Nora Braden, potter
Born in Margate in 1901, pioneering potter and teacher Norah Braden was the daughter of a lay preacher. Intensely musical as well as artistic, Braden learned to play the violin and was talented enough to reach concert standard; she considered studying music but declined an offer from the Royal College of Music. Her painting studies were initially at the Central School of Art and Design and subsequently the Royal College of Art, where she moved from painting to pottery.
Having visited an exhibition of pots by Bernard Leach, she was moved to request that he take her on as a student. He did so, encouraged by a letter of recommendation from the head of the RCA, Sir William Rothenstein, who referred to her as a ‘genius’. Braden arrived at at the Leach Pottery in St Ives in 1925, working part-time as a secretary to help support herself.
Braden met Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie, known as ‘Beano’, who had been at the Leach Pottery previously, and in 1928 joined her at the Cole Pottery at Mill Cottage on the Pleydell-Bouverie family estate at Coleshill, Berkshire. A two-chamber kiln capable of high temperatures allowed one chamber to be used for glazed ware, whilst the second chamber could be deployed for biscuit firing with the residual heat. This kiln, with its lengthy, gradual firing process, allowed Braden to experiment with glazes. She used a wide range of different varieties of wood (including oak, ash, apple and privet) from the estate for her ash glazes, which when combined with feldspar and Devon ball clay added blues and creams to the earthy browns and greys she typically used. Braden admired strong, simple forms inspired by ancient Chinese (classical Sung) pots and her own practice extended from small, strongly-shaped forms which leant themselves to experimentation with glazes, to tall, narrow-necked bottles and round vases.
After a very active and creative period at Coleshill, Braden moved to Sussex and began teaching at the Brighton School of Art in 1936, lecturing there and at the Camberwell School of Art until the late 1940s. She was a very critically acute potter, and applied her standards as rigorously to her own work as she did to the work of others. Her pots have been exhibited widely, and some were acquired for national collections in the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Fitzwilliam Museum, York City Art Gallery and Kettles Yard, Cambridge.