“I have collected things before: fast cars, fast motorcycles and even faster women…”
Kevin Graham certainly lives up to his nickname of Madbrit. I knew before I began that interviewing him was going to be an interesting experience. Certainly, I hoped that I would be able to get at least as much sense as I usually do – the last conversation I had with him via Twitter resulted in the image of Kevin riding around a giant West German pot dressed as a banana… though he is keen to point out that the banana actually referred to his motorcycle; it was me who added the dressing up element!
Random conversations and jokes aside, with several exhibitions and books due this year, I wanted to find out from Kevin himself how he’d become the Grandmaster of the West German pottery world.
The reason most people have heard of Kevin is as a result of finding his Pottery and Glass forum on the internet, or by purchasing one of his amazing books on West German Pottery. Whatever method you have stumbled across him, both the forum and the books are fantastic resources for any level of WGP collector: novice or more experienced fan. The sheer wealth of information available on the forum, for example, can add a whole new dimension to the WGP collecting experience. It is an extremely friendly and welcoming place; full of keen collectors from across the globe, all who have a different experience from which to draw on and offer valuable advice.
Collecting appears to be in Kevin’s blood, having inherited his Mother’s jugs (“Steady, they were milk jugs”) and his father’s glass and stoneware bottle collection. As with most collectors, it seems to be as you delve into the past, they come from a childhood filled with a random assortment of objects, shelves filled with bits and bobs and a magpie-like obsession with certain things. Before getting into pottery, Kevin collected many artworks from Charlotte Lindsay and Mick Cawston. However, we may be able to credit Kevin’s wife, Esther, with the instigation of his love for WGP. In his words, “it wasn’t until I met Esther, my wife, in 2004, and moved to Germany that the real obsession kicked in.”
The first ever pot, the one that began Kevin’s obsession, was a Bay Keramik Fat Lava piece, found in a charity shop in Chard, Somerset. That was over ten years ago. Since then, Kevin estimates he has over 21,000 pieces with approximately 20-30 pieces being added each week. This, he claims, is a slow-down in buying:
“At first, I bought everything, but in the last 4-5 years, I have been buying pieces that please me. The aim, I guess, is to pad my retirement fund!”
I’m sure most of us avid WGP collectors have had the same hope that some of our WG pots could fund a retirement: Kevin is likely to be the one who can actually do it.
Picking and Choosing:
With just so many pieces of West German pottery, I wonder how on Earth Kevin manages to keep track of them all. Does he have any particular likes or dislikes?
“My likes and dislikes tend to move. Although I love the Fat Lava glazes produced by Oswald Kleudgen for Scheurich, a lot of the forms they produced in the 1970s & 80s are, for me, bland by comparison. Earlier Scheurich pieces designed by Heinz Siery, to me, are far more appealing. Scheurich, of course, shipped everything, including items that many other companies would have not shipped after quality control. I have a 1970s 414-16 which has another 414-16 part embedded into its base, the vase rocks, it will not stand still. This would have happened when something exploded in the kiln, but it was shipped anyway. I am beginning to dislike Scheurich from a quality aspect.”
As collectors, we tend to move through various phases of collecting. We began, the way most WGP collectors did, by buying a vase in a charity shop or from a flea market; beginning to research the origins, then moving on to buying everything in sight. Eventually, you begin to refine what you buy, restricting it to pieces you love, certain glazes, forms or factories. Deciding what to buy, what to keep and what to leave behind can form the most difficult – and enjoyable – part of the process.
With a collection of over 21,000 pieces, does Kevin ever leave anything behind?
“Many things I could say, however anything brown. I leave many pieces behind, at Fleamarkets, Trödelmarkts and Charity Shops. I don’t buy much Scheurich now, I leave it if the glaze does not attract me. I leave most Jasba pieces also. If they don’t have a Fat Lava or interesting glaze, I walk past them. Realistically if it isn’t studio or an interesting glaze I leave it where it stands.”
Are there any regrets for things left behind?
“Many, many regrets. Mostly not buying studio pieces, or Pseudo studio like Ceramano. Also I regret leaving the antique wooden skis & poles behind, from a Spermuhle (ie it was free) just before Christmas, later to find out that they were worth over 2000 euros!”
That is a decision that would plague me! However, with the regrets come some fantastic finds. With so many pieces in the collection, Kevin must surely find it tricky to choose; he admits it’s a difficult question. So, which are his best finds?
“There are so many that would qualify, like 58cms Ceramano Sunset vase, bright yellow. Dümler & Breiden Fat Lava vase with a hole, Kera Keramik Lampbases designed by Walter Gerhards. Many Horst Kerstan pieces, IB Langelot piece too, but probably the best is a vase with rotating platters created by Gerda Heuckeroth & Heinz Siery in 1963.”
One of the things I was keen to gain from Kevin was a sense of where and how he thinks the market for West German pottery is developing. For me, part of the excitement comes from feeling that I am immersed in a field that is newly emerging. Every day, there seems to be something new to be learned about it. Kevin is in agreement.
“I think that we have just scratched the surface of WGP, most of the catalogues have not surfaced yet, and I think we just have the tip of the iceberg. My West & East German Pottery Marks, Form Numbers & Decors Vol/Edition III has over 120,000 shapes recorded. Since its release in November 2010, I have found 1800 more, with 17 new catalogues from Marzi & Remy, Fohr, Ruscha, Ceramano and Scheurich, which have added form & decor data. It is an ongoing project. I think it is still in its infancy, whilst a lot more is now known, there is so much more to discover.”
This infancy and the element of the unknown about the field may be being exploited, however:
“Some worrying aspects are that certain WGP pieces companies are being copied. Otto Keramik acquired the moulds from Ruscha for the steer figures, and as Otto Gerharz Snr produced the Vulkano glaze for Ruscha, this glaze is amongst the 19 they currently offer. They are identical, in size and weight.”
These are worrying words. I assume many collectors feel the same as me: they want the original, not what is essentially a copy.
A while ago, I mentioned that we’d had a nocturnal disaster with a few of my 414 collection when Aidan accidentally blundered into them in the middle of the night. I was interested to know if Kevin had ever had a similar accident; having that many pots must surely come with its problems?
“In my house in the lounge I have a huge window (approx 5mx2m). And on its large window sill (6mx1m) sits a lot of pottery about 100 pieces or so. A neighbourhood tom cat got into the house and my two tom cats chased it into the lounge. The huge window looked like his route of escape, and he proceeded to run across it. I lost three really good Carstens pieces, some Gräflich Ortenburg, and seven Ruschas, which at current values would be worth over 500 pounds.
Another disaster was at a fleamarket, in Wesselburen. I had 12 good high quality pieces in the rucksack, and a Wächtersbach handled vase in the hand, when I tripped over a piece of metalware poking out of a stand. I dropped the Wächtersbach, and twisted around to save those in the rucksack. End result a slipped disc and a broken pot.”
Back to the Future
So, what is next for Madbrit? For a man who used to work in the semiconductor industry, it seems a massive change of life and job.
“Now, I research and write factual books. The next one will be launched at the Exhibition in Amsterdam I am organising with Emiel Monnink, in June. Mark Hill will be opening this exhibition, with a working title “More than Fat Lava: Mid Century & Modern German Ceramics.” The exhibition will show rare WGP pieces, not just main factory but also studio work too, It will have Fat Lava as well. The book/CD that I will release is call Bauhaus Generated and focuses on Studio, Töpferei & Atelier pottery.”
More collaborations are planned for the future with Mark Hill; and Kevin speaks almost daily with Forrest Poston. Dr. Michael Thomas is also another friend and avid West German Pottery chronicler. Just like Madbrit himself, all three men have been vital in expanding the world of West German pottery. Perhaps the unsung heroes though, are the amazing men and women who frequent the Pottery and Glass forum, endlessly scouring new posts and pictures to offer their friendly advice to experts and novices alike.
From one Bay Keramik vase found in a charity shop to exhibitions, books and a hugely successful forum for the avid collectors of WGP across the globe. It seems that while there may be much more below the surface of the pottery iceberg, Kevin is certainly the man to explore it. At the very least, he’ll have his wooden skis on, leading the way for the rest of us.
- Spritzdecor to Fat Lava II Book on a CD
- West & East German Pottery, Marks, Form Numbers & Decors III
- Bauhaus Generated Studio book 1920-2010 (June 2011)
- Ceramano the Story June/July 2011
- The Complete book of Ruscha (Fall 2011)
- The Good, the Bad & the Ugly, Roth design history (Fall 2011)
- Life of Design a book on Cari Zalloni (Spring 2012)
- 20th Century German Designers (Spring 2011)
Twitter: @Spritzdekor (Kevin Graham) and @Littleowlski (Me)
Fat Lava Lounger: Kevin Graham’s Flickr Page