York Castle Museum

Star Work

Potty about pots

Yorkshire librarian Bill Ismay built up one of the world's biggest and best collections of 20th century ceramics in his two-bedroomed terraced house in Wakefield.

William Alfred Ismay MBE started collecting pots in 1955 and by the time he died in 2001, his collection had grown to 3,500, including works by leading 20th century ceramicists such as Bernard Leach, Lucie Rie, Hans Coper and Shoji Hamada.

The collection came to York as Ismay wanted it to stay in Yorkshire.

Potter Emmanuel Cooper said: "The main principle on which Ismay collected, he said, was to select the pots he liked, which were not necessarily showy or spectacular, but might be quite modest, although he did confess to having a prejudice in favour of a pot which in addition to pleasing him was also useful."

Ismay made friends with many potters and visited them to watch them work, becoming a familiar figure at shows and exhibitions.

One of our pots illustrates this and was made for Ismay in 1990 by Eric James Mellon, who was renowned for his life drawing on pots. The bike Ismay leans against represents the time when he started collecting and used to cycle all over the country to visit potters and exhibitions.

Ismay was awarded the MBE for his services to studio pottery in the New Year's Honours list for 1982.