Matthew Darbyshire: The W.A. Ismay Collection

12 Oct 2013 26 Jan 2014

This fascinating project brought together one of Britain’s most exciting contemporary artists, Matthew Darbyshire, with one of the world’s most significant assemblages of post-war studio pottery, the W.A. Ismay Collection.

Librarian and collector William Alfred Ismay (1910-2001) lived in Wakefield his whole life. From 1955 he began to collect pieces by some of the most renowned makers of studio pottery from Hans Coper and Shoji Hamada to works by local Yorkshire potters, Barbara Cass and Joan Hotchin, alongside lesser known ceramicists.

His extraordinary collection of 3,600 items, by 500 makers, covered all the available surfaces of his small terraced house in Wakefield. This extraordinary collection offers an insight into the compulsive and systematic habits and protocols of a unique and unusual collector.

Taking the architectural footprint of Ismay’s house, examples of the collector’s domestic furniture and contemporary white goods, Matthew Darbyshire (b.1977 in Cambridge, UK) will reframe the WA Ismay Collection at The Hepworth Wakefield.

The David Chipperfield designed gallery space becomes the container for Darbyshire’s uncanny new installation that will combine the ‘ghost’ of a terraced house and its myriad ceramic inhabitants alongside the diluted modernism of cheap, white consumer goods. By re-contextualising the collection, Derbyshire raises questions and debates on issues of taste, fashion, availability and value in today’s consumer society.

Bequeathed to the Yorkshire Museum, also now managed by York Museums Trust (YMT) since 2001, Ismay was eager that the collection should remain in the region. The exhibition has been developed in collaboration with YMT who are generously lending 700 pots from the W.A. Ismay Collection while York Art Gallery is closed until Easter 2015, during its 8 million major redevelopment project.

Helen Walsh, a leading scholar in the field of ceramics and Curator at York Art Gallery has devised a selection process for the ceramics included in the exhibition. This reflects Ismay’s own collecting methodologies with every potter in his collection being represented in this installtion (Ismay successfully collected myriad potters from A-Z with the exception of the troublesome X).

There was a deeply social aspect to Ismay's method of collecting. Although a solitary man, he devoted his life and income to ceramics and developed close ties and decades-long relationships with the artists he supported. He often purchased from potters at the beginning of their career hoping to foster and support their development.

These emotional attachments combined with his systematic approach to collecting resulted in a non-hierarchical attitude. Ismay made no distinction between the more valuable ceramics from well-known makers, such as Bernard Leach and Lucie Rie, and the pots that had little or no commercial value.

Matthew Darbyshire: The W.A. Ismay Collection was developed in partnership with York Museums Trust.