Troika Pottery Pottery Guide

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1963 saw the birth of Troika Pottery as a joint venture between three men, Leslie Illsley, Benny Sirota and Jan Thompson. They wanted to create pottery that was solely about art and design, without too much regard to whether it was functional. This ran counter to the professed philosophy of the rest of the studio pottery movement at that time - Bernard Leach principal among them - but Sirota and Illsley rapidly demonstrated that a combination of highly creative designs and innovative manufacturing techniques could capture the buying public's imagination.

While Troika have become best known for their rough, textured wares, their output was in truth split between these pieces and their glazed wares. Over the years, a steady minority of Troika's output was glazed, usually in white, but these pieces were more difficult to make and produced more seconds than the textured pieces. Consequently they were more expensive and especially during the 1970s, customer preference dictated an increased output of textured wares.

Troika White Glazed Flask Anne Lewis c1967-1972

Soon after the business was founded, Troika gained contracts to sell their wares through the Heals and Liberty stores in London, and sales were very successful. Over the following years, exhibitions were held all over the world and at its peak, Troika employed 8 full-time decorators to meet demand.

Troika St Ives Cylinder Vase Marilyn Pascoe 1964-70

Volume production was in some ways simplified by Illsley and Sirotas' chosen method of production. Rather than hand-throwing each piece on a wheel, a skilled and slow method that predominated in the studio potteries of the time, Illsley and Sirota developed a technique for using moulds - Benny Sirota would hand throw a new piece, and then Illsley, benefiting from his background as a sculptor, would make a mould for the new design. It would then be possible to rapidly make a few hundred pots in the new shape. These would then be hand-decorated by Troika's team of decorators, including Sirota himself in the early days. Some would contend that this approach makes these pieces partially mass-produced, but Troika's approach was simply that design and artistic merit were the most important thing, and that each "canvas" need not be hand-thrown to be an individual piece of art.

Troika Slab Vase Sue Lowe c1970-83

The Troika story had to come to an end, perhaps at least in part as a result of the original founders drifting apart over the years, coupled with the British recession of the late 70s and early 80s. Other factors contributed, such as the decision of Heals in 1978 to cease selling craft pottery. As is often the case, many things combined and the end result was that the Troika Pottery finally closed in 1983. However, Troika's legacy of creativity lives on today, with a strong UK collectors market and a high profile as an antique of the future.

Troika White Glazed Spice Vase Simone Kilburn 1976-77

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