Form and Function: Geoffrey Whiting’s Teapots

Geoffrey Whiting’s teapots are the forms for which he remains best known, having achieved a design that is at once highly functional, but also good to look at as a piece of working sculpture. It is one that combines all the synergy of throwing with post wheel additions and modification, one that looks deceptively simple to the eye, but in fact is a complex task for any potter. As Geoffrey wrote in his article ‘Making Teapots’ in Pottery Quarterly in 1955 (no 7, p 10); “A  teapot is a difficult thing to make well; yet, partly because of this, and partly, I think, because the teapot is such a deep rooted integral part of our daily lives, few things can give the potter greater satisfaction.”

Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987
Teapot, porcelain. Geoffrey Whiting, 1987.

Lucie Rie’s appreciation of his teapots was perhaps not surprising, given the essentially modernist qualities of their fluid and understated forms. Bernard Leach was another admirer, acquiring one for his own collection and writing to Geoffrey after reading his 1955 piece; “Everything that had to be said, you said about teapots’”. Their shape had began to evolve in the early 1950s, gradually honed down to essentials, and the forms gradually more integrated, the strong loop of the handle balanced well with a spout that grew seamlessly out of the swell of the main body. His teapots epitomised the “almost industrial austerity” of his work that Ceramics Monthly (USA) identified in his obituary. This was a comment which would have delighted Geoffrey, drawn as he was to landscapes which he felt had only been enriched by the industrial, by distant power stations, of areas of marshland punctuated by pylons. His love of industrial archaeology was part and parcel with his interest in the mechanics of flame and the kiln (Michael Cardew dubbed him emphatically “a fire potter”). And after all, the craft of pottery brought together, as Geoffrey liked to point out, art and design, chemistry, geology and physics.

Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
Fire Potter. Geoffrey Whiting testing the chimney for the new kiln. Avoncroft Pottery, 1955
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c. 1980.
A classic Geoffrey Whiting stoneware teapot, c.1980. (Stradling Collection)

The classic Whiting teapot that first emerged in the 50s, with its familiar red-rust iron glaze (illustrated here, a more recent example in the Ken Stradling Collection), led to a number of variations in other glazes. Some had overhead handles, some were fluted or enlivened with brush decoration, but all shared his concern not only for balance and elegance, but a pot that was light and poured well and truly enhanced the matter of tea drinking. These pots also belied the simplistic notion of the rural versus the urban in modern ceramics. As the artists Jeremy Deller and Alan Kane observed when they included an early Whiting teapot in their exhibition ‘My Yard’ at the Whitechapel Art Gallery (2009), “with its flattened yet sleek shape, it dispels the idea that a rural pottery had no design connections with the 20th century”. 

Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot. 1967
Geoffrey Whiting lecture invitation with a tower of cups and saucers balancing on a teapot, 1967.

David Whiting

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