This large casserole dish with white glaze and hand-painted floral decoration was made by Leonard Bell. It has his impressed LB mark on the side. We bought it from a Melbourne auction house thinking that it was by Les Blakebrough. I have just finished re-attributing a number of pieces in our collection that were sold as Blakebroughs, but turn out to be Bell’s. Bell’s mark is similar, but the mark itself is bigger, the characters are sans serif and the L slopes to the right.
A discussion on the Identifying Australian Pottery forum has just brought this to light. In my blog entry on Les Blakebrough, I had included a picture of a Bell mug as an example of Blakebrough’s work. A similar pair of mugs had been listed on eBay with a Mondrook Pottery stamp. A forum member speculated on the connection. Another replied that there was none – both were the work of Leonard Bell. I checked my database and found a record for Leonard Bell in the 1981 Potter’s Directory.
In 1981, Bell was working at Woodstock Pottery, Woodstock-On-Loddon (near Bendigo), which he had established in 1976. He trained at Bendigo College of Advanced Education, 1961-4 and Technical Teachers College, Toorak, 1967, and worked for John Davidson at his New Mills Pottery in Cornwall from 1974-5. The entry includes a drawing of his LB mark and another WP mark for the pottery. Brett Robertson, reviewing an exhibition held at the Bendigo CAE in 1987, talks about “Len Bell’s technically flawless lidded jar” (Pottery in Australia, 27/3 (1987), p. 70).These are the only two references that I have been able to find. Subsequently, Bell must have moved his pottery to Mondrook on the mid north coast of NSW. The pottery still has a web presence but Bell is now retired.
Why did we so willingly accept that our Bell’s were Blakebrough’s? Well, they were all sold as Blakebrough’s and, as collectors based in Canberra, we had only seen a small sample of his work. Our casserole dish is made in a style not totally unlike the domestic ware from the mid 1970s illustrated in Jonathan Holmes’ book on Blakebrough, with feldspar glaze and iron decoration. We assumed that the celadon ware with black orchid motif, which characterises much of Bell’s work, was a Blakebrough production line.
The Bell pieces are finely made and we are glad to have them in our collection. The thing is, though, that we did pay rather more for the casserole dish than we would have if it had been listed as a Bell. Early works by master potters engender competition and fetch high prices at auction. We certainly won’t be able to recover our investment. But the real issue is that mis-attribution colours our perception of the achievement of both potters. This is why the new forum is proving so valuable. It has been running for only a few months, but already I’ve learnt a great deal from people noticing connections and willing to share their knowledge.