Brothers Wally and Jack Cole were the main designers at Rye Pottery from its re-opening in 1947 until Wally retired in 1978. Wally trained before WW2 firstly at Woolwich Polytechnic and then on a special art talent scholarship at The Central School of Arts & Crafts as a sculptor/potter showing with Jack in various London Galleries. John Cole studied metallurgy & woodwork at Shoreditch Training College for Teachers from 1925-28, then, after beginning his teaching career, he joined Wally at The Central School for a year in 1931. During the War Jack became headmaster of Beckenham School of Art – one of the most innovative and exciting Art schools of the 40’s & 50’s. In the meantime, Wally became an officer in the Royal Engineers working in Camouflage, before being demobbed in late 1945 to help plan The Britain Can Make it Exhibition which opened at the V & A Museum in 1947. Wally combined this with a job teaching students the link bewteeen sculpture and jewellery at the Central School.
In late 1947 the brothers bought and re-opened the Rye Pottery where Wally‘s passion for simplicity and naturalness proved a winner for Rye, in that many of his tableware designs continue in use to the present day, while Jack the thinker & motivator had more ideas tumbling out his head in a day than the pottery could ever manage to produce! The designer Robin Day, one of Jack’s talented staff, along with his wife Lucienne, at Beckenham, quotes Jack as saying” If you have 2 loaves sell one and buy a lily.” This charming though naive belief coloured his whole life’s work. The brothers also saw the potential of several traditional designs which had been produced at Rye from the 19tth onwards – the 3 sizes of jugs still going strong today or the hand thrown mugs all of which are similar though not the same as pre war Rye designs, in their blue or pink cottage stripes, are good examples of this link with Rye’s past. In the 1997 catalogue for Austerity to affluence: British Art and Design 1945-1962 -published by Merrell Holberton in association with The Fine Art Society & Rayner & Chamberlain- Alan Peat writing the chapter in Contemporary Ceramics says…” the vibrancy of patterns such as the daisy-like star motif known at Rye as the Festival Star exerted a major influence on the British Contemporary look.”
Throughout the 1950’s The Coles trained and taught a great number of would be potters; some of whom later started their own potteries in or around Rye, but by the early 1960’s disenchantment had set in and Wally no longer trained anyone in all the neccessary potting skills, preferring instead to have employees whose job related to one particular facet of the production line only, thus leaving.the main designing and decision making to the Cole family, especially as by now Wally’s son Tarquin, who had trained at The Royal College of Art before starting his own design company Ceramic Consultants Ltd in London, was bringing in fresh ideas and techniques as well as new customers.
Wally, always an enthusiastic bird lover as can be seen in all his own studio pots, carvings and drawings, also modelled several of the birds still in the standard range today: the Penguin was his very first moulded shape as a young student at Woolwich Polytechnic and our Rye Pottery Robins, Owls and Ducks are all Wally Cole designs.
You can read two of the obituaries written to mark Wally’s death in 1999 by clicking the links below.