)